November 22, 2021
How to ace holiday meal planning?
by Mona Jauhar RDN, LD
We all look forward to the holiday season! The fun, food and festivity, yes, but not the stress that comes with it. Playing the perfect host, putting together perfect meals, keeping in mind varied food preferences and tolerances. Phew! Celebrations can get tiring. And when you are not playing host you could be busy overeating, indulging in wrong foods and dehydrating yourself as a guest.
If the thought of hosting a holiday meal intimidates you, a bit of advance planning can ease your stress and create a better experience for everyone. Here are some useful strategies that can help you ace holiday social gatherings:
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AS A HOST
- You can’t please everyone: While it’s good to know about your guests’ dietary preferences, and doing your best to accommodate them, you don’t have to undermine your own health and well-being while worrying about everyone else. Stick to neutral dishes that can be made without the usual culprits like nuts and cheese. Don’t shy away from asking your guests’ food preferences in advance and also sharing the menu with them.
- Go for a potluck: This can be an excellent choice if you’re hosting a large crowd with diverse diets. In this scenario, everyone now has options they can eat and enjoy — while also taking some of the pressure off you as the host. Coordinate those dishes ahead of time so you know everyone brings something different and that every dish will be healthy.
- Focus on bonding and not food alone: While food is a pleasurable aspect of holiday gatherings, it doesn’t have to be the make-or-break element of the whole experience. The two Vitamin Gs (Gratitude and Generosity) are arguably as important as fiber and phytonutrients. Use the holiday time to spend time with your loved ones, relax your dietary rules a little and share fun meals together.
- Make it a fun exercise: Delegate tasks, including grocery shopping, chopping and prepping food, dishes, and clean-up, and setting the table, to willing friends and family members. Make it part of the experience that everyone shares.
- Get enough sleep: As a host you need to sleep well and replenish. Creating a bedtime winding ritual, a special set of little things you do before bed to help prepare your system physically and psychologically for sleep, can guide your body into a deep restorative sleep.
AS A GUEST
- Make requests in advance: Tell your host about any food sensitivities or preferences you might have. It makes the host’s life easier and most will be more than happy to accommodate your request.
- Eat before you go: Celebrations will automatically become more fun and meaningful if we didn’t focus so much on food and that can happen if we ate a little at home and headed out. You can then spend your time and energy enjoying your family’s company and conversations. A big no would be to diet or starve on the big party day. You have to keep the fire of your metabolism burning all day, so that you feel lighter and spirited.
- Lean in on real foods: Choose foods wisely at a party. Stick with whole fruits, vegetables, non-gluten grains, healthy fats and protein. Also avoid sugary processed foods and dessert.
- Pack an emergency tiffin: If you are not sure of the food choices that will be available at the party, it makes sense to carry a small bag of nuts, carrots or a protein bar to munch.
- Safe elimination: Dairy and gluten are the most common triggers of food allergies, and they appear often during the holidays. Eliminating these two makes sense for people looking at losing weight.
More importantly, eat mindfully. Take five deep breaths before your meal. Appreciate the colors and smells of your food. Chew thoroughly and slowly. Express gratitude with others before the meal. Later that evening, write about your gratitude in your journal. Plan an activity to look forward to after the meal—a group walk, visiting with other friends or family, a group game, or playing with younger family members. Or try offering to clean up and help your host!