Make Thanksgiving safe, healthy and happy

November 25th, 2013 by Live Well Omaha Kids

Thanksgiving is a special day for family, friends, and food. Our friend, Toni  Kuehneman, MS, RD, LMNT, Cardiac Dietitian at Alegent Creighton Health Heart & Vascular Institute offers some suggestions to make it a safe, healthy, and happy day:

The two food stars for the day are the turkey and the stuffing.  Prepare, cook, and store these safely.  If you have purchased a frozen turkey, be sure to thaw the bird before cooking. There are two ways to thaw your turkey safely: in the refrigerator and in cold water.

In the refrigerator: This is the best method.  Allow about 24 hours for every four to five pounds of bird. For example, a 12- to 16-pound turkey would require three to four days and a 16- to 20-pound bird would take four to five days to thaw.

In cold water: This method involves the most time and labor.  Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound. A 12- to 16- pound turkey will take about six to eight hours and a 16- to 20-pound bird needs eight to 10 hours. Seal the turkey securely in plastic to make sure no water leaks in and use only cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

Never thaw a turkey on the counter!  This is a sure way to invite unwanted bacteria to your dinner.

Cooking the Turkey: No matter the cooking method, the internal temperature is the most important thing to know.  Towards the end of the cooking time, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the breast or thigh, not touching a bone. Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees.  May cook it to a higher temperature for personal preference, but for the most flavor, it is best not to exceed 170 degrees in the breast and 180 degrees in the thigh.

Estimated times for roasting an unstuffed turkey at 325 degrees is:

  • 12-14 pound turkey is 3 to 3-3/4 hours
  • 14-18 pound turkey is 3-3/4 to 4-1/4 hours
  • 18-20 pound turkey is 4-1/4 to 4-1/2 hours

Times will increase by 30 to 45 minutes if the turkey is cooked with stuffing.  It is important to take the temperature of the stuffing.  The recommended temperature for the stuffing is 165 degrees.  If the turkey is cooked but the stuffing is not, the stuffing must be removed and cooked in the oven until 165 degrees is obtained.  Cooking the stuffing in a casserole dish or in a crock pot is the safest and preferred method.

When the turkey is cooked, let the turkey rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.  This time allows the juices to set.  It also gives you time to prepare any last minute items for the dinner.

Always remember to refrigerate leftovers within two hours.  Bacteria will grow in food at room temperature.  Leftover food should be eaten, frozen or discarded within 3 to 4 days.  Cooked turkey can be stored in the freezer for up to four months.

The Menu

Following the My Plate graphic makes meal planning easy.myplate

Turkey is the protein.  Stuffing, mashed potatoes, spaghetti squash, or sweet potatoes fill the grain/starch piece.  If choosing all four starches, be sure to monitor your portion! Vegetables are usually green beans, but can be a cold salad that can be prepared ahead: carrot salad, three or four bean salad, spinach salad etc. For the fruit, an apple salad or just having fresh fruit slices like pineapple, orange or Clementine (cutie), and apple are colorful choices too. The dairy group is usually milk for children, but can be reduced fat cheese slices or squares.


After this large meal, think about an activity for 20 to 30 minutes instead of sitting in front of the TV to watch football or a movie.  Playing tag, basketball, dodge ball, throwing a football or baseball with the children are some group activities. Walking is the easiest. Everyone walks for 30 minutes in the neighborhood or at a park. Talking while walking is a great way to share news and events with family or friends. If the weather is not the best, Simon says is a fun activity especially if Simon says toe touches, marching in place, jumping jacks, and reaches to the sky.


Pies are usually the choice for Thanksgiving.  Whether it is pumpkin, pecan, minced, or apple, pies are usually the dessert.  It is best if dessert is served at least three hours after the Thanksgiving meal.  Thanksgiving dinner is a high carbohydrate meal so give the body a chance to use some of the fuel.


Holiday meals tend to be buffet-style and include second and third helpings. Portion size matters so remember that all foods have calories. Think moderation. Eat slowly, tasting each bite and enjoying conversation. Conversation is calorie free.

Some strategies to help you avoid overeating. Using a smaller plate allows you to put less food on your plate and encourages smaller portions. Also, start by filling your plate with vegetables and salad before going to the entrees and desserts. Eating a vegetable or salad before your meal can help you eat fewer calories overall. Eat slowly and savor every bite, and before you go back for seconds wait ten minutes to see if you really are still hungry.

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