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Navigating the Holiday Buffet Table

November 25, 2015

How do I enjoy myself at all these holiday parties without totally wrecking my healthy eating plan? The gingerbread men are calling my name… –Janet L. 

You walk into the party. After quite a few Yuletide happy hours, you’ve got this down—small talk game on point, outfit on fleek, holiday cheer abounding. Heck, you’ve successfully avoided an awkward interaction with your eccentric aunt. So far, so good. But then, you see it.

The buffet table.

Even the healthiest of eaters can get bulldozed by a cheese-topped, gravy-filled holiday spread. But you don’t have to be an antisocial weirdo and defer from the food. On the contrary, fill up your plate—just load it up with the best options you can.

If you’re not at a sit-down dinner, odds are you’re staring at a buffet table full of tons of appetizers and desserts and not much substance. If small plates are your adversary, start with the veggies. Crudités are a staple at any decent cocktail party, so load up your plate with raw celery, cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli. If you get super lucky and spot roasted veggies, grab some of those, too: They’re deeply flavorful and tasty on their own. Hitting the veggies hard will leave you fuller (thanks, fiber!) and more hydrated.

Take one step forward to tackle the dip selection. That spinach and artichoke dip is totally calling to you, am I right? Don’t fight it. Give yourself a little dollop of the stuff, and then opt for a second healthier dip like hummus rather than other creamy picks (ranch, sour cream dip). The nutrient-packed combo of chickpeas and sesame seeds in hummus is a great source of vegan protein.

Next up—all the carbs. Breads, crackers, and chips galore. If you’re like me, this is a slippery slope that’s best avoided altogether. Best-case scenario: you fill up on these super-addicting foods and are left craving more. Worst-case scenario: you end up elbowing grandma in a desperate attempt to nab the last piece of pumpkin bread. Avoid the whole situation by satisfying your salt craving with briny olives. Bonus: These pitted beauties are a superfood full of nutritional benefits, and can even help fight inflammation.

All right, you’re almost at the end. You’ve just got to get past the desserts, then you’re home free. Avert your gaze from the pies and cakes—you’re less likely to be able to control your portion size on these dishes. Reward your sweet tooth with a Christmas cookie. Just one should do the trick and keep you from overdoing it on the sugar.

Finally, if you’re at a cocktail party, you’re probably going to have a cocktail! Alcohol is pretty calorie-dense with relatively few macronutrients, and the more you drink the more likely you are to nosh on foods you’d normally avoid. Stick to the old reliable rule of one glass of water per adult beverage to stay safe and hangover-free. Want extra credit points? Make it mineral water for some health-boosting micronutrients.

At the end of it all, remember, these tips are meant to keep you from stressing out when it comes to eating. This time of year can feel overwhelming for so many reasons, and what’s going on your dinner plate shouldn’t be a source of anxiety. Have questions about something I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments below!

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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