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Healthy Menu Navigator: Holiday Party

What should you steer clear of besides the giant dessert table? In this special edition, nutritionist Heather Bauer explains how to eat healthy at a holiday party.
healthy holiday buffet
Holiday buffets are portion control’s worst enemy. (Photo:


Even if you know to steer clear of the bread basket, it turns out the average restaurant meal clocks in at a whopping 1,128 calories—yep, 1,128—making it easy for even the most health-savvy among us to think we’re eating well while eating out, when we’re not.

HealthyMenuNavigatorFinal2Enter nutritionist-author Heather Bauer, of Bread is the Devil and Bestowed fame—and our culinary compass. Each week, Bauer steers us toward the healthiest choices on restaurant menus of any type.

Last time, it was what to eat at a Chinese food restaurant. This week, it’s a holiday party! Here’s what you need to know before you get in line for the buffet. Happy holidays, everyone.

Heather Bauer’s holiday party menu navigational nugget

Assuming there’s a buffet or a huge spread set out for you to help yourself, “do a walk by before you start putting food on your plate, so you can check out what’s there,” she says. It’s possible that a gorgeous plate of grilled salmon is hiding at the end of the table. Take it all in and strategize about what healthy options you can fill your plate with.

The Golden Rule: Divide your plate with half greens, a quarter protein, and a quarter carbs. And remember, alcohol counts as a carb, too!

Note: If this is a single-file line kind of fete, try to be the last person in line. “When you’re first in line, you’re first eating, which means you’re first up for seconds,” she adds.



1. Olives and crudite. If you’re parked near some stationary apps, theses ones are your friends. Just proceed sans dips or dressings.

2. Tuna tartar. This frequently passed app is light, filling, and packed with protein. Ditto a grilled chicken skewer, without dipping sauce.

3. Asparagus wrapped with prosciutto. It feels decadent, but it’s perfectly healthy—in moderation.


1. Sauteed or roasted Brussels sprouts. Remember to fill up half your plate with this holiday favorite. It will leave less room for those creamy mashed potatoes you’ve been eying.

2. Pick a protein without sauce. A piece of salmon or grass-fed beef is ideal; ham is okay, but only on a quarter of your plate.

3. Ideally, quinoa salad for a carb option. If that’s unlikely go for sweet potatoes or roasted yams the size of clenched fist.


1. Cheese plate and nuts. Unless you’re amazing at practicing restraint, sorry, no. You can easily overdo your calorie count with these an hour before the meal even starts!

2. Sugary cocktails. No Cosmos, Mimosas, or spiked egg nog here! Go for a clear liquor with soda water instead.

3. Pecan pie. One of the worst. But because desert is unavoidable for most people, try a smaller piece of apple pie instead.

Hungry for more? Next time, Bauer’s spilling her secrets to ordering healthy at an American restaurant. Or check out the previous guide to ordering Chinese food.