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Healthful Eating Tips for Holiday Parties

The holidays can derail a healthful eater’s best intentions. From snacking ahead to navigating buffet tables, here are tips for mindful eating while still enjoying the party season.

Winter Squash Crostini

Winter Squash Crostini Recipe

The holidays are synonymous with parties, and parties mean (delicious!) food. From chocolate fondue with exotic dippers to baked cheeses and snack mixes to chocolate truffles, this time of year can derail a healthful eater’s best intentions. Here are some tips to have your chocolate-dipped pretzel and eat it, too, this holiday party season.

Prep for the party

Start the night before with a good night’s sleep. Not only will you feel better in the morning, but research also shows that getting less than six hours of sleep a night can trigger hormones that may stimulate appetite, especially for high-carb, high-fat foods.

Apple Sandwiches with Granola and Peanut Butter

Apple Sandwiches with Granola and Peanut Butter Recipe

Don’t arrive hungry

Always have a small snack before you go so you don’t overeat at the party. Think: a handful of nuts, cottage cheese and fruit, or an apple-nut butter “sandwich”.

Be mindful

Don’t just go through the food line, eating mindlessly while you’re chatting, enjoying the music, and taking in the décor. (A small gougère, small gingerbread cookie, and two cocktail meatballs can contain at least 250 calories or more.) First check out the food offerings and decide what looks amazingly splurge-worthy so you can make the best decision when you’re ready to eat.

Choose a small plate

Pick up a small plate to consume fewer calories. Research has shown that reducing the diameter of a large 12-inch plate by 2 inches can result in a calorie savings of about 20% (it takes less food to make a smaller plate look full).

Shrimp Cocktail with Sauce

Shrimp Cocktail with Sauce Recipe

Choose just two or three healthful items on your first pass

Rather than filling up your plate with bites of this-and-that, choose a few things to enjoy. Since a variety of colors and textures can make your appetite soar, limiting yourself to a few good options may help you munch smarter. A few good choices:

  • Shrimp cocktail

  • Fruit platter offerings

  • Veggie platter offerings (and a little bit of dip)

  • Whole grain crackers and plain cheeses

  • Turkey or ham slices

  • Small handful of roasted nuts

Munch and mingle

Fix your (small) plate and move away from the buffet table or out of the kitchen. You will likely eat less if food it is right there for you to grab. (Out of sight, out of mind, right?)

Sweet Potato Bacon Bites

Sweet Potato Bacon Bites Recipe

The one-bite approach

Don’t make any party food off limits. Take a small portion, and really enjoy it. (I’m thinking of you, oozy-warm-baked-goodness of brie in puff pastry). This is my one-bite approach: When I’ve identified the “wow” food of the party spread, I get myself a bite-size portion. And sometimes that one taste is just enough. Craving satisfied. And I realize I don’t need any more the rest of the party. For really rich items (think baked brie, chocolate truffles, or smoked salmon dip), sometimes one bite is really all you need.

So here’s the exception: Know what a trigger food is and be aware of your dietary Achilles. A trigger food is something that once you start to eat, you have a really, really hard time stopping. Once you have your hand in that bowl of chocolate candies or potato chips, you can’t stop until that bag is empty. If you really can’t control yourself, don’t even start.

 My go-to party food splurges: crab cakes or a really good homemade party mix. What’s yours? 

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