10 Tips for Holiday Party Season

How to indulge without overdoing it

Holiday party scene

By: Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

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’Tis the season for holiday cocktail parties with bountiful buffets. As you gather with friends, family and coworkers to celebrate — and chances are you’ll do this more than once — be mindful of healthy eating habits.

You can indulge at a party without blowing your diet entirely. Use these 10 tips to navigate holiday spreads without fear of stepping on the scale in January.

  • Don't party on an empty stomach

    1. Don’t party on an empty stomach

    Rather than “saving up” for a big party meal, arrive with some food in your belly. Enjoy a small snack of nuts, string cheese or a few whole grain crackers before you leave. This will help you tame your appetite so you can focus on the treats you really want.

  • Dress for success

    2. Dress for success

    That “expandable” holiday pantsuit spells trouble at the buffet table. You want to be able to feel it when you’ve eaten too much. So keep your pants or skirt on the tighter side. Belts work nicely, too.

  • Rethink your drink

    3. Rethink your drink

    Alcohol packs a surprising number of calories. This is especially true for holiday beverages such as eggnog and ale. See if your host has seltzer so you can make a wine spritzer to cut down on calories. And keep in mind that the more drinks you have, the lower your inhibitions — and the greater your chances of mindless overeating.

  • last in line

    4. Be last in line

    That spread of food looks great when you’re the first one to it. But after a lot of people have gone through, the food doesn’t look quite as appealing. Imagine potatoes au gratin — that enticingly crusty topping will be gone by the time you see it if you wait. Never underestimate the visual power of food.

  • one plate

    5. Make one trip — with one plate

    Have you seen the guy who creates a tower of food on the plate? Don’t be that guy. Choose a salad plate if it’s available, and make a “no-stacking” rule to ensure reasonable portions. Avoid the temptation to go back for seconds.

  • napkin test

    6. Use the napkin test

    If the food leaves an oil mark on a napkin, leave it on the table. Although some fats can be healthy (think olive oil, flax seeds, peanuts, etc.), that appetizer or dessert is more likely loaded with trans and saturated fats. If food leaves a stain on your napkin, it may leave one on your heart, too.

  • wholesome

    7. Keep it wholesome

    Stick with whole foods when possible, avoiding the processed junk. Make a conscious effort to balance and brighten your plate with plenty of fruits and veggies, and don’t doctor them with dips and sauces.

  • focus off food

    8. Take the focus off food

    Friends and conversation are what holiday parties are all about anyway, right? Enjoy. But watch the dips and sauces while you’re chatting. They add the most calories and fat to buffet tables. It’s all too easy to dip a perfectly healthy carrot into 100 worthless calories of ranch dressing mid-conversation.

  • Chew on this

    9. Chew on this

    Avoid “picking” at the table after you’re full by bringing gum to the party. After you’ve had an appropriate amount to eat, chew a stick of gum. It will keep you from eating on autopilot.

  • no leftovers

    10. Avoid late-party munchies and leftovers

    Your hosts may want to get rid of that crescent-roll-pastry brie wheel, but you don’t have to eat it — especially if you’ve already had your fill. And if they offer a to-go plate, politely decline. Enjoy yourself at the party, within reason, without taking the party home with you.

In a recent Google+ Hangout On Air, registered dietitians Kristen Kirkpatrick (Cleveland Clinic) and Ashley Koff (Prevention Magazine) shared holiday-eating strategies for a healthier season. Get more tips below.

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