The average American gobbles down more than 4,500 calories on Turkey Day, but that number can be easily slashed — starting with some basic portion control. But what's 4 ounces, 78 grams, or a ¼ cup exactly? Follow this serving size guide for a smarter (but still enjoyable!) holiday meal — minus the elastic-waisted pants.
Serving Size Equivalent: Deck of Cards
Twelve-pound turkey for two? Turns out that big bird could (and should!) feed more than just a Kate Plus Eight-size family. Opt instead for a 4-ounce portion of the lean meat, which can pack up to 32 grams of protein (more than half of what’s recommended daily). More active than most? Go ahead and carve up some seconds, just opt for skinless meat to keep it nice n’ lean.
Serving Size Equivalent: Spool of Thread Call it a side, a sauce, or the most magical condiment around, this is one Thanksgiving staple that's hard to pass up. And though a single ½ cup serving offers a healthy dose of vitamin C and antioxidants, it can also pack a whopping 52 grams of sugar, or 18 percent of the recommended daily value (and the pies aren’t even out yet!). Opt for recipes with no sugar added to keep those empty calories to a minimum.
Serving Size Equivalent: Tennis Ball Oh, warm n’ crusty bread basket, how we love you so. But chances are those orbit-sized rolls have more carbs than they’re worth (plus who can resist a little butter, too?). If there’s a choice of breads on the table, opt for whole wheat for a heftier dose of B vitamins and fiber to stay fuller longer. And stick to no more than a tennis ball-sized roll (unless being rolled outta there is an option).
Serving Size Equivalent: Four Lego Men What’s half a cup of Brussels sprouts exactly? Four Lego, of course! The pay-off: a mega-dose of vitamins A, C, and K, not to mention B6, folate, potassium, manganese, and heart-healthy dietary fiber. Just watch out for recipes that sneak in cheese, butter, or lots of oil.
Serving Size Equivalent: Golf Ball Hoppin’ on the gravy train is tempting — especially on Turkey Day. But it’s no secret the stuff can be heavy on the sodium, and often high in fat. So if the turkey or mashed potatoes need a little lovin’, limit that serving size to a quarter cup, or about the size of a golf ball.
Serving Size Equivalent: Bar of Soap The name pretty much says it all with this carb-heavy dish. While there are plenty of stuffing recipes low in fat and cholesterol, 20 grams of carbs for every 28-gram serving is nothing to be thankful for. Oh right, it’s delicious, though… For a more guilt-free version of the good stuff, try opting for a whole wheat version packed with healthy seasonal veggies instead.
Serving Size Equivalent: Combination Lock This scrumptious southern comfort food may be making its way to a Thanksgiving table near you. Problem is: just one 50-gram piece packs a quarter of the sodium needed in a day, plus a hefty dose of fat and carbs. Can’t do without the crumbly corn dish? Go with an enriched batch for an extra boost of B vitamins and iron.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Serving Size Equivalent: Altoids Box Vitamin A, calcium, and iron in every batch? Not so fast. This Thanksgiving favorite can also rack up a surprising amount of sugar, sodium, and fat. And if there are marshmallows toasted on top, best to think of this as dessert, not dinner. For a healthier alternative, try this.
Serving Size Equivalent: Scotch Tape Smashed, mashed, or whipped, these starchy veggies make the classic American side dish. But limit that scoop to just a half-cup to avoid fat, carb, and sodium overload (not to mention that inevitable food coma). As a general guideline, the USDA recommends just three cups of starchy vegetables per week. Total.
Serving Size Equivalent: Light Bulb No Thanksgiving’s complete without some silky-smooth pumpkin pie. But that portion shouldn’t cover the whole plate. Opting for just a light bulb-sized slice is a brighter idea, with about 50% of the daily vitamin A recommended daily, plus some vitamin K, calcium, and iron to boot. The downside: a slice this small still racks up about 160 calories, 13 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of fat. For a healthier treat, try whipping up this Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding.
Is there a place for portion control at your Thanksgiving table? Tell us your game day strategy in the comments below, or tweet Jordan directly at @jshakeshaft.
Originally posted November 2011. Updated November 2012.
Photos by Jordan Shakeshaft with Kate Morin.