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Tips for a safe, healthy holiday

By Judy Fortin
CNN
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(CNN) -- Turkey, stuffing and homemade dessert are usually part of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. But when food is not properly cooked and stored, you run the risk of food poisoning.

Here's some advice on how to have a safe and healthy holiday from a variety of experts:

Precautions for the bird

Forget what your grandmother used to do. It's not safe to thaw your turkey in the sink. Chef Samantha Enzmann of the Viking Cooking School in Atlanta, Georgia, says the best way to thaw the holiday bird is in a refrigerator, but plan ahead. "A 12- to 13-pound bird can take three to four days to thaw," Enzmann says.

She recommends using a meat thermometer to make sure the turkey isn't undercooked. Proper turkey temperature is 165 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash your hands before and after handling raw poultry and meat. Don't spread bacteria by cross-contaminating cutting boards, work surfaces and utensils.

It all adds up

It's no secret you can pack on the pounds eating Thanksgiving dinner, but did you know that the average feast contains up to 3,000 calories? Registered dietitian Dana Nahai says, "A 170-pound adult would have to run a 10-minute mile for 2 1/2 hours to burn off all those calories." She recommends exercise as a way to help fight the effects of a big meal but says it's better to try a long, slow walk while digesting food.

Instead of loading up your plate, take portion sizes no bigger than your fist. Consider substituting leaner ingredients such as applesauce or low-fat yogurt for butter.

Recipe for sleep

Why do you feel so tired after eating Thanksgiving dinner? A chemical in turkey called tryptophan usually gets the blame. Experts say it has a calming effect that can make you sleepy.

Nahai explains there may be more at work than just tryptophan. "It may have more to do with the blood traveling from your brain to your stomach to help digest a rich, calorically dense meal instead," she says.

She suggests cutting down on what you eat in the days before and after the holiday. Avoid the temptation to snack on nuts, cheese and crackers before the big feast.

What's for dinner?

Leftovers are sometimes the favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner, but if they aren't stored properly, someone might get sick. The American Dietetic Association warns that food should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking and eaten within four days. If you freeze leftover meat, eat it within two months. Frozen casseroles and stuffing should be consumed within a month.

When reheating food, make sure it is steaming hot to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Enough already

Overindulging during the holidays is easy, but family pressure can be enough to zap anyone's will power. Experts suggest talking with relatives about your effort to eat healthy. Load up on low-fat fruits and vegetables. Use a small plate and tall, thin glass to make it look as if you're getting a bigger helping of food. It's OK to sample a small portion rather than depriving yourself of a holiday favorite.

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