Healthy holiday tip: Make Thanksgiving as much about family and friends as it is about the food.

Here’s How to Have a Healthy Thanksgiving

With overindulgence practically synonymous with Thanksgving, telling people to “eat right” and “stay healthy” isn’t going to get you far. Here are seven proven and practical ways to reduce Thanksgiving’s damage to your diet, and create a healthy holiday to remember.

1. Forget about Fasting

While it might sound like a good idea to save up the day’s calories for the traditional feast, experts say starting your day with a small but satisfying breakfast gives you more control over your appetite. Choose foods rich in both protein and fiber, like an egg and a slice of whole-wheat toast or a bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk. Taking the edge off your hunger allows you to be more discriminating when you finally dig in.

2. Create a Calorie Deficit

Exercising before Thanksgiving dinner allows you to burn off extra calories before you ever indulge in your favorite foods. Take a walk first thing in the morning, or while the Turkey is coking in the oven. This tradition is much more likely to stick if you  make it a family adventure. Pick a kid-friendly destination (trains and farm animals a big plus) and get everyone involved. And when you come home hungry,  your meal will taste that much sweeter.

3. Abstain from Appetizers

Well, you don’t have to say no entirely, but beware the cheese and cracker plate, and try to go light on high-calorie chips and dips. One way to distract yourself:  Walk around and talk to people. rather than sitting down near the snack table. This rule holds true for the meal itself, too; if you focus your attention on the entire celebration rather than just on the food, you’ll eat less and have more fun.

4. Make a Few Quick Switches

  • Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
  • Whenever possible, use olive oil instead of butter and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Swap oven-roasted sweet potatoes for candied yams and cut calories by more than half.
  • Substitute plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream for the high-fat original in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.
  • Swear off store-bought white bread-based stuffing and make your own using vegetables and whole grains.
  • Turn wine into a lower-calorie spritzer by adding a couple of ounces of club soda.

5. Relish Your Meal Mindfully

With a plateful of once-a-year specialities in front of you, it’s hard not to eat everything in sight. But you’ll feel better – and enjoy your food more – if you practice these principles of mindful eating. Tips: It helps if you start by serving yourself a small, golf-ball-sized serving of every delicious dish, then ask for more only of those you really can’t resist.

6. Don’t Derail

If you did overdo it (and let’s face of it, most of us do), don’t beat yourself up or get discouraged, which can set you up for a downward slide all the way to January. Plan ahead so you can return to a refrigerator well stocked with healthy foods, including fresh salad fixings, a big bowl of fresh fruit, and the ingredients you need for soups, stews and other easy homemade dishes. If you took home leftovers, use them wisely. Make turkey the base for a vegetable-rich soup or stew, or top salads with strips of turkey meat.

7. Join the Cleaning Detail

Offer to help your host clean up, and you’ll have something active to do instead of picking at the leftovers or helping yourself to one more dessert. Physically removing yourself from the table is the best way to take your attention off the food. And your assistance will be much appreciated by the worn-out chef.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.