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