Ah, the holiday party. A night you’ll spend eyeing a spread of appetizers, cocktails, and cookies in search of something that won’t wreck your diet. While eating clean at a food-filled social function seems impossible, it can be done–if you take the right approach. We chatted with Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., a nutrition consultant, author, and member of the Jamba Juice Healthy Living Council, who answered our holiday-eating questions and armed us with some fat-fighting nutrition strategies.
Q1. Is it smart to skip dinner if I’m heading to a holiday event?
No, never go to a party hungry. Arriving ravenous spells disaster. Eat regular meals during the day; don’t skimp breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Then, before the event, have a snack with protein and a complex carbohydrate, such as a hard-cooked egg and a few whole-grain crackers or a smoothie made with fruit and Greek yogurt, to take the edge off. Also, start the night with a non-alcoholic drink to quench your thirst. Then, alternate your beer, wine, or cocktail with water to cut down your alcohol intake, curb calories, and stay hydrated.
Q2. So many party foods are packed with carbs and fat. How can I zero in on protein at a holiday dinner?
Eat protein-packed foods first to prevent overdoing it on refined carbs, like crackers, white rolls, and cookies. Choose lower-fat, protein-rich fare, like shrimp, lean beef, poultry, eggs, and beans. Avoid fatty meats, meat and poultry smothered in fatty sauces, and processed meats such as mini hot dogs and cold cuts.
Q3. Same goes for vegetables: What appetizers or dishes will help me bulk up on fiber and other nutrients without taking in a ton of extra fat?
Fresh fruit and vegetables that are free of high-fat toppings, like cheese and full-fat sour cream, are good choices. They’re filling because of their fiber and high water content. When you pair high-fiber, water-packed foods with protein you increase your eating satisfaction.
Q4. Are there any calorie traps I should be aware of—you know, those dishes that sound like decent picks but are actually bad ideas?
Salads can be high-calorie when they’re full of processed meats and cheese and swimming in dressing. And any dish with the word “casserole” in it is usually not a good idea.
In terms of appetizers, guacamole is a healthy choice, but high in fat, so stick to a small portion. Nuts are another healthy food that can pack on pounds when you eat too many. Stick to a small handful.
Q5. It’s a special occasion, so I’m going to indulge a little. How can I enjoy something sweet without straying too far from my clean-eating goals?
Eat only what you love. Scan the desserts and decide what that is. Take a small portion and stay focused. The first few bites of any food are the best, so don’t get distracted. Enjoy it, and don’t kick yourself for indulging.
Q6. If I’m going to have a drink or two, what’s my best bet? Beer or liquor?
I say light beer. It takes longer to drink and that may mean you drink less overall. But don’t overdo it: Alcohol makes you throw caution to the wind, which in this case could mean blowing off your resolve to eat right.