Habits of Healthy Eaters: Don't Make Extra Food

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Next week will be the fourth time that my husband and I host our families at our house for Thanksgiving This year, I'll be cooking for 15 guests—a new record! I like cooking and I tend to make the same Thanksgiving dishes each year: rosemary roasted sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, steamed green beans, garlic mashed potatoes, homemade stuffing from whole-wheat bread, honey-glazed tofu, whole-grain couscous with pumpkin seeds, and of course, turkey (courtesy of my mom). We usually have a beautiful seasonal salad, too, and small amounts of fixings like cranberry sauce and gravy. And don't forget the dessert! I make pumpkin pie from scratch every year (starting from an actual pumpkin!), my sister will usually make a baked apple or pear dessert, my sister-in-law will make some gluten-free cookies, and my mother-in-law brings her delicious rice pudding.
It can be a challenge to cook so much food for so many people in my tiny kitchen, but I think it's fun. I see it as an opportunity to show my family members that you can eat healthy over the holidays and still eat plenty of delicious food! No one ever complains that the bread we serve is whole-grain or that the bulk of our sides are vegetables.
But one holiday tradition I don't believe in is stuffing yourself like a turkey!
Just as I work out on Thanksgiving and other holidays, I treat holidays like any other day when it comes to food. That means practicing moderation when it comes to what I put on my plate and how much I eat of it.
But whether you make all the traditional Thanksgiving foods or you try healthier versions of the classics like I do, one thing we could all benefit from is making less food. Here's why.
Less is more when it comes to weight maintenance and healthy living. A lot of people view Thanksgiving as a time to overindulge, and many will keep returning to the kitchen all day for additional helpings of food. This can add up to thousands of extra calories over the course of the day—and it's far from necessary. Even so, the more you make, the more leftovers you'll have to deal with in your house. I don't know about you, but if I have enough pumpkin pie to last a week, I'll be eating it every day until it's gone. So instead, I make just enough for my guests (and myself) to have a slice on Thanksgiving, but nothing extra.
When you cook just enough for you and your guests, you'll save money, too. Couldn't we all use a little extra green this time of year? Be frugal at the grocery and consider realistic portion sizes that people can eat within the meal itself—not later in the day or later into the week. Who says your small family needs enough food to feed 20 just because it's Thanksgiving? I make just one batch of every food in my spread, and it's always been more than enough for everyone to enjoy a reasonable portion. When there's only one bowl of potatoes or one apple pie, everyone will automatically adjust their portions to allow everyone to enjoy a small amount. Trust me on that one!
Cooking less food also makes the cooking part easier. Limit the number of dishes you serve to the essentials or overall favorites. Few people like gravy at my table, so I make just a tiny saucepan worth. And not everyone likes turkey, so my mom brings just enough for the turkey lovers at the table to all have a portion. When considering how much you need to make, remember that people don't "need" to try everything, nor will they always want to. Try to apply this to desserts, specifically. I have four desserts for 15 people, but I will not make 15 servings of all four desserts. Running out of rice pudding isn't the end of the world. In fact, if you don't want all those sweets sitting around for days, running out of food is a good thing—it's the whole point!
Making just enough food is a great tactic to try when the foods you're making are rich, high in fat and/or calories, or just to tempting for you to keep around the house without overindulging. For many people, that applies to Thanksgiving comfort foods and other holiday fare—especially the sweets. This Thanksgiving, show your thanks not by overindulging, but by enjoying just enough and being thankful that you have just what you need when so many people have so much less. I promise it'll fatten your wallet, make your cooking easier, and keep your waistline in check.
Have you ever tried the tactic of making just enough food to avoid extra temptation? Do you ever get backlash from friends or family members who want to eat large portions when you're trying to keep yours in check?

