When the weather gets dreary, a holiday party is an inviting alternative — unless you’re trying to stick to a healthful diet. In that case, the indoors can be pretty scary, too.
Because no matter how small those tasty holiday hors d’oeuvres are, they are packed with calories.
And what about that holiday party staple, eggnog? A cup of this creamy, sweet and spicy goodness is about 350 calories before you even add alcohol. It’s about 450 calories with a shot of rum.
“It’s quite ridiculous,” says Jared Rice, a Bethesda, Md.-based nutritionist. “One cup of eggnog is almost like a meal.”
And those sliders on the hors d’oeuvre tray? About 300 calories per serving of two tiny burgers.
Pigs in a blanket? About 245 calories for one serving of five little pigs.
The pigs and the sliders are also high in sodium. And the fat content is huge, at about 25 percent of your daily value per serving.
Think those garlic breadsticks are any better? Expect about 160 calories per breadstick. And let’s be honest: Are you really eating just one?
“My advice is to skip them altogether,” says Danielle Omar, a dietitian and owner of Foodconfidence.com. “The portions are small, sometimes bite-size, but calories add up so quickly with those choices without making you feel full.”
Way to take the fun out of the holiday party, you might say.
But there are ways to deal with these yearly food affairs with friends, family and colleagues without busting seams or losing cheer. Here are some tactics for buffets, cocktail parties and everything in between.
Start by eating a light meal or snack before leaving the house. Or, if that is not in the cards, eat “defensively.”
“You have to get into that defensive mode where you are choosing the right things at the party,” Omar says. “Head for the raw veggies with dip.” Indeed, a tablespoon of blue cheese dip (about 50 to 75 calories) is preferable to the sliders, pigs and bread, she says.
Plus, the raw veggies are packed with fiber, which will make you feel full. And they require a lot of chewing, which will keep you busy and away from the melt-in-your-mouth, high-calorie, processed options, Rice says.
Practice the ‘plate method’
When you visit the buffet table, advises Omar, use the “plate method”: Fill half of your plate with veggies and fruits, a quarter with a lean protein and a quarter with a carbohydrate or a dessert.
“And stay mindful while you are eating,” she says. “Go from lowest to highest calories.”
In other words, start eating the lowest-calorie items first, such as raw veggies, then move to the proteins and finally the dessert.
And don’t loiter near the buffet table, if there is one, Rice says.
Of course, there might not be a table or even plates. There might just be waiters with amazing, ever-changing goodies passing by every few minutes for the next four hours.
In that case, you have to visualize the plate, Omar says, and mentally account for the foods you’ve consumed.
If you’re going to a potluck holiday party, bring a low-calorie option that you can enjoy, says Lisa Patricia James, author of “Easy Appetizers: Healthy & Delicious,” which features low-calorie holiday appetizers such as mini sage and pumpkin balls (see recipe).
James says another line of defense is to drink a glass of water or tea when you arrive.
“It fills you up and it keeps your hands busy,” James says.
Speaking of drinking: If you go for the alcoholic variety, stick with clear drinks, Rice says, with one caveat. If the clear drink is a mixed sweet drink, then it’s loaded with sugar and simple syrup and should be avoided.
Instead, go for a beer or a glass of wine, says Rice, a health and fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine.
But of course, even with the beer (roughly 100 to 200 calories per 12-ounce glass) and wine (150 to 300 calories per six-ounce glass), keep an eye on how much you’re drinking, for several reasons. In addition to the calories involved, drinking can lead to a loss of judgment that extends to the dessert table.
“You drink enough and you won’t even care how many quiches or desserts you have had,” Omar says. That would be the opposite of mindful eating, which is what the experts recommend.
“The holiday party presents a stressful dynamic to begin with, and many people — particularly women — respond to that stress with emotional eating,” James says. “So take a moment to be truly present and focus on why you are there. To socialize.”
But let’s face it, the holidays in general and holiday parties in particular are like the Super Bowl of eating events. “Like any sports event, it’s a mental game. You have to prepare for it,” Rice says.
Gabriella Boston is a fitness trainer and freelance writer.