As your schedule fills up with dinner parties, happy hours, and other holiday festivities, you may feel like it’s impossible to maintain normal eating habits (let alone try and improve them).
Thankfully, there’s always a way to eat lighter in any social situation. We asked Habit’s registered dietitians to share their top strategies for navigating the season’s parties. You can call on these tips whenever you feel like you want to indulge a bit more wisely.
1. Have a light bite before you go.
This way, you won’t arrive hangry and ready to eat whatever’s in sight. “Try to have a snack that has a balance of carbs, fat, and protein, such as a fresh apple with a spoonful of almond butter,” suggests Jae Berman, RDN. You may find that having a balance of each nutrient can help you feel satisfied and tied over until your next meal.
2. Set a booze strategy.
Alcohol calories can add up quickly, especially when sugary mixers or creamy eggnog are involved. Having a plan is key to boozing wisely. “Before heading to the party, decide on the number of drinks you’re going to have,” says Paige Bossart, RDN. Once you pick a number, it’ll be much easier to pace yourself throughout the night.
If the special cocktail of the evening seems too sugary for your taste, scope out the lower-calorie options. “Lighter choices include a glass of wine, a light beer, or clear liquors mixed with soda water,” recommends Noora Mousa, RDN. “Also, try not to eat less food to allow more calories for alcohol—you’ll lose out on nutrients and potentially gain a hangover.”
3. Pick appetizers that have veggies.
Keep an eye out for dishes that include whole veggies, like a fresh crudite platter with hummus. Appetizers with veggies, especially non-starchy ones, tend to be lighter than traditional party fare like mini quiches and pigs in a blanket.
4. Focus on mingling.
“There’s a greater chance that you’ll pick up unnecessary nibbles when you’re at arm’s length from the serving platters,” says Janelle Connell, RDN. Take time to chat with old friends (or meet new ones) and enjoy the non-food parts of the party. This can also help you avoid mindless eating, and in turn, pay more attention to your hunger signals.
5. Browse the buffet before you commit.
Before grabbing a plate, get an overview of the different dishes and plan what portions you’ll take. “A good rule of thumb is to fill half your plate with veggies, salad greens, or fresh fruit,” Janelle says. “When it comes to the richer, heavier dishes, serve yourself a spoon-sized portion. This way you can enjoy everything without overdoing anything.”
6. Savor the splurges—and skip the rest.
If stuffing with gravy is your favorite holiday side, allow yourself to enjoy some. If you’re not that excited about sweet potato pie, there’s no need to serve yourself any. Browsing the buffet will help you figure out which dishes are worth your attention. “If something special awaits you at the end of the table, you’ll want to leave some room on your plate and in your stomach,” says Paige.
7. Most importantly, enjoy yourself.
Holiday parties are meant to be fun, and it’s not fun to feel like you’re missing out on your favorite foods. Keep in mind that eating habits are all about the big picture, not a single holiday party. You don’t have to follow every single one of these tips at every holiday party—pick your favorites and use them whenever you want to lighten up your evening.