Prescription for a healthy Thanksgiving

Oct 22, 2008 at 11:57 a.m. ET

Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for some, but it isn't without its health-hazards. Here are some tips to keep your family safe and healthy this Thanksgiving.

Cooking Turkey

Food safety

In a lot of households, eating dinner is an all-day affair on Thanksgiving. While this can make for wonderful family-time, it can have a very negative effect on your digestive system if the food gets contaminated.

You can help guard against food poisoning by washing meat and produce before handling it, cooking foods thoroughly and refrigerating them. That means that during your languorous dinner, make sure that no food is left out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour if the air temperature is above 90 degrees F). If you have large amounts of leftovers, divide them into small batches when you put them away in the refrigerator or freezer. That way, the temperature of each batch will reach a safe level faster.

Stay trim among the trimming

If there's ever a day when you're expected to eat seconds, it's Thanksgiving. But make sure you really have room for them before shoveling in more food. How? Wait seven minutes before you decide if your appetite warrants seconds. It takes about that long for the first helping of food to reach your system and decrease your appetite.

Ask guests to bring their walking shoes

Between dinner and dessert is a perfect time to get outside and take a walk. Light exercise will help you digest, decrease stress and burn off some of the day's calories.

Dealing with family stress

Even if you genuinely like all your family members, spending an extended amount of time with them can be stressful. If you feel yourself getting annoyed or stressed, escape to the bathroom or another private area for these stress relievers:

  • Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.
  • While sitting down, check your body for tension. Relax your facial muscles and allow your jaw to fall open slightly. Let your shoulders drop. Let your arms fall to your sides. Allow your hands to loosen so that there are spaces between your fingers. Uncross your legs or ankles. Feel your thighs sink into your chair, letting your legs fall comfortably apart. Feel your shins and calves become heavier and your feet grow roots into the floor. Now breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly. Each time you breathe out, try to relax even more.

Handling the loss of a loved one

It can be difficult to celebrate holidays after losing someone close to you. For some people, it can help to build on tradition by placing a candle on the table in honor of the deceased, including one of his or her favorite foods, creating a memorial decoration, or formally asking another family member to carry on a role this person used to play.

For others, tradition is too painful, so they prefer to change the way they celebrate. For example, you might go out for dinner or take a holiday trip to get out of the house, where memories are probably strongest.