A selection of party nibbles, including nuts, grapes and cheeses

How to make healthy food choices at parties

Looking forward to the holiday season but worried about piling on the pounds? Discover our top tips for eating well while staying in the party spirit...

Times of celebration often involve free-flowing drinks and an array of irresistible finger-foods – and partaking in the festivities is all part of the fun. However, the busy party season poses a challenge for those who are trying to eat better or achieve a particular health goal.

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The good news is that by making a few simple changes, you can still enjoy the festive season to the full. Most buffets offer healthy choices as well as high-fat, high-calorie items, so with our top tips, you can make the best choice from the options available.

Top tips to help you make healthy party food choices

Snack smart. If you’re heading to a party straight after work, have a low-GI snack –such as a bowl of cereal, a couple of oatcakes spread with cheese or a yogurt – before you go so you don’t arrive hungry.

Hydrate before moving onto other drinks. Make your first drink a large glass of sparkling water. It will help to both fill your stomach and quench your thirst. That way you can pace yourself when you get to the alcohol.

Step away from the food. If overeating is your main concern, don’t let the buffet table be your downfall – put some food on your plate, then move away. Studies show that the greater the choice of food on offer, the more calories we’re likely to eat. Instead of trying a little bit of everything, limit yourself to three or four choices and pay attention while you eat them – this will help you to feel satisfied.

Pass up the pastries. Avoid anything with pastry (even filo) and steer well clear of anything that’s been deep-fried.

Curb constant grazing. If canapés or nibbles are constantly being offered while you’re chatting, just say no or follow the ‘one in three’ rule – accept once every three times an item is offered. It’s really difficult to gauge how much you’re eating if you’re constantly nibbling – it’s much better to wait and have a more balanced snack or meal when you get home.

Bring your own canapés. If you’re contributing to the buffet spread, try making your own nutritious bites to bring along. Our healthier canapé ideas are a great place to start – try some grilled aubergine stacks, chicken & basil meatballs or stuffed cocktail eggs.

Foods to watch…

Guacamole
Avocados are high in fat – it may be the healthy, unsaturated variety but, sadly, the body doesn’t differentiate between good and bad fats when it comes to the total calories consumed. Portion size is key – 1 heaped tablespoon of guacamole contains around 52 calories. Swap salty tortilla chips for vegetable batons for a healthier option.

Hummus
Hummus is high in fibre (which is good) but, like guacamole, its high fat content means that the calories can quickly add up. Two tablespoons (60g) contains 184 calories on average.

Crisps, tortilla chips and prawn crackers
It’s hard to say no once you’ve started on these moreish snacks – how many people can stop at just one handful? The problem with these carb-rich foods is that they don’t send the same ‘I’m full’ signals to the brain as fibre-rich options. Don’t be convinced that vegetable crisps are a healthy alternative – they’re still fried and salted. These snacks tend to be high in salt, which can disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling bloated the next day.

Nuts
They’re better for you than crisps but still high in fat, so watch portion sizes carefully. A small handful (25g) of salted peanuts contains 150 calories. Your best options are pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts.

Healthy swaps – instead of…

  • Cheese straws, choose breadsticks
  • Pringles, choose Twiglets
  • Garlic bread, choose bruschetta
  • Mini sausage rolls, choose cocktail sausages
  • Prawn crackers, choose tiger prawns
  • Cream cheese dip, choose yogurt dip
  • Mini pork pie, choose mini pizza
  • Spring rolls, choose sushi
  • Peanuts, choose olives

Three glasses of wine

How many calories are in your drink?

There’s no reason to miss out on the fun, but remember that alcohol stimulates the appetite and may weaken your resolve to eat sensibly. In the list below, unless otherwise stated, 1 glass equals 125ml:

  • 1 glass dry white wine 94 cals
  • 1 glass sparkling white wine 105 cals
  • 1 glass sweet white wine 118 cals
  • 1 glass red wine 95 cals
  • 1 glass champagne 95 cals
  • Vodka (25ml) and tonic (100ml) 85 cals
  • Bloody mary 75 cals
  • Cuba libre (rum, diet Coke and lime juice) 60 cals
  • 1 glass (50ml) Bailey’s original Irish cream 160 cals
  • Gin (25ml) and tonic (100ml) 90 cals
  • Gin (25ml) and slimline tonic (100ml) 56 cals
  • Piña colada 260 cals
  • 1 bottle (½ pint) lager 82 cals
  • ½ pint dry cider 105 cals
  • 113ml tomato juice 18 cals
  • 1 glass (250ml) cranberry juice 122 cals
  • Sea breeze (vodka, cranberry juice and grapefruit juice) 180 cals

All calorie figures given are averages. Information sources: DrinkAware and nutritionist (MBANT) Kerry Torrens. For alcohol advice, including UK alcohol unit guidelines, information on how drink affects your health and much more, visit the Drinkaware website.

Enjoyed this? Now try…

How many calories are in alcoholic drinks?
How to drink responsibly
Healthy Christmas canapé recipes


This article was last reviewed by Kerry Torrens on 2 November 2018.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified nutritionist (MBANT) with a post-graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years, she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

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