How To Have a Healthy, Happy Thanksgiving This Year

Thanksgiving with friends
Photo Credit: Jeff Wasserman

November 18, 2020

By Beth Lipton

It’s been a year full of unprecedented this and uncertain that. As Thanksgiving approaches, most of us are wondering what this year is going to look like. The one thing we can count on: It’s definitely not going to be a typical holiday season. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy Thanksgiving.

“It’s going to be tempting to say this year’s Thanksgiving isn’t as good as other years, but instead we have to take a new approach,” clinical psychologist Dr. Lynn Saladino says. “Yes, this is going to be a year like no other. So we need to take it on with a fresh set of eyes.”

We can mourn what we’ll miss, or we can use this as an opportunity to evaluate what traditions are musts for us, and which we can replace with something different. We can appreciate avoiding the stress of packed airplanes and gathering with more difficult family members. We can revel in having fewer dishes to do and only cooking the food we really feel like having. We can let go of expectations, focus on the small moments of joy, and do what’s most important at Thanksgiving: Remembering all that we have to be grateful for.

Here are 4 things you should do — and 3 things you shouldn’t — for a happy, healthy Thanksgiving this year.

1. Do: Embrace the moment.

Most of us won’t have the logistics of travel, hosting, cooking for large gatherings and the like to focus on as we normally might — and honestly, that could be a very good thing, especially if you’ve been feeling the pressure from work, household tasks, homeschooling kids, the news, and more. Think of Thanksgiving as a moment to take a break, take a breath, unplug, and get off the treadmill.

2. Don’t: Force the menu.

What to cook is always a big question, and that’s especially true this year. Should you make the same dishes your family enjoys every year, try a completely new menu, or something in-between? Dr. Saladino’s advice: “Do what you need to do this year to make yourself feel good. If there’s something you always make but it won’t feel good not serving it to 16 people, then it’s ok to make something else. Or, if you have to have that dish, make it, even if it doesn’t make sense to make it for just the three or four or five of you.”

Why not try a turkey meatloaf with a cranberry glaze, roast a duck or a whole fish instead of a turkey, or have a potluck with neighbors where everyone makes a dish and drops off portions for one another’s families? The holiday won’t be traditional—but that can make it feel special and fun in its own way.

Get inspired: 10 Clean & Delicious Thanksgiving Sides for Everyone at Your Table

3. Do: Get the kids involved.

If you have kids who are grappling with the strangeness of the holiday, Dr. Saladino recommends including them in the planning: “Give them a sense of ownership over what the holiday is going to be this year.”

4. Don’t: Force everyone to be happy.

One thing not to do: Gloss things over. “Allow space for the sadness to be there, assure them it’s ok to feel sad,” Dr. Saladino says. “And also talk to kids about the flexibility of situations, that this is an opportunity for us to be flexible and to do what makes sense.”

5. Don’t: Count calories.

Another thing to avoid this year: Counting calories or otherwise stressing about what you’re eating. “We have a lot to worry about now anyway, and to add to that stress is not going to serve you,” Dr. Saladino says. This is a time to take comfort, to enjoy the experience of the holidays, including the food.

6. Do: Connect virtually.

If you’ll miss connecting with loved ones, make it happen virtually. Schedule a Zoom catch-up with family and friends around or during the holiday meal.

7. Do: Get moving.

A family walk or an active game like Just Dance can get everyone moving after the meal, which aids digestion — and then you can cozy up to watch football, have a movie night, or play a board game.

Get more tips: 6 Healthy Habits to Keep in Mind for Thanksgiving