Gourds Thanksgiving is only a week away: we know many of you are planing your menus for your family and friends. Whether you are recreating your grandmother's sage and butter stuffing or are trying the new gorgonzola cream spinach recipe from your favorite cooking magazine, one way to help you, and the people you are cooking for, maintain self-control over the busy holiday season is to have a solid understanding of portion size. Couple this with a few healthy dishes for you and your guests, and you'll be able to indulge in favorite treats and spend hours with family members around the dinner table without giving up your commitment to year-round healthy eating.

MyPlate's Guidelines

The USDA's MyPlate guidelines are a good place to start when thinking about your Thanksgiving menu. MyPlate recommends that at least half of your plate consist of fruits and vegetables, and that at least half of the grains you consume are whole grains. Add a little protein and a serving of dairy on the side and you have yourself a meal.

Take a look through the dishes you want to serve. Do you have each of the food groups represented? Can your guests make a MyPlate if they so choose? Maybe you can add some fruit to the dessert table, swap out the full fat sour cream in the dip for low fat greek yogurt, or just add some whole grain crackers and cut up vegetables to the appetizer line up.

In addition to the plate model, the USDA also had specific recommendations for how many servings you should eat, based on your age and gender. To help you determine what an ounce or cup equivalent looks like, they also offer handy visual guides for each food group:

Cup and ScaleTake a look at each to get a good sense of how much of each dish to make. Oftentimes, making half of an indulgent recipe and doubling up on some healthy ones can be enough to make the meal healthier while keeping everyone satisfied.

Where It Gets Confusing

What really is a cup versus an ounce? And what about those servings on the label, do those match up? The problem is, the serving sizes that you see on a label and in recipes aren't necessarily in tune with the MyPlate guidelines– instead, they represent how much an average person regularly eats. As most of us know, American portion sizes can be far too large for a healthy diet, not to mention that one portion doesn't represent the range of suggested consumption, which varies based on age, gender, and activity level.

As if that wasn't enough, serving sizes on labels can often vary between the standard system of weights and measures (cups, tablespoons, pounds) and the metric system (grams, liters, kilograms). Because you might be trying out a new recipe or pulling out a long forgotten one, it is important to have a reminder of the different types of measurements that you might see. 

Here is a handy round up to figure out whether you should be pulling out the measuring cups/spoons or the scale for your recipes.

Volume Measurements: Use Measuring Cups and Spoons

  • Teaspoon (t, tsp)
  • Tablespoon (T, tbs, tbsp)
  • Cup (c)
  • Pint (pt)
  • Quart (qt)
  • Mililitter (mL)
  • Liter (L)

Weight Measurements: Use a Kitchen Scale

  • Ounces (oz)
  • Pounds (lbs)
  • Grams (g)
  • Kilograms (kg)

For more information on conversions, click here. Noticed that ounces appear on both lists? They are not the same. Fluid ounces are volume measurements and require a measuring cup. Ounces are a weight measurement and require a scale. Want a quick way to tell which to use? See whether the rest of the recipe is in volume measurements or weight measurements and match accordingly.

A Healthy Thanksgiving with ShopWell

Need some suggestions for healthy Thanksgiving items to add to your cart? Here are a few handy ShopWell lists to help you incorporate more healthy foods into your Turkey Day feast:

Got any questions about portion size, measurements, or staying healthy on Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments, or send us a tweet or Facebook message!