Holiday Eating – Handling Mega Meals, Workplace Treats, & Parties

by Lindsey McGregor
Holiday Eating

December can be full of mega meals, workplace treats, and extravagant parties. Yes, even Dietitians think these things are the best parts of the season!

In this article, Calgary Dietitians offer some strategies for challenging eating scenarios during the holidays so you can get through the holidays eating with grace.

Strategies for Mega Meals 

Meet Mega Meal Mark

With elastic waistband pants on, Mark is looking forward to Christmas Dinner.

Mark’s big family meals are THE BEST. They typically include multiple choices of starch such as dinner buns, mashed potatoes or perogies; multiple protein choices such as turkey, ham or pulses; some type of cooked vegetable and a salad or two. And how can we forget all of the many yummy desserts to choose from!

To the world it looks like Mark has it going on, however, this is his tenth mega meal in a row. After dinner, Mark feels overfull and lethargic.

Strategy One: Don’t go to these big meals hungry or you will definitely overeat! 

If your big holiday meal is at supper time, don’t skip breakfast and lunch in order to “save up” for supper. Instead, eat regular meals and have regular portions at the holiday meal too.

If you’re too hungry, you’ll likely overeat and be left feeling sluggish and overfull.

Strategy Two:  Keep that “balanced plate”  model in mind 

The balanced plate model is a handy guide to help you get enough variety of foods.

This could include:

  • a quarter plate of one kind of protein (eg. Turkey)
  • a quarter of the plate starch (eg. Mashed potatoes)
  • half a plate of vegetables, which could be 2 or more types of vegetables (eg. Salad and a cooked vegetable). For many people, half a plate of just one type of vegetable can be a lot. It’s often easier to get enough vegetables when choosing a variety of veggies!

For dessert, pick your most favourite dessert and enjoy every single bite of it!

Strategy Three: Fill up on the foods you love 

I tell all of my clients to pick the foods that they don’t get to have very often or choose the foods that they really love! Bypass the other foods that they can have any time of the year.

Shée Lillejord, Registered Dietitianspecializes in emotional eating; eating without guilt and family meal planning,

For example, you might want to skip the mashed potatoes that you can make for any regular meal in favour of Grandma’s homemade dinner buns that you only get occasionally.

Strategies for Resisting Workplace Temptations 

Workplace Wendy

It’s 3 pm…..  Wendy feels her stomach growl. Those holiday treats generously brought in by her co-workers are on the desk across the office staring her down, she shivers at the temptation.

It’s not just today, the whole month has brought a parade of treats here and there. She even was the winner of her office Wine Island raffle. Wendy’s starting to feel like any attempt at being healthy is bulldozed by the temptations of the season.

Strategy One: Discover the satisfaction factor 

Give yourself permission to enjoy the seasonal, celebratory treats. To deprive yourself isn’t necessary or effective.

Choose the goodies that will give you the greatest ‘satisfaction value’ and those that may not be available at other times of the year or may be uniquely homemade.

Strategy Two: Change your environmental cues as much as you can

Follow the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ idea. Suggest to your coworkers that the treats be stored in the fridge or cupboard so that you’re less apt to mindlessly help yourself to a treat each time you pass the staffroom.

Limit the temptations. Suggest that treats are shared just two days of the week rather than every day.

Strategy Three: Delay your indulgence

Choose one or two of your favorites earlier in the day and tuck them away for later. Then enjoy eating them mindfully during your lunch or mid-afternoon break.

With this strategy, you reduce the chance of unhelpful ‘all-or nothing’ thinking that could occur if you start eating the goodies at the start of the day. For example, “I’ve already fallen off the wagon and eaten too much sugar. I may as well just eat whatever I want for the rest of the day and start over again tomorrow.”

Wendy Shah, Registered Dietitian, Co-founder of Craving Change Inc

Strategies for Holiday Party Food

Holiday Parties:  Party Patricia

  • Excitement… check
  • Food variety… check
  • Friends and family… check
  • Alcohol and socializing… check
  • Wheels falling off Patricia’s typically balanced eating ……. Ugg…… Check!

Strategy One:  Mindset and reasonable eating expectations 

Before you go to a party, check out your holiday party mindset as your mindset will power your choices.

Believing that parties are for letting loose and pausing your lifestyle goals will influence your food decisions differently than if you believe that food is as much a part of the fun as reconnecting with friends, getting dressed up, and listening to holiday music.

Who doesn’t overeat a little over the holiday season? We all do.

Eating more or differently than feels comfortable from time to time is perfectly normal and ok. But when overeating happens multiple days in a row (as with multiple holiday meals), we might not feel as comfortable.

It’s okay to have your cake and eat it too…the holidays are a short time in the overall pattern of your lift.

You’ll feel better if you have regular balanced meals throughout the day leading up to the party, rather than trying to limit what you eat throughout the day to “save up” for the main meal.

Strategy Two:  A crash course in the psychology of why we eat 

Be aware of food and drink variety at holiday parties.

Holiday baking platter, I’m looking at you!

Studies show that people will eat more when variety is available. After all, you *have* to try this cookie, that cookie, this square, and that cupcake.

Instead of being influenced mindlessly by variety, be intentional with your food decisions.

A helpful question to ask yourself is which food and drink will be most satisfying to you?

Again, choose options that are special to the holidays and skip over options that are more common year round.

For me, my holiday food and drink choices are driven by how often I can access that particular food/drink. I’ll pass on baking that is regularly available throughout the year, like cupcakes, but will whole-heartedly enjoy baking that only comes out this time of the year.

Be aware of where you are standing. 

Studies also show standing too close to the buffet table will most likely result in eating more quantity of food and drink than if you stand farther away, where you need to make a more purposeful effort to get to the food and drink.

Kristyn Hall MSc, Registered Dietitian, Chief Eating and Energizing Officer, Energize Nutrition. 

Remember to be kind to yourself at this time of year

While Mega Meal Mark, Workplace Wendy, and Party Patricia struggle with eating healthy during this exciting time, they have lots more depth than just their eating choices.

They are all characters who are just doing their best to make reasonable health choices. We all indulge sometimes, but importantly try not to let your food choices during this short part of the year get in the way of experiencing the joy of the season. Know that your food choices a few days of the year are not going to have

Lindsey McGregor, Registered Dietitian, is a Calgary Based Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Directory.