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K-State Today

November 7, 2011

A Happy Thanksgiving: Tips for a safe, proper and healthy holiday

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

From the preparation to the feasting and everything in between, Kansas State University experts have the answers to keep you safe, healthy and minding your manners this Thanksgiving.

To ensure the safety of family and friends, there are several guidelines for cooking and serving a holiday meal that should be followed, said Doug Powell, professor of food safety. He suggests incorporating the following tips into the preparation of your Thanksgiving meal:

* Never wash the Thanksgiving turkey. Research from the U.K. and elsewhere shows that washing turkey or chicken is an ideal way to spread dangerous bacteria throughout the kitchen or food preparation area. Washing under running water can spray surface contamination up to three feet away.

* Make sure to use a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to ensure the turkey has reached 165 F. Color is an inadequate indicator of safety, so always use a thermometer to test the turkey before serving.

* Cool leftover turkey quickly. Refrigerate leftover turkey within two hours of taking it out of the oven. Some spore-forming bacteria will grow and form toxins if kept at room temperature for too long. Turkey should be cooled to 41 F quickly, and this is best accomplished by placing sliced leftover turkey in resealable bags of one quart or smaller size. Bags should be laid flat in the refrigerator to allow cool air to circulate.

Once the meal is served, the formality of Thanksgiving may be overwhelming for some, said Pat Pesci, director of the Kansas State University hotel and restaurant management program.

"I just think it's kind of intimidating because most of us don't sit down and eat meals together," Pesci said. "It's intimidating because it really only happens on three days each year: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Other than that, we don't normally eat formal dinners."

To avoid letting your nerves get the best of you, Pesci has a few etiquette tips:

* Make sure you are dressed appropriately. This doesn't necessarily include wearing a tie or a dress, but clean clothes are a must.

* Be a helpful guest. Once you arrive at the host's house, ask if there is any way in which you can help as the meal is being prepared. Even assisting with small tasks, such as moving chairs, can be very helpful.

* Make sure children wash their hands before eating. They can also be helpful messengers to inform guests when dinner is ready to be served.

* Before being seated, ask the host where you should sit. This is common courtesy, as the host may have a plan for how he or she would like to have guests seated around the table.

* Be polite once seated. Wait to begin eating, as the host may prefer to say a mealtime prayer. Place your napkin in your lap, relax and engage in conversation making sure to stay away from controversial subjects such as sex, religion and politics. This also includes turning your cellphone off and keeping it off the table.

* Always pass food to the right. Family-style serving, placing food in the center of the table, is very common for Thanksgiving meals. Once you get your helping of mashed potatoes or stuffing, remember to pass the item to the right in order to be in line with proper etiquette.

* Mind your manners while eating. Eat slowly and set your pace with the rest of the guests at the table, making sure not to rush through the meal. Additionally, if something is served that you don't particularly enjoy, at least eat some of it out of respect, unless you have food allergies.

* Send a thank-you card. After the evening is over, it is proper to send the host a thank-you card for having you as a guest. This is a lost form of etiquette, Pesci said, and mailing a card is much more thoughtful than a quick email.

It's easy to feel guilty about all the delicious, high-calorie food that was consumed during Thanksgiving, but Kansas State University's Katie Heinrich, assistant professor of kinesiology, said people shouldn't let remorse get the best of them.

"Just because you might have consumed more calories than you wanted to over the Thanksgiving break, all is not lost," Heinrich said. "It is important to realize that your health is the result of the daily choices you make for physical activity and nutrition."

Heinrich said there are many ways to incorporate nutrition and physical activity into various Thanksgiving festivities. She recommends the following:

* Change your family tradition. Instead of taking a post-meal nap while watching your favorite football team, take a walk with a friend or family member. Not only will this help you combat the sleep-inducing effects of your Thanksgiving feast, but it will also help you burn some of the calories you just consumed.

* Avoid being sedentary during the holiday. Get up off of the couch every time there's a commercial break during the football game, or if you're fired up, go play a game of touch football during halftime. Keep in mind that sedentary behavior is a risk factor for disease -- above and beyond not getting enough physical activity.

* Deliberately make healthy choices. Pay attention to the serving size when eating your family's favorite foods. Is your portion meant for a healthy size adult or a giant? Above all, make sure to have a colorful plate that includes fruits and vegetables, not just turkey, mashed potatoes, gelatin and pumpkin pie.

* Always put your food in a dish rather than eating or drinking directly out of the container. That way, you notice the exact portion you are consuming rather than mindlessly realizing that you just ate the entire leftover container of mashed potatoes.

* Incorporate exercise into your holiday break. The most recent physical activity guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say that to maintain proper health, adults ages 18-64 should engage in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity, per week. Aerobic activity should also be paired with at least two days of muscle strengthening exercises every week.

* To meet these physical activity guidelines, there are many ways to exercise with little to no exercise equipment. Simple body weight exercises like lunges, sit-ups, squats, jumping jacks and pushups can be done anywhere. To make it more fun, get a family member or friend to exercise with you. Various exercise videos are freely available online, and you can even download a workout app for your phone, such as "Workout of the Day" at http://workout-of-the-day.com/.