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5 healthy eating tips for holiday parties

Enjoy holiday parties while sticking to your diet with our healthy holiday eating tips to prevent holiday weight gain.
/ Source: TODAY

A lot of folks head into the holiday season with the mindset that if they just avoid all the treats and parties and other temptations that this time of year brings, they’ll be better off. I see where they’re coming from — lots of us do overindulge and the added pounds (even just a couple) that creep on can be tough to shed after all the tinsel has been put away.

But saying no to every frosted cookie and glass of mulled wine can make you feel like a real Grinchy poo, so I say, let’s try to find a happy medium with my 5 healthy eating tips for holiday parties. You can make merry and still wake up on January 1st and be happy pulling on your new leather-embellished leggings, instead of your comfy sweats. Let’s do this, shall we? Here's how:

RELATED: 12 tips for avoiding weight gain during the holidays

1. Be choosy with your boozy

I’m starting with alcohol because that is usually what does most of us in calorically. Assuming that we’re not the designated driver, it feels festive to have some holiday cheer, and probably a bit more than we normally would. You can partake in some booze-enhanced merrymaking, but to make sure you’re not the one with the lampshade on your head at the end of the office holiday party, take my advice and stick to the basics.

There's often a signature drink or punch at holiday soirees — they look festive, but steer clear. They generally have lots of added sugar in the form of juice mixes and liqueurs and rack up calories quickly. Plus, sugary cocktails can make you hungrier later on thanks to the huge spike in blood sugar they create. Using sugar-free mixers isn’t the solution — they’ll just make you get inebriated faster. Instead, stick with beer, wine and straight up liquor with seltzer. And make sure you follow my 1:1 rule — one alcoholic drink per hour, followed by a tall glass of water. Your liver can only process one drink per hour. Here’s a cheat sheet for standard drinks:

5 ounces of red or white wine = 125 calories

12 ounces of beer = 153 calories

12 ounces of light beer = 105 calories

5 ounces of Champagne: 110 calories

1½ ounces of Bailey’s Irish Cream = 144 calories

4 ounces of port = 180 calories

2. Nosh on pre-party protein

Nothing spells disaster like someone saying, “Oh, I’ll just eat at the party.” Guess what — the first thing you’re going to grab when you get there is a drink. Once you’re tipsy, you are less likely to head to the crudité platter and more likely to reach for one of those amazing-looking peppermint brownies.

Use this strategy and have a small, but protein-packed mini meal at home before going out. I might have 2 ounces of canned albacore tuna mixed with lemon juice and olive oil with some whole grain crackers or an ounce of almonds with an apple. The protein will help you feel satisfied and full long enough to be able to make a fairly healthy plate of food at the party. What does that look like? See #4 below.

3. Hit on a cutie instead of the buffet table

OK, not if you’re married or with a significant other — that could be disastrous — but the point is that if you’re chatting someone up, you can’t use your mouth to mindlessly eat. If you’re playing the wallflower on the other hand, it’s super easy to use the treats table as a way to avoid talking to strangers. Invited to a party where you don’t know anyone but the host? Ask if you can bring a friend. As a team, you might just meet some interesting strangers, but even if you’re simply gossiping with your bestie the whole night, that’s better than using the hot artichoke dip as a distraction.

And no matter the scenario, it’s wise to limit your proximity to the food. Definitely fill your plate, but studies show that the easier the food is to get, the harder it is to resist.

4. No matter what — place all the food you eat on a plate

If you don't, you'll have food amnesia and will simply forget about all the puffed cheese thingies you just ate. This is tough to do when you're at a party with passed hors d'oeuvres, but at the very least you can place those little morsels on a napkin. This gives you a visual reminder that you actually ate them.

5-Minute Chunky Guacamole

5. Look for food gems in a sea of diet sabotage

You may have to dodge a cheese puff and reach over the cheeseburger sliders, but healthier bites can be found at most parties, and they're still super delicious. Start by loading up on protein-rich foods that are holiday party staples like lean roast beef, deviled eggs (yes, really), aged cheeses (skip soft cheeses like brie if you can resist), shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon, cocktail turkey meatballs and hummus. Then add on some veggies. The crudités platter is a no-brainer, but don't overlook the guacamole, olives and roasted sweet potatoes. If your will power is still holding up by dessert time, go for the chocolate-covered strawberries. Happy Holidays!

RELATED: 12 healthy holiday party foods to keep your diet on track

Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, is a nutrition expert, writer and best-selling author. Her books include Feed the Belly, The CarbLovers Diet and Eating in Color. Follow her @FrancesLRothRD