What to Eat (and What to Avoid) at Holiday Parties
The holidays, regardless of how you celebrate them, are chock-full get-togethers and 99.99% of these shindigs revolve around food and drink. And there is nowhere that’s safe, everyone wants to have some holiday event: work, your spouse’s work, the neighborhood, your church, your book club, the kid’s school and possibly even your running club. The larger issue arises when during the 60+ days in the holiday season you start attending more than just a party here and there.
No one wants to show up at a party and not eat. What fun is that? And if you are lucky enough to be able to keep up a decent amount of training and mileage during the holiday, you certainly don’t want to be affected by the food that’s unconsciously shoveled into your face during these holiday events. Equal to overindulging, not having enough nutrient dense food to provide proper energy for you to sustain a real run can also be an issue. How do you not only attend events this season and enjoy yourself, but also fuel your body instead of stuffing it?
Fuel for the Fittest
Stop one is always the bar or drink station. Decide before the event begins what you are willing to consume in liquid calories. The good (or bad, depending on the day and mood) thing about some functions or work lunches is that they are going to be alcohol free, which makes it easy to stick to water, black coffee or tea. When there are adult beverages involved, choosing wisely can be done if you keep two rules in mind. Stick to a two drink limit and choose see-through drinks. Clear or “see-through” liquids won’t add to your waistline or wreck your sleep . If you want hard liquor, have it on ice or with a diet soda. If you are not in the mood to make your wine a wine spritzer by cutting it with club soda, choose a dry red wine. They take longer to drink than a sweet white and the sugar content is lower.
After schmoozing and making some rounds and settling on a location, hor d’oeuvres are up next. Cocktail shrimp or wrapped scallops are the best low calorie, high protein for your buck as is most grilled or boiled seafood. Olives can be a great, filling healthy fat along with nuts. Focus on almonds, pistachios and walnuts in the mixed nuts bowl. A slice of hard cheese will also taste good and satisfy. Look for white cheeses like mozzarella, goat and Swiss.
If it’s a dinner and a full entrée will be served, choose a light option. Stick to the leanest protein offered and if possible, with any sauce its served with on the side. If pasta is on the menu, scale the portion size back and amp up the salad offered. That is unless you have a marathon in the morning. If the meal is tapas style, fill up your plate like you normally would at a meal, with your ratios of carbs, proteins and healthy fats.
If you still have room for dessert, or just really want one, look for pumpkin pie or head to the kid’s option and get a Rice Krispie Treat or something otherwise small.
Eat in Moderation
Not indulging sounds awful, but a true indulgence feels good and there is no guilt attached. A good rule of thumb is to mildly indulge in real, true favorites, like homemade items that can’t (or aren’t) made year-round. For most nutritiously conscious runners, punches or drinks based with fruit juice, fully-loaded soda and cream bases are a no-no but if Mom makes a wicked Spiked Cranberry Punch indulge in one cup. Mushrooms are always a great filling choice to add to entrees but as stuffed entrees can be filled with cheese and butter, limit your intake. Nutritious and great sources of protein but calorie laden and delicious roast beef or charcuterie should be kept to minimal portions. One good cookie can have up to 700 calories! Keep in mind the size of the indulgence, half a pie in not the same as one piece no matter how you slice it.
Sugar (or Worse) in the Tank
There are just some things that are not worth their time at the gym. A hard and fast rule on the beverage: no fruit juices and nothing cream based. This does put a full on nix on eggnog, apple cider and hot chocolate. Any melted cheese based dip isn’t going to make you feel light on your feet at 6am for your 5 miler. Spinach and artichoke dip or a cheesy sausage dip are not known for their clean food qualities.
Vegetables should always be in the yes column unless of course they, or any other food choices for that matter, are drowning in butter. A winter staple, especially at the holidays, is the ever-famous mashed potatoes and gravy. Think about what goes into both the mashed potatoes (butter and cream) and the gravy, by definition, is rendered fat drippings. And unless your 98 year old Aunt Edith made it, go ahead and skip all the bread.
While the holidays are tempting, making some hard and fast rules for yourself along with special allowances can help make the morning runs not completely miserable because of the less-than-great choices you made the night before. And maybe at the next soiree, you’ll feel a little better about your indulgence because you know all your other choices will allow you get out the door and knock out your miles.