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Navigating the dietary minefield of holiday party season

Yes, you made it through Thanksgiving but you still have three more weeks filled with cookies and desserts at office parties, holiday happy hours and family gatherings.


The holidays are upon us. Yes, you made it through Thanksgiving but you still have three more weeks filled with cookies and desserts at office parties, holiday happy hours and family gatherings.

As a dietitian, I understand that these next few weeks may not be an ideal time for weight loss but that doesn't mean you should abandon all the healthy habits you've developed throughout the year. Instead, focus your efforts on weight maintenance. Follow these RD-approved holiday party strategies to help you make it through this fun time of year and still feel great in 2018.


Never go to a party hungry! People often skip breakfast or lunch to prepare for a big dinner but that's a guaranteed way to throw your mind and metabolism off track.

An hour before the party, eat a light, pre-party snack (100-200 calories max) so you don't arrive at the party too hungry and most importantly aren't drinking on an empty stomach. As little as two ounces of alcohol on an empty stomach lowers your blood sugars (low blood sugars = increased hunger).

RD approved pre-party snacks:

  1. Two small handfuls of nuts

  2. Greek yogurt

  3. Rice cake with peanut butter

  4. String cheese

  5. Veggies and hummus

  6. 12 olives

Cocktail Hour

Hors d'oeuvres and cocktails can derail your healthy eating habits quickly. Try to avoid dips, fried finger foods, and cheese and charcuterie boards. Calorically, these appetizers can quickly add up to a full meal by the time you sit down to dinner. Instead, stick to either vegetable or seafood-based appetizers.

And when it comes to weight management, drinking alcohol is one of your worst enemies. Keep alcohol intake low, especially if you have multiple holiday gatherings in one week. I recommend a two-drink limit for women and a three-drink limit for men per event to help keep calories (and a hangover) in check. Keep these alcohol consumption tips in mind:

The cocktail swap: A gin and tonic sounds harmless but switch to seltzer and you'll save hundreds of calories and over four teaspoons of sugar.

Avoid: Signature drinks are calorie bombs! Pomegranate Moscow Mules, Candy Cane Martinis, even Cosmopolitans are a no-go. Why? You can safely assume these drinks have too much sugar in them from added juices or syrups. Enjoy eggnog? One serving has almost 400 calories.

Choose: Forget the bells and whistles and stick to simple drinks like a glass of wine or champagne. Vodka, tequila and bourbon can be a safe choice when served on the rocks or with seltzer.


Commit yourself to the "one plate" rule. That means no second servings. You'll want to eat your vegetables first, and if given the option, choose a fish or chicken entree over a beef option, which has 75 more calories per ounce than lean proteins. Try to pass or limit starches such as pastas, rice or potatoes, especially if you are going to indulge in dessert.


Dessert is the toughest temptation of the evening so choose your indulgences wisely. If you are going to eat dessert then make sure it's worth it and limit yourself to one option, not five. If you can, pick a dessert without a crust, which automatically doubles the amount of fat and calories in a dessert.

Theresa Shank, RD, LDN, is a Philadelphia based registered dietitian and the founder of Philly Dietitian.