Holidays can be tricky for nutrition. What kind of food do you typically see over the Fourth of July? Backyard barbeques yield hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and let’s not forget the sweets. How do you stay healthy with a holiday or birthday popping up once a month, usually more often than that? How do you handle gatherings when you’re on a restricted diet? It can be challenging.
I always seem to be on prep or watching my sweets intake over the summer. On prep, especially getting into the few weeks leading up to a competition, my diet is extremely restricted. It’s restricted not only in calories or macros but the types of foods that fit into those macros. I am not usually a heavy drinker anyway, but alcohol at holiday gatherings is another challenge when everyone is drinking and having fun.
With the 4th of July holiday approaching, I am going to give you a few tips that I use when it comes to holiday gatherings. The easiest way to control what you eat and drink at gatherings is not to go. But that’s silly. Let’s go! If you have the ability to host the gathering, do that. I plan to have a few friends and family over this weened for a barbeque and dip in the pool. This makes it easy for me to control my food and drink intake. I have access to my entire kitchen, including my food scale. Yes, I measure everything, even the dressing that goes on my salad. I suppose if you wanted to be that person at someone else’s house, you could bring your food scale with you. Or, maybe not.
If you are heading to someone else’s place for the holiday barbeque and are not sure if there will be food you can eat, pack your own. I premeasure all my food into plastic containers and bring it with me. In fact, I did this just last week at a spaghetti feed fundraiser I went to. No spaghetti and garlic bread for me. I brought a container with my premade salad. When I got home later that night, I had the rest of my dinner premeasured in the refrigerator. All I had to do was heat it up, and presto! I stayed on track with my meals. You can bring your own Tupperware dinner to a backyard barbeque if you’re on a meal plan or restricted diet. Do not apologize for having the discipline to do so. People may look at you for a brief moment like you’re nuts, but then they will start praising you and asking you questions about how you stay on track with your food and discipline.
Let’s say you’re heading to a potluck barbeque. This is when I always sign up to bring the greens. Sometimes I bring the green salad with my own dressing. Other times I bring a veggie tray or veggie side dish. I am a big fan of bringing asparagus to grill on the barbeque. Grilled asparagus is one of my favorite side dishes. For the real crowd pleaser, bring some garlic salt and parmesan cheese to throw on top. Delicious! Watch out that you don’t overcook or burn the asparagus. It doesn’t take much, just a few minutes for the perfect grilled asparagus. I use olive oil or avocado oil to help cook them on the grill. Another favorite side dish to bring is fruit. Fruit salads are always a hit and can serve as something sweet for you if you’re avoiding desserts.
Planning ahead for the day’s gathering is important. If you know that you will be eating a big burger at the family barbeque later in the day, don’t go crazy with fats early in the day. Eating healthy leading up to the barbeque is another way to keep your nutrition plan on track. By bringing your own food to the barbeque or selecting healthy potluck options, you ensure that you will have healthy choices for your plate, even if everything else on the spread has sugar or mayonnaise in the recipes.
Let’s talk about beverages too. Be careful when drinking alcohol and your food choices. The body needs to burn off the sugar alcohols first, which means any food choices you make are burned by the body after that. In other words, don’t binge on high fat, high sugar foods while you’re drinking. The extra fat in those foods will get stored as adipose tissue in the body. That’s extra fat you don’t want. Most parties these days are a BYOB kind of situation anyway. If you’re the designated driver, bring your carbonated water. The act of popping a can of carbonated water helps your psyche in this social situation. You’re popping the cans along with the rest, but you’re staying sober along the way. Plus, by drinking water you are staying hydrated. This is important when you’re outside and it’s hot. If you are drinking, remember to hydrate along the way. Pound a glass or bottle of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume. Your hangover will thank you later.
Watch out for extra calories in sugary drinks or iced teas. Beverage companies often market a beverage as “healthy” but upon closer examination, you will find that not to be true. Read the ingredients list of beverages just like you would a nutrition label. You might be surprised by the chemicals and extra sugars added. By the way, if the first three ingredients in any food or beverage says sugar of any kind, pass. You don’t need it!
When it comes to the main meal being served, it’s okay to ask the host what’s grilling. If you don’t like chicken and that’s all their serving, ask if you can bring a burger to throw on the grill or vice versa. Many hosts want their guests to feel comfortable, hang out and have fun. Don’t be afraid to ask. You’ll never know if you don’t ask. And if burgers are the main meal and you don’t like cheese, ask politely to have one or two made without cheese. No buns on your nutrition plan. No big deal. You don’t have to take everything from the spread to enjoy the burger. I rarely eat my hamburger with buns anymore. And you know what, I feel better. Check the labels of bread products for hidden sugars. You will be surprised by what you find.
Holidays can be fun. Birthdays and anniversaries too. They can also be challenging for a person who wants to stay on track with nutrition plans and still have fun. Create an actionable plan by knowing ahead of time what is on your meal plan and what to avoid. Soak up the good stuff and always remember to stay hydrated.