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This article is right on time! We are all so use to over indulging on Thanksgiving Day. We almost plan for it. However, after reading this article, it has helped me have a change in mindset. Just because it's Thanksgiving, I don't "have to" over indulge. I can fully enjoy the food without being a glutton. I don't have to eat til I'm about to burst, walk around commenting on how full I am and raving about how good the food is, all with an unspoken plan to go back for more. Unh uh. Nope. I plan to "have a plan" on Thanksgiving day. Thanks SP! Report
Never do I make just enough. I cook from scratch at all times, as part of healthy lifestyle change, and I batchcook at all times, to save time. As a single I make my own "convenience foods", such as several dozen freezer burritos, frozen chicken BBQ sands, and so on, in bulk. At dinners such as Thanksgiving used as an example in the article, simply dish up the leftovers into divided freezable plates. When clearing a table after dinner, don't put it in the fridge. And lastly, by following the No S Diet, portion control problems are automatically solved, and are automatically a thing of the past. Report
As a single person, I find it unrealistic to not expect leftovers. Most recipes are for 2-8 portions, most canned goods contain two or more servings, and most convenience foods like hamburger helper or rice a roni have multiple servings per package.

Cooking a batch is far cheaper and easier. Cooking a single serving of rice is tricky, requiring constant monitoring. Sometimes you need a certain volume to cook something optimally.

For a single to cook a meal with no leftovers would basically require them to eat a prepackaged meal, which is far to expensive for my budget.

What other options do we have? Report
this is an interesting extrapolation of the NCWR studies of successful behaviours in people who have lost weight and maintained their weights. To be successful personally, it is about eating enough but not more than you need, and it is a good thing to not overprepare quantity beyond what you can use and store properly. Learning to lose and maintain the weight loss does require an assessment of our eating patterns, keep the good, improve or ditch the ones that hurt us.... and this can mean things as simple as eating 1 plateful instead of multiples, having 1 dessert or sampling a few instead of multiple desserts, could mean skipping the extra snacks and appetizers or sampling a few... perhaps sticking to a normal eating schedule... using self control and discipline to manage your own eating on the feast days in ways that are personally appropriate....

but the extrapolation is talking about controlling or changing the behaviors of how the other people enjoy the feast day... as hostess, you can totally change foods, times and quantities served or perhaps go with part traditional and introduce a few new dishes, and then personally eat as you personally prefer... Other people may notice, you may Spark them....

I think if people come expecting bbq and french bread and you serve a fruit tray instead, there might be disappointment... or they may embrace it, I suppose you need to know your guests...

in my family, they don't want or desire anything added or taken from the traditional meals served... and discussion of change has created major conflicts and upsetitudes... and if they (other people) don't want to change, it's simply not my place to change them, nor do I have to overeat because they are.... and there are ways I can personally manage my own food without imposing on others.

just sharing a few thoughts & observations out of the trenches where this has been an issue in my life...

Thank you for the advice. I look forward to using some of them. Please post the recipe for the honey glazed tofu. I have a vegetarian who would love it. Report
I don't think it matters HOW you end up with less in the leftover department, whether it is just from not cooking as much or sending them home with other people. The point is, portion control. If you are not in control, this is obviously going to mess you up. I have learned over the last year in Spark that I have to make the choices for my body...if someone disagrees with my method, too bad for them. I don't tell them to eat more or less of something..I just govern my own body.
I hope everyone has a great Turkey Day and if they do over-indulge that they learn something about themselves that can help during the next holiday.
I cook just enough for one meal on a regular basis, that doesn't change for the holidays. One pie is enough, and we are cutting our 20# turkey in half, so we can freeze the other half and have it at Christmas. We tend to concentrate more on the veggie dishes anyway. Report
Honey-glazed tofu. That's an interesting dish. I like leftovers. I much prefer to cook less frequently than more frequently. Report
Well, you know your family and how well they will accept this. I wouldn't want to try it with mine.

Of course, Thanksgiving dinner should be about the people you're with, and not about stuffing as much food into yourself as possible. Still, making 'just enough' sounds awfully risky. I'd much rather freeze the leftovers or send them home with someone than risk my guests going home feeling that they want an after-dinner meal. Report
There's a BIG difference between 'cooking once-eating twice' or batch cooking and making more of something than you should or could eat in one sitting. The latter is what this blog is about.

