‘Tis the season for the holiday gatherings we look forward to all year! But we know that with this season comes food – the yummy kind that doesn’t normally fit into a clean eating plan. When I first started my health journey seven years ago, committing to eat real food, these get-togethers would sometimes bring feelings of anxiousness and apprehension. What will I eat? What will people think? Will I seem rude for saying no? But I now excitedly look forward to any gathering I’m invited to because I have a simple strategy for clean eating at holiday parties. My hope is that some of my go-to social eating tips will empower you to eat confidently, choose wisely, and avoid throwing all health-consciousness to the wind.
8 Tricks for Clean Eating at Holiday Parties
1. Don’t Go Hungry
An empty stomach is the number one no-no if I want to stay on track with my healthy eating habits while facing a smorgasbord of holiday food. Because there’s nothing more convincing than a grumbling stomach, I make sure I quiet it with a light meal or snack before I arrive.
2. Bring a Dish
There’s no better way to control what you eat than to bring a dish…or two! It’s also a wonderful way to show gratitude to the host and prove just how yummy healthy food can be. I love decorating a wooden appetizer board with a variety of nuts, hummus, olives, raw veggies, and crackers for dipping. For a seated dinner, bringing a salad is a wonderful way to ensure you’re getting a healthy serving of veggies and good oils. And, because I don’t eat processed sugar, wowing the crowd with a delicious and healthy homemade dessert never fails. Two of my go-to holiday party recipes are roasted root veggies and Healthy Spelt Crust Pumpkin Pie.
3. Sneak a Snack
This may sound silly, but this tip has helped me out of dozens of eating dilemmas. I often throw a small bag of nuts or a bar in my purse (I love Epic Bars because the high-protein pairs well with my glass of wine!) in case there aren’t healthy options to chose from at the party. This way I’m not left with a grumbling stomach if I hadn’t eaten enough beforehand or end up staying later than planned.
4. Learn to Navigate a Buffet
Let’s face it, eating is fun and avoiding it…well, isn’t! If given a buffet or spread, I go for the simplest and least processed options like salad (unless doused with dressing or sauce), vegetable dishes, hummus, guacamole, nuts and olives. Other great choices are simple grains like rice and quinoa, grilled fish, or a clean meat like lamb, quail or buffalo. I personally avoid dairy and meat from cows and chicken unless I know it’s organic, as the conventional ones are fed and treated with things I don’t want in my body. I try to avoid dishes with sauce, gravy or dressings, as they usually contain the “unknown” (conventional dairy, processed sugar, excitotoxins, and unhealthy oils).
5. Eat Mindfully
It’s not just what we eat, it’s how we eat. By taking small bites and chewing well, we can mitigate the negative effects that hard-to-digest foods or a combination of foods can have on our system. Both carbohydrate and fat digestion begin in the mouth with our salivary glands and our tongue’s enzyme secretion, so do your stomach a favor and chew, chew, chew!
6. Drink Wisely
If possible, I bring a bottle of organic wine so I can rest assured I’m sipping pesticide-free! If you prefer liquor, avoid mixers which often contain a ton of sugar and other artificial ingredients. Club soda or on the rocks is your best bet! As for beer, craft and microbrews are best as well as those from Germany, which has strict national ingredient standards. Sierra Nevada, Amstel Light and Heineken are common clean choices. And going booze-free is much easier (and just as festive) with a sparkling water in hand! Either way, it’s always best to alternate alcohol with water to stay hydrated (and a lemon slice to nourish your liver!).
7. It’s Okay to Say No
I used to feel like not eating something meant I was offending the host or other guests. I’ve learned that’s rarely the case and that others are usually unaware of what I am or am not eating. Also, with so many dietary restrictions today and an ever-growing population of people who are gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and/or vegetarians, it’s rare there’s not someone else at the event who’s watching their intake as well.
8. Treat Yourself Afterward
This is one of my favorite tricks. Often times, after using self-restraint for an entire evening while everyone around me seems to be indulging, I tend to crave a treat. Knowing that there’s something waiting for me at home increases my strength to say no. My go-tos are Hail Merry’s Chocolate, homemade popcorn, dates with almond butter or banana “ice cream” made by simply throwing a frozen banana in the blender along with cinnamon. Sweet tooth satisfied!
While it may seem difficult in the moment, I speak from a lot of experience when I say no food is more satisfying than the feeling of having control over my eating and not throwing all healthy habits to the wind. I’ve even found that with these habits in tow, my focus is more centered on the company and conversation of others around me, which is far more important than that peppermint brownie!