Ranking Your Favorite Thanksgiving Day Dishes By Calories

Every November brings Thanksgiving with it, and every Thanksgiving brings the inevitable hysteria about healthy eating. The nutrition-minded wring their hands and quail about the 4500 calories the average American packs away during their holiday celebration, and every food magazine and website trot out their lists of healthier alternatives to the old Thanksgiving standbys. This is, to be kind, a bunch of hogwash. Thanksgiving is one freaking day a year and on that one day, why would (or should) anyone restrain themselves? Live a little! However, that doesn’t mean you can eat in blissful ignorance — if you’re going to overdo it, you should know why those dishes count as an indulgence. Here’s a list of 10 delicious Thanksgiving foods, sorted by calories, to offer you the thrill of doing something you know is bad.


Turkey is, correctly, considered to be a healthy food. It’s high in protein and low in fat and calories. In fact, a three ounce portion of white meat will run you around 135 calories, give or take. But, come on, who is going to eat a mere three ounces of turkey? Who is going to eschew the dark meat? And whether it’s white or dark meat, who is going to skip the fat-drenched deliciousness of the skin? Right. So a proper Thanksgiving portion of turkey will take a caloric toll of about 265. (Photo credit: Pam Corey via Flickr CC)

Ambrosia Salad

For reasons that defy any and all logic, this salad is a staple of more Thanksgiving dinner tables than anyone could reasonably explain. But who wouldn’t love a gelatin salad, brimming with canned mandarin and pineapple, shredded coconut, maraschino cherries, whipped cream and miniature marshmallows? This is, of course, a rhetorical question asked with ten different kinds of irony. No one loves this salad, but it’s often eaten out of politeness. Such a gesture of good grace will cost you an easy 275 calories. (Photo credit: Lobstar28 via Flickr CC)

Candied Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are naturally quite sweet to begin with. As they cook, the flavor and sweetness intensifies to almost dessert-like levels. Most American Thanksgiving celebrants, not content to leave well enough alone, layer brown sugar on their sweet potatoes and, frequently, marshmallows, too. The results will make your teeth ache and add at least 250-300 calories to your tally. (Rianastellburg via Flickr CC)

Mashed Potatoes

One of world cuisine’s most inspired and exquisite inventions, mashed potatoes result from the mixing of boiled potatoes with large measures of butter and cream. The more butter and cream, the more sublime the end product. Of course there are killjoys out there who insist on carping about how bad they are for both the heart and waistline. These people should be ignored; go right ahead and enjoy every single one of the 200 calories even a small serving nets you (though you’ll probably have three). On one website out there, a nutritionist advocates skipping the mashed potatoes this year in favor of quinoa. This individual obviously hates freedom. (Photo credit: Ernesto Andrade via Flickr CC​)

Green Bean Casserole

Green beans in their unaltered state are loaded with nutrients. Feeling a depletion of vitamin A, thiamin, fiber and minerals? Look no further than a serving of steamed-but-still-crunchy green beans to alleviate what ails you. The nutrients, however, begin disappearing when those beans are cooked to sogginess, mixed with a can of cream of mushroom soup, topped off with those strangely compelling Durkee fried onions and baked until bubbling. This perverse deliciousness will cost you a smooth 200 calories per small serving, as well. (Liz Lagman Sperl via Flickr CC)


In theory, gravy is benign. You fry a little bit of flour in a small measure of oil to make a roux, then add the juices of a cooked turkey. In practice, gravy is highly caloric because most wise cooks realize that fat contains an abundance of flavor and don’t bother skimming it off when all the pan drippings are added to it. A quarter cup of the stuff adds around 260 calories to a Thanksgiving meal, but a true gravy enthusiast will usually pour way more than that over his or her plate. (Photo credit: I believe I can fry via Flickr CC)

Canned Cranberry Sauce

There are some foods — like a cheese danish, for example, or ketchup — that are just not meant to be cooked at home, that, in fact, benefit from all the artificialness that attends them. Think of that white frosting dribbled over the danish or the difference in taste between a sugar-free, organic ketchup and a bottle of Heinz. Many Thanksgiving cooks violate this maxim by making their own cranberry sauce. Real aficionados, however, will reach for the canned variety, preferably with all those grooves from the can’s interior imprinted on the surface. Alas, all good things come with a price: In this case, the sugar, mere wisp of actual cranberry and copious high-fructose corn syrup will run you 110 entirely empty calories for a small serving. (Photo credit: Gene Han via Flickr CC)


At its most basic, stuffing is simply stale bread that has been moistened with the juices of a cooked bird, seasoned and frequently baked in the cavity of the turkey. Most people aren’t content to keep it at that sort of bare bones level and often add butter, sausage, turkey giblets, chestnuts, and on and on. It’s naturally delicious (especially when butter and turkey fat are mixed in), but also dense with calories. If you go all out, with both ingredients and serving size, you can expect to get yourself 500 in the caloric red. (Photo credit: Greg Hirson via Flickr CC)

Pecan Pie

Nuts … eggs … bourbon — so far, so good. Now, add corn syrup, brown sugar, butter and place the results in a lard-laden pie crust. This dessert has a long and illustrious presence in the annals of Southern cuisine, and pecan pie has graced innumerable Thanksgiving tables. Nutritionists vilify the stuff because a single slice of a traditional pecan pie — one slice being 1/8th of a pie — means approximately 500 calories. But if you’ve gotten this far with holiday dinner, what possible difference could it make? (Photo credit: Jill via Flickr CC​)


Finally, the booze. A glass of red wine is good for your heart, helps lower cholesterol, and is chock full of antioxidants. And its 125 calories per glass seems pretty reasonable. But you’re not going to just have a single glass of red wine on Thanksgiving, are you? No, there will probably be a beer or two (at 150 calories a pop) or maybe more, not to mention the bourbon you’ll employ to help settle your stomach later on, at 90 calories per 1.5 ounce serving. All in all, a hard-drinking holiday will cost you around 1000 calories. (Photo credit: Didriks via Flickr CC)