For the most part, my husband and I have always cooked 'enough' for our meals - something that drove his mother CRAZY. She couldn't understand the concept of no leftovers and complained when we didn't make an excess of food for 'seconds'. She always cooked in a way that gave her leftovers of things that often ended up in the garbage a week later, and she always had her refrigerator stuffed with more food than one little old lady could possibly eat. Of course, she was overweight and had all the problems associated with obesity. Something psychological I guess.

Planning portions ahead of time is smart and less wasteful. Which is not to say that we don't also make double amounts of things that can be frozen and tucked away for a day when we don't feel like cooking.

Thanks for the blog and the reminder to be mindful, Nicole. Report
Regarding portion control, you are the deciding factor in how much goes on your plate. If others want more or less, it's up to them. Portion control is easy, because like you said, Thanksgiving can be treated like any other day. Fix your plate like you normally would and you won't have any problems. Report
I don't agree either. If I have extras, I'll freeze and eat later, and it's nice to be able to cook up a couple batches of turkey stock from the carcass. The rest can be taken home with the guests (who are more than willing lol), and because there are usually so many in my family, I don't have to worry about many sides or desserts being left. Report
I make good food for the holidays and like to have leftovers the next day. We are a family of 6 and I love not having to cook the next day! Report
This is my first year cooking healthy and it has been a chore. Constant arguments from family about what I am NOT making. Cream of broccoli soup was a big one, but I found the great recipe for broccoli/acorn squash that was wonderful, so they will have that.
For me, running out of anything WOULD be the end of the world. I would feel like a bad hostess. So, my plan this year is there will be a few unhealthy dishes, but only the ones I know I can pass on. I will make too much, as always, but anything not leaving with guests, will go in the garbage disposal. The only leftovers in my fridge Friday will be turkey, and the broccoli soup. Report
I like to make my own sweet potatoes (actually, I just bake them in their skins) and leave off the marshmallows that the family loves. Report
We go out to eat for Thanksgiving Dinner, so that way I don't have left-overs to deal with. One year we spent Christmas at Disney World in Orlando and ate there. Best way to spend Christmas by having fun walking all day!! Report
I have another tactic that I use with holiday foods -- I send people home with the leftovers. That's very effective if I've made a sinful chocolate cake or other dish that's special for the holidays but too tempting for me to keep around. It works! Report
Excellent advice. Very sensible. Report
When dinner is over, my job is to clean the carcass. Sans the skin, leftover turkey is great for many healthy meals. It makes sense to have that type of leftover to me. Report
I do tend to make extra food, so that we can have it for lunch the next day. It can become a problem, if you are an evening eater.
I'm much better at controlling what I eat, now. My husband eats the leftovers. lol. Report
I get push back from the family on this one -- 'but I love the green bean casserole and want lots and lots of leftovers.' So I really only manage myself. I do have them all fooled with mashed potatoes -- chicken broth and a little fat free sour cream and they are happy as clams -- and about 300 calories per serving less. Report
I agree with not wanting too many leftovers, especially desserts! I think my side of the fam would agree, too, but my husband's side is very gluttonous, so they love to eat all day! Report
I think I will try that with some of the more indulgant things but some of the other things I do cook more first to send back with with my college daughter and the other is so I really don't cook for the rest of the week. Report
I agree with a lot of what you said, Nicole, but we host, at our house, a family that may bring close to 50 people this year (well, my sister-in-law and I do 95% of the main meal cooking and the rest are supposed to bring a dish to share, but it ends up with only about 10 or less shared dishes, mostly desserts). I am cutting back this year--I have done TWO 20+ turkeys for 25 years because they all wanted to take some home. This year I have decided 1 is more than enough, because we shouldn't be providing the leftovers for the rest of them when they aren't contributing much---it is getting rather expensive and time consuming for 2 of us who are doing all the work!!!! My sister-in-law and I have already talked that we ARE NOT making even more this year, but can, in fact, cut down---mainly to get some others to help contribute (except we both like to cook and we always do extra at the last minute---we don't listen to ourselves at all!!!). The good thing is that when the rest of the family leave they take their shared dishes with them, so the only leftovers are the main meal and my sister-in-law and I share those with each other so we do have a few meals for ourselves. It would be hard to gauge how much to actually cook with that many people and with only seeing most of them once a year, knowing what they all like and will eat. I would LOVE to see more healthy dishes coming to be shared, but at the moment, having ANY dishes come is a good thing. We do like the leftover turkey for a few days and this year, I doubt we will have any, but that is fine as well. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving at your house, Nicole, and try not to envy me with my 50 members---ranging from ages 1-86!!!!! lol Report
