Smart Tips for Eating Healthy at Holiday Parties

The holiday season presents a time in which eating healthy is very challenging.  Here are a few smart tips that may help you navigate through the holiday season with less anxiety, less over-indulging and more joy.


  1. Prepare For The Holiday Party
  • Day Before: Research the menu of the holiday event. If at a restaurant, check out the menu to make healthy choices in advance.  If you need bring food to an event, decide on safe (non-trigger foods for you) to share.
  • Day Of: On the day of and days leading up to a big feast, try to maintain you usual level of exercise and enjoy normal-size meals and snacks.


  1. Assess Your Food Offerings at the Party


  • Scope Out The Buffet: When at the party, do a lap around the buffet to scope out your festive favorites.  Then, add a small portion of your must-try bites to your plate, and fill out the rest of the space with lighter fare, like salads and veggie sides. Once you’ve finished round one, you can re-evaluate your hunger level and decide which dishes are worth revisiting for round two.
  • Choose Lean Protein: Choose lean protein choices such as turkey, roast beef, ham cod or flounder and go easy on the sauces and gravies to minimize sodium and extra calories.
  • Watch Your Liquid Calories: If drinking wine, stretch it out by making a wine spritzer with half white wine and half calorie-free seltzer.  If alcohol, pace yourself by enjoying two glasses of water between each glass of alcohol. Or, drink seltzer or water with lemon and or lime slices to quench your thirst.


  1. Hang Out with Family, Not Food


  • Avoid Dining in Large Groups: Studies have shown that we consume 25% more when dining in large groups, so buffer this problem with the right company.  Find a friend in the room and stand far enough away from the buffet that you’d have to leave a good conversation to take another trip to the buffet.  Better yet, sit with a healthy eating buddy who has a moderate-sized appetite, and eats slowly naturally.
  • Laugh, mingle, dance and play games: Focus on fun and enjoy the company of others.


  1. Avoid Mindless Eating


  • Move the Candy Dish: Research suggests we consume 70% more of chocolates and candies when they’re displayed in clear containers and within arm’s reach. If you’re the host, put the sweets in an opaque container, if you’re the guest stand farther away from the dish.
  • Be Intentional With Food Intake: Try to stick with your initial food plan prior to coming to the party.   We tend to feel less satiated when grazing mindlessly with finger foods than compared to when we sit down to a formal meal.


  • Make Every Bite Great: If your favorite food choice is highly caloric and somewhat non-healthy, make sure it rates as a “10” to be worth consuming. Most people find that food starts dulling in flavor after 3 good-sized bites, so serve yourself small portions of all of your favorite foods to start, then assess if more is going to fit into your plan.


  1. Eat Slowly and Savor
  • Wait 20 Minutes: You’ve heard it before- it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain you’ve had enough to eat, so try to trick yourself into eating slower.  Once you’ve finished your plate, take a few additional moments to enjoy a conversation with others before checking in with your body whether your physically hungry for more. If still hungry, go for the lighter fare of food choices.


  1. Less Judgement – More Forgiveness
  • Reflection of the Event: The most important thing is not judge yourself if you slip up or overdo it on one (or more) occasions out.  Creating healthy food habits while eating out at festive events, is a skill and takes time to hone. Perhaps assess and make note of what things you would do differently next time when dining out. More practice is what is needed to establish a new habit.


Be kind to yourself this holiday season and know that tomorrow is another day to eat, drink, and feel great.


Author: Michelle Hanson

Michelle Hanson, MA, RD, LD is Fresh & Natural Food’s Registered Dietitian. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Clinical Dietetics with a minor in Community Health from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She is a registered dietitian and current member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Michelle has been a nutrition consultant for numerous years as well as a nutrition research director at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

Michelle is passionate about food and nutrition and believes in helping people find simple, realistic ways to make healthy eating a part of their everyday lifestyle.
If you are interested in meeting Michelle or have questions for her, you can email her at: She will look forward to meeting you!