Skip to Content

NorthShore’s online source for timely health and wellness news, inspiring patient stories and tips to lead a healthy life.

Healthy You

Healthy Eating for the Holidays

November 14, 2019 1:00 PM with Vanessa Lennie

A lot of New Year's resolutions are to lose weight or get healthier.  Why wait? Start now before the holiday pounds add up.

Family Cooking

Join NorthShore dietitian Vanessa Lennie as she answers all your questions, from how to replace ingredients in your favorite recipes with healthier alternatives, to tips and tricks on sticking with that diet. Enter your questions below any time before the chat, or ask your questions live the day of the chat.

Ben (Moderator) - 12:51 PM:
Welcome everyone to NorthShore University HealthSystem's latest chat: Healthy Eating for the Holidays with Vanessa Lennie. The chat will not begin for another 10 minutes, but please start submitting any questions you may have now.

Vanessa Lennie - 12:55 PM:
Hi everyone! I'm Vanessa Lennie, a NorthShore dietitian at the Kellogg Cancer Center. Looking forward to your questions!

  Ashley - 1:23 PM:
How do you estimate the right portion size for a thanksgiving dinner?
Vanessa Lennie
I like using my hands to estimate portion sizes since they’re always with me! For a serving of turkey (or your main protein), a serving is about the size of the palm of your hand (or a deck of cards). For side dishes, a serving of vegetables is about 1 cup cooked, or the size of your closed fist. Load up on those veggies! A serving of starchy veggies or other carbs like stuffing is about ½ cup, or what would fit into your cupped hand. For condiments like gravy and cranberry sauce, a serving size is 1-2 TBSP; 1 TBSP is about the size of your thumb. If you’re having a glass of wine with dinner, a serving size is 4oz (1/2 cup). Keep in mind that if you have a “heavier pour”, you likely have more than one serving in your glass. My strategy at Thanksgiving is to fill most of my plate with veggies (salad, roasted veggies, a scoop of sweet potatoes) and then use heavier dishes like stuffing or my mom’s creamy mushroom casserole as condiments.

  Derek (Evanston) - 1:27 PM:
Does Keto work for everyone? How long do you actually need to be on Keto in order for it to work? What are your thoughts?
Vanessa Lennie
Good question--keto is quite popular right now! In short, no, there's no "one size fits all" approach to nutrition. Ketogenic diets dramatically elevate fat burning, which results in a much more stable flow of energy to all organs and tissues, especially the brain. Research also shows benefits for improving insulin sensitivity and glycemic control, although the mechanisms aren't clear. Some studies show that an average of about 3 months on the diet is needed to see these benefits. Ketogenic diets don't just eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates; they also curtail pulses, whole grains, fruit,& starchy vegetables. All of these foods contribute vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber--including prebiotic fiber that promotes a healthy gut microbiota. This is why RDs are trained to evaluate each individual, including your medical history, goals, lifestyle, etc :) Always consult with your medical team before implementing any drastic dietary changes!

  Sam (Chicago, IL) - 1:36 PM:
What are some typical replacements I can use on thanksgiving. Like what could I make instead of turkey, stuffing, and of course...what can I change out for pumpkin pie?
Vanessa Lennie
Turkey is full of protein and important B's a pretty healthy main dish! If you're trying to save calories, I'd choose white meat over dark for less saturated fat and skip the dressing. If you love the flavor of stuffing but want a healthier twist, you can substitute cauliflower for the bread (same concept as cauliflower rice) as a way to sneak in more veggies and fiber. Whole-grain bread cubes instead of regular white bread would be a simple swap, too! For pumpkin pie, you can swap the traditional store-bought pie for a homemade version so that you can control the amount of sugar, and try making it crustless to save on calories. Check out for awesome healthy pumpkin recipes!

  Jim (Lake Zurich, IL) - 1:46 PM:
Which foods can you eat safely if you are on keto diet during Thanksgiving and the holidays? What foods should you avoid?
Vanessa Lennie
Here are a few keto-friendly options to look for at holiday parties: - Mixed nuts - Charcuterie boards- cheese, marinated olives, sliced meats like prosciutto, salami, etc - Cold cooked shrimp - Veggie tray w/ guacamole- choose peppers, celery, cauliflower, and broccoli - Deviled eggs - Stuffed mushroom caps For traditional Thanksgiving dishes like gravy and stuffing, you can sub keto-friendly ingredients and still enjoy your favorites. For example, you can thicken gravy with xanthan gum or cornstarch for fewer carbs than flour. Instead of traditional bread stuffing, you can make swap cauliflower for a low-carb option. Look out for sauces thickened w/flour, toppings with bread crumbs, & limit starchy veggies like potatoes. Skip high-sugar condiments like cranberry sauce. If there's a holiday dish that isn’t "keto-friendly" but it’s your favorite, my advice is to give yourself permission to enjoy it. One day or one meal doesn’t negate all of the healthy choices that you’ve made!

  Lisa (Chicago, IL) - 1:53 PM:
Are there recipe(s) for people with limited income?
Vanessa Lennie
This is such a great question! I personally find that the cost of cooking for holiday parties and gatherings can really add up. I really love this blog for budget-friendly, tasty, healthy recipe ideas: Also, using vegetarian proteins (beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu) is often less expensive than cooking with meat. Some of my favorite budget-friendly meals are bean-based chilis, soups, and stirfry during the colder months!

  Maria (Skokie, IL) - 1:54 PM:
During the holidays at the end of the year there are a lot of sweets going around at work, at home, with relatives. With what can these be replaced that will also satisfy the craving for pastries?
Vanessa Lennie
I would recommend coming to work and holiday gatherings prepared. Eat a healthy breakfast that includes fiber and protein to help keep you satisfied, and pack your lunch (including a few snack options) to get you through the day. Also, stay hydrated and don’t skip meals!! We’re more likely to overeat, and our decision-making is impaired, when we’re hungry and thirsty. That being said, I’m a believer in “all foods fit” and that it’s okay to eat sweets, too—there are no “bad” foods. Sometimes complete restriction can lead to overeating those foods another time, or eating them in secret. If you’re worried that you may overdo it if you allow yourself to have those foods, I’d recommend 1) taking the portion you normally would choose and cutting it in half 2) take at least 10 minutes to eat it (I know, this can be challenging in a healthcare environment…but try!) 3) Go back for the rest if you’re still truly hungry

  Tammy - 1:57 PM:
With so many side dish options what is the appropriate 'serving size' when you want to have a taste of everything?
Vanessa Lennie
I would treat those side dishes like condiments (about 2 TBSP) if you want to have a taste of everything and stick to 1/2 cup (about a cupped handful) of those dishes you really love and wait all year for. Try to make at least 1/2 of your plate veggies, spend at least 20 minutes eating the meal, and go back for more of your favorites if you're still truly hungry.

Ben (Moderator) - 2:00 PM:
Thank you, Vanessa, for your time and expertise. A complete transcript of the chat will be available on shortly.

Vanessa Lennie - 2:01 PM:
Thank you all for your fantastic questions! I hope you have a healthy and happy holiday season! :)

This chat has ended.

Thank you very much for your participation.