But they don’t have to be if you plan out your food and drink choices be­fore, dur­ing par­ties

Chicago Sun-Times - - WELL NORTH - BY DIANA NOV AK JONES, FOR THE SUN-TIMES Diana No­vak Jones is a lo­cal free­lance writer.

It’s that time of the year again, the sea­son when it seems all the but­ter, sugar and carbs that find them­selves shunned dur­ing the warmer months come home to roost in the form of back- to- back fam­ily din­ners, of­fice hol­i­day par­ties, potlucks with friends and cookie ex­changes. For peo­ple who worked all year to main­tain healthy eat­ing habits, it can feel like you have to choose be­tween keep­ing that go­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties. It’s a hard choice, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing all the feel­ings caught up in the food and drink of the sea­son.

We spoke with nu­tri­tion­ists about how to nav­i­gate the par­ties and din­ners while main­tain­ing health­ful habits. Their tips be­low sug­gest that if you make a plan for your­self, you can en­joy the hol­i­days with­out miss­ing out on the food and drinks that de­fine it— while keep­ing your health in mind.

Think bal­ance

When think­ing about hol­i­day eat­ing, your fo­cus might be on the par­ties and meals sched­uled with friends and fam­ily, but Re­becca Levine, reg­is­tered di­eti­cian with the Cen­ter for Life­style Medicine at North­west­ern Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal, said the key is to think bal­ance through­out all meals.

Eat­ing dur­ing hol­i­day time shouldn’t be all or noth­ing but in­stead a mix­ture of healthy foods you eat through­out the year and those “some­times” foods like pie and eggnog, she said.

“I try to fo­cus on bal­ance with food choices in and around those meals,” Levine said.

Mak­ing good choices at your un­spe­cial meals leads to more good choices, adds Amari Thom­sen, reg­is­tered di­eti­cian and nu­tri­tion con­sul­tant.

“If you choose some­thing non- nu­tri­tional in the morn­ing, it’s more dif­fi­cult to re­cover from that,” Thom­sen said. “If you’re pick­ing some­thing that’s not very nu­tri­ent- dense, it’s not go­ing to fuel you op­ti­mally dur­ing the day.”

Don’t skip­meals

Us­ing all the meals you eat dur­ing the hol­i­days to main­tain bal­ance doesn’t mean you should skip some to save up calo­ries for party meals, Thom­sen and Levine said.

“It ends up back­fir­ing,” Levine said. “We end up eat­ing more than we planned.”

Your body draws on en­ergy pro­vided by the food you eat a lit­tle at a time as you ex­pend en­ergy, Thom­sen said, so if you eat all your calo­ries at once it will store more of those as fat.

“If you do that day af­ter day, it’s sort of sim­i­lar to yoyo di­et­ing,” Thom­sen said. “You start mess­ing with your me­tab­o­lism.”

It’s ac­tu­ally a good idea to eat a fill­ing and bal­anced snack, like fruit with nut but­ter, be­fore you go, Levine said.

“You tend to make bal­anced and in­formed choices when you’re not starv­ing,” she said.

Build your plate

When you get to a hol­i­day party or meal, take a sec­ond to look at all the op­tions be­fore choos­ing what you will eat, Levine sug­gests. Then, use your plate as a guide for how much to eat.

There’s usu­ally a salad or veg­etable dish at the meal, some­times both. Fill half of your plate with those, she said.

Don’t skip the pro­tein, Levine said. Turkey is an ex­cel­lent source of lean pro­tein that will help you feel full.

With the space you have left, look at the sides. Stuff­ing, mac­a­roni and cheese, mashed pota­toes— nar­row it down to your ab­so­lute fa­vorites and take small por­tions of those.

“It’s not to say we can’t have those foods,” Levine said. “Foods that are creamy and cheesy, I know I am go­ing to want to take smaller por­tions of.”

Slowyour pace

Amid the con­ver­sa­tion and good cheer, many peo­ple tend to eat re­ally quickly then go straight for sec­onds, Levine says. Try putting your fork down and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the con­ver­sa­tion a lit­tle bit be­fore tak­ing your next bite.

“It does take a cer­tain amount of time for your stom­ach to send a sig­nal to your brain that you’re sat­is­fied,” she said.

If you’re still hun­gry, go back for sec­onds of those veg­etable dishes that made up the bulk of your plate, Levine said.

Watch your drink­ing

Main­tain­ing good habits also ex­tends to al­co­hol, Thom­sen said. She sug­gests tak­ing a break be­tween drinks to have a glass of wa­ter to stay hy­drated.

“The more you drink, you’re less likely to make nu­tri­tious de­ci­sions,” Thom­sen said. “All of your ini­tial plans might not fol­low through.”

If you feel pres­sured to drink, go for a spark­ing wa­ter with lime.

“It looks like a cock­tail, so you can still feel part of it and you don’t have to ex­plain your­self,” Thom­sen said.

If you’re host­ing, you can of­fer your guests fun mock­tails that both look like a cock­tail— com­plete with gar­nishes— and have more fla­vor and nu­tri­tional value than a soda.

Bring some­thing

You can al­ways bring some­thing to share that you know is nu­tri­tious, Thom­sen said. And no host will turn down your of­fer to help.

“You’re prob­a­bly not the only per­son who is try­ing to make smart choices, so other peo­ple will be glad you brought some­thing,” she said.

Thom­sen’s recipe for choco­late bark cov­ered in fruit and nuts ( see recipe) is a great op­tion to get some pro­tein and fiber along with your dessert.


Host­ing a hol­i­day cock­tail party doesn’t have to be all about the booze. Above are three mock­tail recipes from the menu at RPM Steak that give peo­ple look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive to al­co­hol some­thing to get ex­cited about.

The recipes, de­vel­oped by RPM Chef and part­ner Doug Psaltis, fo­cus on a cen­tral in­gre­di­ent and add some el­e­ment of sour­ness, sweet­ness or spice.

“You want to make sure the acid­ity level is good in them, re­ally nice and palat­able,” said Ja­son Dohman, RPM Steak gen­eral man­ager. “Just as if you were do­ing an ac­tual cock­tail, we wanted some­thing that was bal­anced.”

All are served in cock­tail glass­ware with a gar­nish, so it’s up to you if you want to re­veal your drink is non­al­co­holic.

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