The holidays are a magical time of year, full of abundance. Longer to-go lists, gifts to give, more social events to attend, and full of traditions with family and friends. Most of the time holiday parties and traditions are centered around food. A meal typically brings us together and is filled with an abundance of food and dishes that we don’t normally eat on a daily basis. Understandably, this can easily cause overeating, putting our health and goals on the back-burner, or even trigger emotions of unease or anxiety. It can leave you questioning how to eat healthy at a holiday party?

That truth is holiday parties don’t have to bring up anxiety or bring about overindulgence. While the party may be full of food that you do not eat daily, the beauty is just that – you don’t eat them daily. Holiday parties are can be completely manageable and enjoyable without leaving you feeling anxious, deprived, guilty or overly full. Here are my top tips for eating healthy at a holiday party (or any party!) so that you can feel confident and truly enjoy the food and people around you!

Flourless almond butter molasses cookies with bite

How to eat healthy at a holiday party

1. Don’t skip meals prior to the party

This is one of the worst things you can do the day of a party or holiday. Yes, in theory not eating prior to the party allows you to “save up” calories. But the reality is restriction mentality leads to bingeing. Not giving your body the proper fuel slows down your metabolism and essentially leaves you feeling lethargic and overly hungry. This in turn just sets you up for losing touch with your hunger cues causing you to easily overeat and a drastic spike in blood sugar.

    • Eat breakfast – aim to nourish your body as you normally would, starting with a balanced breakfast full of protein, healthy fats and fiber. If you need some ideas, check out the Nourished by Nutrition breakfast recipes.
    • Eat a snack (or lunch!) – if your meal is at an in-between time, like 2-3pm, you may need a snack (or even lunch!) to hold you over. Aim for a snack combo of protein and healthy fats to keep you satisfied and stabilize your blood sugar.

2. Go in with a plan

Going in with a plan can help reduce anxiety and allow you to feel confident about your food choices so you can stop stressing and enjoy your meal and time with friends and family. This is especially helpful if you’re attending multiple parties in one day!

    • Visualize – having an idea of what your meal will look like before you decide what to eat will help you be able to make a decision when it’s time to make your plate. Even if you don’t know exactly what foods are going to be served it’s helpful to visualize a balanced plate and reasonable portion sizes.
    • Scan your options – scanning all your options before digging in can help you make the best choices instead of loading up on everything as you go.

3. Make a plate

Making one plate can help you see everything you’re eating and make it feel like a proper meal. It can be easy to just pick of the appetizer trays or use multiple tiny plates throughout the party, but this tends to lead to mindlessly overeating.

    • Assess the appetizers and choose wisely– check in with yourself. Are you excited about the appetizers or would you rather enjoy your full meal? Appetizers are a fine way to curb your appetite especially if you are noticing you’re getting overly hungry, but they can also spoil your meal. If you are hungry, avoid grazing by making a small plate and choosing veggie options to hold you over.
    • Balance your plate – focus on making a plate as you normally would full of fiber, protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. Ultimately listening to your hunger cues and what you truly want (the food that nourishes your body but also your mind/soul -that pumpkin pie!). Use this as a guideline – 1 protein, 1-2 fun foods (stuffing, pie, sweet potato casserole, etc), unlimited veggies (salads, roasted veggies, etc.)

holiday cheese board brooke lark
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

4. Eat (and drink!) mindfully

This is key but can be difficult since we often are hyper-focused on engaging with others or what’s going on around us, that before we know it the food on our plate is gone. Tuning into what you truly want, the actual eating process, and how you are feeling with every bite is going to be key to eating without overdoing it.

Yes, I know, easier said than done. BUT making this a practice and consciously making the effort during your holiday meal will make it less likely to overindulge and allow you to truly enjoy what you are eating.

How to eat mindfully:
      • Before the meal – scan the option and decide on the foods you truly want and the food that makes you feel good.
      • Sit down and breathe – before you begin, take a breath and tune in. Access your hunger level.
      • Eat slowly – focus on your food. Chew every bite slowly. Put down your fork in between bites. Savor the taste. This allows you to notice your satiety and truly enjoy your food.

5. Slow down and enjoy

This goes hand in hand with mindfully eating but it’s worth repeating.

    • Slowing down = better digestion and allows you to notice hunger cues. It takes about 20 minutes for you to register fullness. Slowing down and tuning in to your actual hunger level with every bite allows you to register your satiety and avoid overeating. Before you head to get seconds, wait 15-20 minutes. Sit and engage in conversation or get up and move. This will take your mind off eating and allow you gauge if you are truly hungry.
    • Savor and enjoy – consciously taste every bite. Chew slowly and assess the flavor. This allows you to truly appreciate what you are eating and enjoy it. It also allows you to notice if something doesn’t taste good (or as good as you expected) and gives you the choice to continue eating it or opt for something you truly enjoy!

6. Hydrate

It’s so easy to forget to drink water on holidays or at holiday parties, especially when there is an abundance of alcohol and other holiday drinks present. But drinking water is truly key to feeling your best throughout the day and the day after. It will help you feel energized (no 3pm slump!) and also help prevent a hangover if you choose to drink any alcohol at your party.

    • Hunger or thirst – often times we confuse hunger with thirst, so instead of drinking a bottle of water, we reach for more food. Check in with yourself before grabbing a snack or another plate of food. Have you had water recently? Are you truly hunger or are you thirsty?
    • Drink up! – Aim for at least five 16oz bottles (80 oz) throughout the day. If this seems like a lot, start small. Set a goal to drink a bottle every hour. Set a reminder on your phone. Add flavors by adding lemon slices, cucumbers, or fresh fruit. Switch it up by drinking tea. Do whatever you need to do to get the water in!

7. Remember it’s just one meal

One meal (or day) of extra indulgence isn’t going to offset what you do every other day of the year. It can be a slippery slope if you use this “it’s just one meal” approach to every holiday party. That being said, the whole idea is to use the tips above to help you manage your holiday parties in a healthy way. The goal is to create a lifestyle that makes you feel good every day so that when a holiday party does come around you feel confident in your ability to navigate the choices. You can find balance and most importantly enjoy your meal and those around you!

    • Tomorrow is a new day – If you do overdo it a little bit, this is a loving reminder that it’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day. A new chance to nourish your body with foods that make you feel your best. Feeling guilty and stressing over what you ate is far worse for you both physically and mentally than eating the stuffing or that extra slice of pie could ever be for your waistline.
    • Mindset Shift – repeat after me: “Every meal I have the ability to choose to nourish my body. A fresh start. A clean slate.”

I hope you find these tips useful this holiday season! This is truly is a special time of year and should be enjoyed to the fullest. If you have any tips you’d like to share or found these tips helpful, let me know in the comments.