Love the healthy choices! Report
Sorry, I just can't agree. I don't make a lot of rich side dishes but I always roast a turkey for the two of us. DH packages up the meat and I start my cooking marathon by making stock from the carcass. Then on to turkey soup, turkey ragu, turkey enchiladas--all "light" recipes. These get packed into 2-serving portions, labeled & frozen and I have easy, healthy dinners for busy days. Report
Sorry, but it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without leftovers! You don't necessarily graze all day, but for the day after?? Yummy dinner all over again! Report
When there were just two of us, we would go out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. The only problem was no leftovers. I look forward to having turkey for salads and sandwiches. Report
Good ideas if you are someone who doesn't like leftovers! Thanks! Report
I prefer to cook lots of everything that freezes well and enjoy it later on when you want healthy and lean meals in a flash! No one needs multiple pieces of pie, but why not have some of that great turkey in the freezer and for sandwiches in the days to come? I say to cook plenty, but with careful planning, and serve only enough. Once the meal is over, it gets packaged up and sent home with others or put in the freezer! Report
those are all really good ideas! Report
I am a terrible cook & always go to my Mom's house for Thanksgiving. I WISH she and my grandma would do this! There's always food still looming around all day, so we all keep picking at it & end up miserable. Lucky for me, I don't eat meat & my family doesn't make extra dishes just for me...so my options are limited, but that's the only thing that saves me. I love this idea & the minimalist mentality. America has gotten so overindulgent in everything! Report
I see where you're coming from, but I disagree. I often make large batches of healthy food and keep them in the fridge or freezer so I know there will also be good choices available when I need something quick or don't have time to make something from scratch. The choice I might make otherwise is to grab something at McDonald's. Having extra food around that's already prepared is a much smarter way to go in that situation. Report
It isn't how much you cook; it's how much you serve. I always cook several meals at once -- but only serve (and eat) them one meal at a time. Report
I always err on the side of makng more than any of us need to eat....several of my family members have weight issues and I will implement the smaller portion plan this year. Thanks Report
We have a small family, so if we cook a turkey, leftovers are pretty much inevitable. I don't stress over that because there are so many things you can do with leftover turkey that are pretty healthy, like soups and sandwiches. What we don't do is make a ton of rich sides and desserts - usually that stuff is just enough that we can have a decent meal, but not completely stuff ourselves. Report
Have you never heard of planned overs? the best part of Thanksgiving is the cold Turkey sandwiched the next day. After the turkey is completely carved down, I live to boil the turkey carcas and make turkey soup. Report
If it freezes well, I will make a large batch and then portion it out to a reasonable amount for dinner and freeze. Having meals in the freezer cuts down on the eating out. Report
I believe in cooking a lot of food so people can take home leftovers if they want them. I have never liked to go to other people's for holiday dinners because I don't have leftovers for the next day. That is the best part of a holiday meal, the leftovers. It is up to the individual to limit how much they eat, not the hostess. Report
Firstly...supplying healthy choices for family & friends is my job as a hostess, limiting their intake & being the 'food police' is not. As hostess, I like to ensure my guests are comfortable & happy & relaxed. Not everyone is on a 'weight loss' or 'weight maintenance' journey & to intentionally limit their food access/intake is to make them self-conscious and probably not very comfortable in my home.

Secondly...leftovers mean I can freeze home made, healthy, frozen dinners for future use & probably [as Karate Kid] says, still have enough for turkey sandwiches for a few days. Report
I guess it depends what foods. I agree, making too many desserts or rich sides can be a recipe for disaster, but turkey is a lean and healthy meat. I cook a whole turkey for the four of us, and the leftovers are split between us and my son and daughter-in-law. He works in construction and a week of turkey sandwiches is not the worst thing to take to work. Not for me either, if it keeps me out of the coffee shop. Report