How to Eat Holiday Party Snacks for Dinner and Not Feel like Crap

Read these nutritionists' advice before hitting the booze too hard on an empty stomach, then devouring 30 bacon-wrapped dates.

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You’re heading to the happy hour before the yearly office holiday party straight from work, and you realize you missed your window to eat anything substantial for dinner. Inevitably — be it from hitting the booze too hard on an empty stomach, or eating 30 bacon-wrapped dates — you’re going to feel like crap the next day.

But not so fast, intrepid office partiers! I asked to several nutritionists about this very problem, and they’ve got some tips.

Avoid Starch and Stay Hydrated
Dr. Keith Kantor, nutritionist and panelist for Consumer Health Digest: Most holiday parties now are heavy on hors d’oeuvres, which can seem like light snacks — but these appetizer-like items can pack in the calories unknowingly. It’s easy to overeat all of the seasonal treats, so take small portions to taste and try not to binge.

I recommend eating the vegetable and fruit options first, then protein options. So start with chopped vegetables with healthy fats like fresh guacamole or hummus, then move onto the proteins like meatballs, naked wings or a carved meat. Avoid excessive desserts or high sugar options, starchy casseroles or crackers with processed meats and cheeses and starchy vegetables like potatoes, bread or stuffing. This will bring the overall calories down for the meal and maintain steady blood sugars. If you are planning the meal, opt for roasted vegetables instead of vegetable casseroles.

Also, make sure you drink plenty of water. Water is your body’s main nutrient. It naturally suppresses your appetite and transports necessary nutrients to your cells. If you are not drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day, you are not adequately hydrated. This could lead to poor energy, weight gain and headaches. If you decide to have alcoholic beverages at a holiday party, opt for wine or light beer instead of sugary mixed drinks and alternate the alcoholic beverage with a glass of water.

Step Away From the Snack Table
Summer Yule, registered dietitian nutritionist in Connecticut: Take a small plate, put a few items on it and move away from the snack table. This will curb overeating, because otherwise you’ll stand next to the table and graze throughout the party, which is not recommended if you are trying not to overeat.

Beyond that, items that contain protein, fiber and a high water content tend to be more filling than items that are mostly composed of refined flour and added sugar. If few healthy options are available, just try to stay hydrated, since that can help prevent feelings of hunger.

Avoid Stress and Keep Your Hands Busy
Dr. Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition for Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa: We all know work tensions can rear up over the holidays, and one drink too many can take some of us places we really don’t want to go, so try to keep exercising over the holidays and make sure you get a good night’s rest the night before.

If you keep an eye on your alcohol intake, you’re less likely to go overboard on the bacon-wrapped smokies and fruitcake. Another tip: Keep your hands busy. If you have a dish in hand that you’ve already filled up with cut veggies and other healthy fare from the buffet table, you’ll be more likely to ward off those bacon-wrapped smokies coming your way on a silver platter.

Seek out the Expensive Stuff or Eat Your Own
Dr. Stephanie Bostic, registered dietitian in New York: Survey all the options before getting a plate. There may more expensive options at the end of the buffet, or on a smaller side table that are healthier. You want to scope out your options first, so you don’t indulge on potato chips and cheap wine to then discover you are too full to enjoy a beautiful chocolate mousse and the signature cocktail.

If you know this is primarily a champagne-and-cookies occasion, pack or buy a healthy snack before you go or try to plan ahead and keep a stash of non-perishable options in your desk, bag or locker to fall back on. A protein bar can help you get through a party without eating half a platter of cookies… but make sure you look for protein bars with 5 grams or fewer of added sugars and around 200 to 300 calories.

Overall, minimize alcohol, sweets and fried foods and focus on protein like sliced meats, hummus, nuts, deviled eggs and mini-quiches.