How to Host a Healthy Holiday Party

Healthy holiday party ideas may cut calories, but they will not cut the holiday fun

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

Children may dream of sugarplums and candies at holiday time, but, for many adults, a holiday party is a struggle between the table loaded with goodies and their own desire to eat healthily. Hosting a healthy holiday party can eliminate that struggle.

As the host or hostess, you can offer both traditional dishes and healthy options to your guests. Your table will still look festive — and your guests will be just a little healthier for the holidays.

Healthy diets, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), should do the following:

  • Emphasize fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts
  • Be low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, sodium and added sugars
  • Include fat-free or low fat milk and milk products
  • Meet but not exceed your daily calorie needs.

And healthy holiday parties are no exception to those rules.

Fruit and Vegetable Offerings

Although each person must deal with the issue of calories individually, your holiday party can meet the rest of those guidelines. A seasonal fruit bowl can be a colorful centerpiece, studded with a few exotic fruits like mangoes or fresh pineapple and garnished with mint. The CDC notes that fresh fruit is preferable, as it does not contain the added sugar or syrup common to canned fruit.

Offer a platter of grilled or steamed fresh vegetables with a sprinkling of fresh herbs. Raw vegetable crudités with a dip made from yogurt rather than sour cream supply protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals but not a lot of calories.

Board-certified health coach Anjali Shah, who writes The Picky Eater blog, said vegetables are the cornerstone of a healthy holiday party meal.

"Make a lot of vegetable-rich side dishes: sauteed spinach and garlic, sauteed green beans, mashed sweet potato (without the extra butter or sugar), etc. are all great options this holiday season," she told dailyRx News.

She continued "Load up your dinner table with healthier sides, so that way you can balance out a heavier main dish."

Healthy Recipe Revisions

Many recipes can be modified with the use of ingredients that are lower in fat and calories than the regular version. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers a variety of tips for recipe modification.

For instance, replace one whole egg with two egg whites to cut cholesterol and fat.

Even holiday baking can be a little healthier. Replace oil, margarine or butter with applesauce in quick breads and muffins.

Mealtime Strategies

If you’re serving a sit-down meal, several strategies can help prevent overeating, and your guests need never know your healthy plan.

Serve courses rather than putting all the food on the table at once. Make a consommé or vegetable soup the first course, and follow with a salad. Both tactics help people fill up on low-calorie foods before the entrée and carbohydrate-heavy offerings come in.

If you offer alcohol, include diet drinks as mixers. And offer coffee, tea and sparkling water alongside the booze for low-calorie, nonalcoholic options. A low calorie-punch is another option.

Shah said moderation is key.

"Cut back on the alcoholic mixed drinks: Stick to wine and beer and offer lots of water in between drinks," she said.

If you want to serve a decadent dessert, pre-cut the servings slightly smaller than normal.

Shah's recommendations: "Make some healthy swaps for dessert: Make cheesecake bites instead of a big cheesecake, make a fruit cobbler with tons of fruit-to-topping ratio, or add in a fruit plate to your dessert buffet."

Practice Food Safety

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) stresses that you shouldn't forget food safety issues in all the holiday excitement, especially at a party where food may be out on a buffet for several hours.

Bacteria grow when warm foods cool too much or cold foods become warm. Keep hot dishes hot with a slow-cooker or chafing dish and use a bed of ice under the serving platter to keep cold foods well-chilled.

During preparation, make sure you use separate cutting boards, utensils, and preparation surfaces for raw meats and other foods such as vegetables. Wash every dish well in hot, soapy water before using it again.

Cook meats to the recommended internal temperatures. The USDA says fresh beef, pork, veal, lamb and fish should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit; ground beef, veal, lamb and egg dishes to 160 degrees Fahrenheit; and poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Review Date: 
December 16, 2014