Despite what you may think, nutritionists are regular people. Regular people who have ugly sweater parties and end-of-year work bashes, too. So how do they let loose without feeling gross at the end of the night (or the morning after)?
They have their ways—and it doesn’t involve being one of those people who says no to every app tray passed their way.
I asked top nutritionists across the country to reveal their go-to party tip—because who’s better at navigating the decadent, celebratory foods that often make an appearance this time of year than a professional?—and it turns out they’re all about piling up their plates and having a cocktail or two (if it’s neat).
Keep reading to find out what nutritionists actually eat (and drink!) at holiday gatherings.
Do a lap before filling your plate
“I’m all about assessing the situation,” says Nutritious Life founder Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN. “I check out what there is before diving in.” Glassman typically ends up filling her plate with crudite, shrimp, and a few bites from the antipasto platter (think roasted red peppers, olives, and a couple cubes of cheese).
Actually grab yourself a plate
Glassman’s menu habit goes hand-in-hand with Middleberg Nutrition founder, Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN’s: Don’t just nibble on things. “I have a bit of a control problem with pickable things like nuts and chips, so instead I go for a [serving-size] option like charcuterie—especially prosciutto, which is high in protein,” she says. “I’d look a little strange throwing back slices like popcorn!” You’ll make healthier choices and end up more satisfied if you fill up your plate instead of just hovering near bottomless bowls.
Go for a veggie-protein-carbs balance
When Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN, heads to a party, she goes for a variety of foods instead of zeroing in on something specific. “Half my plate is filled with veggies and the other half is protein and carbs,” she says. “This allows me to feel satisfied without feeling stuffed. Something else she keeps in mind? “No going back for seconds!” she says. “That’s when people end up eating for sport, and not because they’re hungry.”
Honor your food allergies
If you have food sensitivities, whether it be gluten, dairy, nightshades, or something else entirely, alas, just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean your body is going to give you a break. “I always honor the food that doesn’t work at all for me, meaning food sensitivities like gluten. So no matter how tasty or festive something looks I skip that, says Dr. Brooke Kalanick, MD. But that doesn’t mean she cuts out everything. At a party, she’ll either go for a sugary treat or a glass of wine—but not both. And since she does have food allergies, Dr. Kalanick always makes sure to eat before party-time in case the gluten-free options are slim.
Bring the healthy
Clinical nutritionist Ariane Hundt, MS, says her clients often complain about not having enough good choices at parties: It’s fried foods or bust. Her pro tip? Be the one to bring the balance. “I know I won’t be the only one looking around for something healthy,” she says. (If you want to bring a nutritious treat that will rival your friend’s double-fudge brownies, there’s definitely a way to do it.)
Keep your blood sugar level stable
If you think nutritionists never reach for the wine at parties, you’re wrong. Integrative nutritionist and pharmacist Barbara Mendez, R.Ph, MS, will pour herself a glass, but she makes sure it’s while she’s filling up on lean protein and veggies, too. “The point is to keep my blood sugar level stable so I’m not tempted to eat things that I know will make me feel bloated or too stuffed,” she says.
Drink it neat
Foodtrainers founder Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, says she’s a “one and done” type of drinker, but nursing a glass of champagne or wine all night can be tricky—that’s why she goes for the hard stuff. “My winter spirit of choice is scotch, and I have it ‘neat’ as it’s easy to nurse that way,” she says. Bonus: there’s no added sugar, which you might get in fancy cocktails or punches.
Have a post-party game plan
So what happens when you go to a party and there is literally nothing that you can feel good about eating? Dana James, MS, CNS, CDN, has a sneaky trick for that: “If nothing is appealing—like, if it’s all fried—I ask for olives then make an omelette when I get home.” Ah, the late-night egg hack. And you thought you were the only one.
If you invited both your Paleo and vegan friends to your upcoming dinner party, follow these tips for making a menu everyone can enjoy. For those times you really want to steal the show, try out this purple sweet potato pie bars recipe.