The holidays can be a tricky time to navigate optimal nutrition.
But you don’t have to erase your social calendar or resign yourself to eating only celery sticks to enjoy the season. “While you don’t want to completely sabotage your good eating habits, munching on raw vegetables isn’t exactly most people’s idea of a fun holiday party,” says Rachel Begun, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Staying on track during the holidays, she says, “is about finding a happy medium so that you enjoy and feel satisfied by your food choices.” Hit the party circuit with these festive and calorie-saving tactics.
STRATEGY #1: BREAKFAST
No matter how busy the day, start of with a good breakfast! Nutritionist Heidi Skolnik MS, CDN says a well-balanced morning meal ideally includes a whole grain, like cereal, oatmeal or whole grain bread, 100 percent orange juice or fruit, and protein like eggs or cottage cheese or dairy, such as milk or yogurt. “Holiday scheduling can make the day unpredictable; getting in a healthy breakfast helps prevent overeating at office parties and holiday gatherings later in the day,” says Skolnik.
STRATEGY #2: DON’T SKIP LUNCH
“People rationalize that by skipping meals earlier in the day they have more calories to spend at the party, but that can backfire,” says Begun. When you bank calories, your metabolism slows down and burns fewer of them; also, you arrive at the party so hungry you’ll eat anything and everything. Instead, eat small, regular meals on party day. An hour or two before festivities begin, eat a moderate snack with fiber, protein and good fats, such as apple slices with almond butter, says Greg Hottinger, MPH, RD, coauthor of Coach Yourself Tin (Rodale, 2012). And drink a big glass of water just before or when you arrive.
STRATEGY #3: SCOPE THE OPTIONS
“Rather than loading up your plate at the first buffet table you see, take a lap around the party to survey all the foods available,” Begun says. Fill your first plate with fruit and healthy vegetable-based dishes, advises Hottinger. (And, he adds, if it’s a potluck; bring a fruit or vegetable dish yourself.) Love to dip? Pass on ranch and look for nutrient-dense dips. The lean protein, heart-healthy fats and fiber in bean dips, hummus or guacamole, for example, help you feel full so you consume fewer calories overall, says Begun. Instead of chips, crackers or breads, pair dips with carrots, jicama, radishes, bell peppers and other fresh options, which contain water and fiber to fill you up faster with fewer calories and more nutrients. Skolnik adds, with all the sweet treats around, it's easy to overeat simple carbs. Remember to add protein such as poultry, fish, lean meats, eggs, cheese and soy to each meal to keep your immune system strong and help keep sweet cravings at bay.
STRATEGY #4: HYDRATE
With scheduling so tight, it’s easy to forget to stay well hydrated. “Many of my clients complain water gets boring; remember all fluids count!” says Skolnik. In addition to water, Skolnik says treat yourself to a nice cup of hot chocolate made with low-fat milk for calcium, choose orange juice for a boost of vitamin C and energy to keep going, try a nice bowl of hot soup at lunch. Even coffee and tea count. Alcohol dehydrates, so holiday drinking does not count!
STRATEGY #5: SPLURGE
You read that right. “If you go to a party and don’t allow yourself any indulgence, it’s going to backfire because you’ll walk away not satisfied and then go home and raid the refrigerator,” says Begun. So choose something decadent—and make it count. “Have something special for you, a comfort food for that time of year; that’s where you should be spending your calories,” she says. “Why waste calories on foods you really aren’t crazy about or that are easily accessible throughout the year?” Indulge intelligently, too. “Calorie for calorie, pumpkin pie is a great choice,” says Begun, because it’s made with vitamin- rich squash and less sugar than most other pies. Other suggestions: Choose pies without a top crust, skip those with a crisp or streusel topping, and forgo the ice cream or whipped cream. “All of the add-ons add up,” she says.