How to Survive Thanksgiving Dinner Guilt-free

There are so many things to love about the holidays, but navigating through the massive number of food temptations while staying on track is NOT one of them!  It’s especially difficult when you have loving family members constantly pushing food your way.

Let’s create a survival plan that will leave you feeling satisfied, in control, and prepared to handle Aunt Sue and her famous apple pie.

OPTION #1:  Decide on a mindful “cheat” day

If you decide to approach the day with no restrictions on WHAT you eat, let me suggest you change HOW you eat.

Often we get caught up in the excitement of all the yummy food, fill our plates until they’re overflowing, and then hastily devour every bite.  Without even assessing our true hunger levels, we often return for seconds because our brain’s reward center is on fire and screams for MORE!

This year, let’s approach our dining experience a bit differently.  Once you’ve made your choices and are ready to dive in – STOP.

Look at the beautiful plate of food before you.  Take in the different textures and colors.  Notice how the aromas of sage, pumpkin pie spice, and roasted turkey make your mouth water.

Then slowly create that perfect first bite with just the right amount of  turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce that  fires up your taste buds.  Take a bite and then put your fork down. Chew your food slowly, truly appreciating every delicious flavor.

While you’re eating, feel no regret about your choices.  Enjoy your meal and push any negative thoughts away.

Today is a guilt-free day!

Option #2:  Stay within your plan’s guidelines

If you’re super pumped that your new plan is working and are worried that a cheat day could turn into a cheat week or month, then you’ll need a somewhat different plan.

Approach HOW you eat in the same manner as above – slow down and savor is the motto of the day.

Then set yourself up for success by bringing a dish that fits within your plan’s guidelines.  Choose something that you love but that can also be shared with other family members.


A favorite addition to the Thanksgiving table is a harvest salad.  When trying to please a large group of people, choose a green that most people like such as spinach.  Add some beautiful sweet apples, tangy dried cranberries, and salty feta cheese.

Toss on some spicy pecans for an extra hit of flavor and crunch.  Drizzle with Balsamic Vinaigrette and you’ll have a beautiful salad that plays well with the other Thanksgiving sides.

To take this salad over the top, add a decadent sprinkle of crispy pepper bacon.  Yum!

For a different salad combo, you can find the recipe for my  Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette and Pumpkin Spice Pepitas here.

Regardless of the buffet choices, with either salad you’ll enjoy a delicious, guilt-free meal that doesn’t take you off plan.

OPTION #3:  Find your perfect balance

This is usually my game plan.  I fill my plate three quarters full of the delicious salad I brought and then decide which dishes are worthy of filling out the rest of my plate.  To make the cut, the dishes must be special occasion splurges like Mom’s amazing cornbread dressing.

Then I invoke the three-bite rule.

The first bite is my indulgence bite.  All I think about is how delicious the food is.  On the second bite I pay close attention to the mix of ingredients that made this bite so delicious. (I might want to recreate it one day!) The third bite is my gratitude bite.  I fully appreciate every last crumb and put my fork down feeling thankful that I can stop at three.

What to do about the food pushers?

You’ve done a great job making mindful choices, but the food pushers don’t stop coming.  Your sister takes a look at what you consider to be a bountiful plate, but she questions why you’re “dieting” on Thanksgiving.  Then Aunt Sue simply can’t take “no thank you” for an answer as she insists you take a slice of her famous apple crumble pie while recalling that last year you devoured two slices AND the scoop of ice cream on top!

For several wonderful suggestions on how to survive encounters with well-meaning food pushers, check out this post from Girls Gone Strong.  By being prepared, you can survive those uncomfortable encounters in a way that leaves everyone feeling loved and respected.

Whichever option you choose, at the end of the day compare your experience with that from last year’s. Celebrate any mindful steps forward and above all, remember to stop and express gratitude for all of your blessings.

Enjoy your time with friends and family as you savor every enjoyable moment and every delicious bite of your guilt-free holiday meal!

Apple Harvest Salad


    For the Salad
  • 2 bunches of baby spinach
  • 1 honeycrisp apple, cut into matchsticks
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup feta or goat cheese
  • 5 slices of cooked pepper bacon, crumbled (optional)
  • For the Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
  • For the pecans
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 5 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 cup of pecan halves
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


    For the Balsamic Vinaigrette
  1. Mix all your ingredients in a glass jar and shake vigorously until combined.
  2. For the Pecans
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Mix 3 tablespoons of the sugar in the water until dissolved.
  5. Add the pecans and soak for approximately 10 minutes.
  6. Drain the pecans.
  7. Mix 2 tablespoons of sugar, chili powder, salt, and cayenne pepper in a ziplock bag.
  8. Add the pecans and toss until the pecans are covered with the spices.
  9. Layer on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and cook for 5 minutes.
  10. Remove from the oven and toss.
  11. Place the pecans back into the oven and cook for another 5 minutes.
  12. Cool before adding to the salad.
  13. For the Salad
  14. Cook your bacon then simply toss all your salad ingredients together and drizzle with the balsamic vinaigrette.




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