Your guide to eating out this festive season

Colorful salad with fruits, berries, chicken breast, bacon and nuts. Delicious Christmas themed dinner table.

Image: happy_lark/Bigstock.com

While we all look forward to a good break and holiday over Christmas time, it’s very easy to forget our goals of healthy eating and exercise. The focus on relaxation takes over and we become a little more ‘varied’ with our eating choices.

With all the catch ups and get-togethers that tend to fall over the December/January period, it’s so easy to over-consume calories and drink a little too much. So, before you start celebrating the holidays, here are some handy tips to help you come back from vacation looking as smashing as when you left!

How to pre-empt the Christmas food coma

Let’s face it; cooking goes out the window for most people over the festive season. And eating food outside the home becomes more routine. But most meals eaten out tend to be high in fat and salt, and lack healthy foods such as vegetables, legumes, and wholegrains. It’s also very easy to consume large portions without realising it.

Hello, Christmas weight gain!

The inside tips

  • Check the restaurant’s menu online for healthy options and plan your choice beforehand. That way there’s less chance of willpower overtaking!
  • Don’t go out hungry. Overly restricting your intake during the day often results in overeating when out. Instead, opt for lighter, filling meals e.g. chickpea salads or fresh wraps.
  • Plan your week. If you have a few social events coming up, try increasing your exercise each day to help compensate for the likely extra calories.
  • Ask friends and family in advance what food will be available—offer to bring a plate, such as a healthy entrée, salad or fruit platter, to social gatherings. It’s likely your family and friends don’t want to gain holiday weight either.
  • Establish a buddy system—tell a friend or family member what you’re planning to order so you’re less tempted by unhealthy options or swayed by what others are eating.
  • Choose lower calorie foods and drinks and watch your portion size.
    • Seek out dishes based on legumes, vegetables and wholegrains e.g. dhal or bean-based salads
    • Avoid deep fried foods and trim any visible fat off your meat
    • Avoid butter, creamy sauces, or adding salt to your food
    • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink and avoid soft drinks
    • Have a glass of water at the table
  • Avoid multiple courses.
    • Share an entrée or dessert
    • Choose an entrée size for the main course
    • Don’t be tempted to super-size, it will cost you more in the long run!
    • You don’t have to eat everything on your plate if it’s large!

How to compensate if you’ve gone too far

You may not plan it or even realise it’s occurring, but overeating can happen to the best of us. And the danger at Christmas time is that you’re usually overeating on all the wrong foods—the chips directly from the bowl, the rich creamy desserts after dinner, the soft drinks to quench your thirst, the chocolates and lollies you pass by on the counter, the Jatz with brie and camembert out for nibbles . . . it always happens so quickly!

Take quick action and remove the guilt

  • Get to know your triggers for overeating—start taking notice of what tempts you to overdo it and look for solutions. For instance, can you sit farther away from the chip bowl? Are you making the healthiest choice at the restaurant?
  • Eat lighter meals when you have control—if you’ve just had a big lunch out, choose something lighter for dinner e.g. bean salad or a freshly made salad sandwich.
  • Drop the snacks if your meals are larger than normal; you might not need to snack in between.
  • Keep hydrated—drinking plenty of water helps to keep you full and reduces food cravings.
  • Track your weight—daily weighs at home help to keep you accountable and make it easy to see if your compensation strategies are working.

Book in to see your dietitian—don’t avoid us, we’re here for support if you’re feeling overwhelmed. We don’t just like to see you when things are going well, but can be more helpful when you need that push to get back on track!

Healthy festive foods at a glance

Best snacks and nibbles:

  • Fruit
  • Nuts
  • Wholegrain crackers and veggie sticks with low-fat dip e.g. hommus
  • Rice paper rolls

Best salads and mains:

  • Salads with vinegar-based dressings
  • Dishes with legumes and wholegrains e.g. bean salads, quinoa salads
  • Control BBQ meat/chicken portions (150 g max) and serve with plenty of veggies
  • Eat more fish and seafood

Best desserts:

  • Fruit salad, fruit kebabs with yoghurt or fruit platters
  • Home-made desserts e.g. bliss balls, whole grain muffins, yoghurt trifles, real banana ice cream.

Sue Radd is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and one of Australia’s leading nutritionists and health communicators. Her most recent book Food as Medicine: Eating for Your Best Health received the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Health and Nutrition Book in the world for 2016.

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