How to enjoy a guilt-free Thanksgiving dinner
when you have nutrition goals

When you’re tracking your macros and you have goals that you’re chasing down, eating in social settings inevitably brings about a bit of anxiety. Now, let’s talk about a family dinner, specifically a holiday family dinner, that’s centered around eating. How do you approach this kind of meal with some semblance of balance and mindfulness?

In the case of eating at your family's house, estimating your food and still trying to stay close to your macro targets is always a better option than just giving up and not tracking. If your family is supportive of your lifestyle change and the commitment you have to these changes, hopefully they are willing to support you in your efforts of not eating yourself into oblivion. Whether that’s the case or not, here are some of our best tips on how to approach your holiday meal:


It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to track a holiday meal with family, so take the pressure off of yourself and mentally decide ahead of time that you’re not tracking your meal. However, that being said, also don’t throw away the whole day just because you’re “not tracking”.

Just like any other social event or meal out, it is always helpful to plan out your day ahead of time. If you have a general idea of what you’ll be eating for your Thanksgiving meal, pre-plan by factoring those foods into your MFP first thing in the morning. Even if you are just estimating what you’ll eat later, you will then have a good idea of what you need to eat the rest of the day leading up to your big meal.

PRO-TIP: focus on filling the rest of your day with lean protein, high-volume carbs like fruits and veggies, and lower fat foods that will allow you to maximize your wiggle room for the day’s festivities. By keeping your day lighter you will have more flexibility to enjoy more calorie-dense foods during your Thanksgiving meal.


Make some rules for yourself before you go. Maybe it’s limiting yourself to only one drink or one treat, maybe it’s waiting a full 30 minutes after dinner before digging into the desserts. Either way, sticking to your personal rules can help keep yourself in check and help you avoid the “screw it, I already messed up” mentality that is so easy to have when you’re out of your routine. If you know sticking to your rules will be tough, ask a spouse, cousin, or friend to help keep you accountable.


Chances are, all intentions of staying on track will go out the window if you are hungry and surrounded by all the snacks, treats and endless casserole dishes of yummy home-cooked food. Make sure to drink lots of water throughout the day and have a mini-meal before you leave the house. This may seem counterintuitive when you’re about to sit down to a family feast, but this will help curb your hunger and will hopefully prevent you from showing up hangry and ready to eat everything in sight.


Do your best to stay out of the kitchen and stay away from the food table. I come from a big Italian family on both sides, so all family holidays are very much centered around food. And lots of it. There is enough food to feed 3 armies and it’s always wonderfully displayed on a buffet-style table that encourages grazing throughout the entire day. If this sounds familiar to you, do your best to stay away from the food table and stick to eating a meal versus snacking all day long. Chances are you will eat less by making yourself a plate of food versus mindlessly grazing on snacks.


When it’s time to eat, be intentional about how you’re loading up your plate. Start by building your plate with turkey (or other protein) first followed by high-volume veggie options (think salad, green beans, brussel sprouts, squash, greens, etc.) Do your best to stick to sautéed or roasted veggies that are lightly seasoned and not covered in butter or cheese. Keep in mind portion sizes relative to what you normally eat when tracking (check out this post for tips on how to estimate using your hand for portion sizes).

Kate Lyman Nutrition Macro Coaching Tracking macros during the holidays

1 | PROTEIN FIRST - palm-sized protein is about 4 ounces, cooked

2 | HIGH-VOLUME VEGGIES - load up on these, filling the majority of your plate

3 | STICK WITH WHAT YOU KNOW - when choosing other side dishes, go for lightly roasted or sautéed dishes not covered in sauce or cheese

4 | TREATS FOR LAST - save more calorie-dense sides and treats for round two


While eating, do your best to eat slowly. Sit next to a cousin you haven’t seen in a while and have a conversation while enjoying your meal. If you’re normally a very fast eater, you may even challenge yourself to put your fork down in between bites to avoid overeating. Once you’ve finished your first plate, give your body time to digest and take a few moments to assess your hunger levels before you head back for more calorie-dense casseroles and treats.


While the goal here is balance, we all have trigger foods that can cause trouble for us and may need to be avoided. Do your best to skip the trigger foods or drinks and choose different options when possible. If having a bite of your favorite chocolate cake will inevitably lead to eating multiple pieces of cake, go for a half of a brownie or cookie instead.

Overall, the holidays are truly about spending time with friends and family. Instead of placing your entire day’s focus around food, focus on catching up and enjoying the day with the people you love most.

We know the holidays can be tough when you have nutrition goals, but there are so many ways to enjoy the season while still feeling your best. We have so much good stuff we want to share that we can’t share it all here, so be sure to sign up for our email list where we’ll be sharing our BEST tips each Friday in a weekly email. Have any specific questions about tackling this holiday season? Leave ‘em below!