Stay ahead of the Holiday Food Game

At least another week (probably two) of parties, fancy restaurants, holiday goodies and many temptations?

  1. How to conquer obstacles before they physically appear?Plan friendly meals.  Are you lucky enough to live at a health spa or have a personal chef?  If not, then you know that “Eating well doesn’t happen by accident … You have to make it happen with planning and prep.”

  • Let’s explore strategies on how to eat healthy meals at restaurants (vacations, entertaining, dinner with friends. Yes, it is possible to eat well on the road or in a restaurant.
  • Keep it simple.  A few simple techniques can keep you on track and help you make good food decisions when you’re away from home. Let’s not be fancy or complicated.
    1. “Plan & prep” strategies for restaurants or on the road meals.
    2. Be creative. Try to find restaurants that use fresh, local, and/or organic ingredients.  If you can, pick the restaurant.
    3. Find out the name of the restaurant and search online for menus.  Know what you’re ordering in advance to cut off the “quick-fix” impulse for comfort food. Often times we don’t choose because the food tastes good.  We choose out of habit or to be in the “norm.
    4. Try to avoid the worse case scenarios. i.e. fast food chains and gas stations.
    5. Find a place with a fresh, healthy salad bar and make your own salad.
    6. Check out to get suggestions and options even at less-healthy restaurants.
    7. Look for the “Magic 3” choices:
      • Vegetables and fruits
      • Lean protein
      • High-fiber, slow-digesting carbs such as beans or whole grainsAdjust proportions of veggies to starches. Ask to substitute veggies for foods you don’t want.  Handy dandy phrase to use:  “Can I get some extra vegetables with that?”This is almost never a problem, though it may cost you an extra couple of bucks. Consider this your “flat stomach tax.
      • Don’t believe what menus say. They’re designed to catch your attention and make you want to eat, not give you the facts.  So yes, you have to be “that person” who asks questions.  You are paying for the meal so make sure you get quality and most importantly, what you really want.
      • Know what you’re ordering.  Address the server by name; ask politely how the dish is prepared; and smile with no food-fascist overtones.  You’ll probably receive a polite response in return.
      • Though they may seem nit-picky, these simple strategies can save you from eating hundreds of unwanted calories, added sugar or sodium.

      • Remember a menu’s number one job? To make often prefabricated food sound appealing.  Watch the language i.e. code words and/or phrases.- Skip anything that has the words “fried”, “cheesy”, “crispy”, “glazed”, or “secret blend”, hints of the exotic, grilled, baked, broiled, succulent, tender, crispy, “healthy option”, “heart-healthy”, “vegetarian choice”, “home-baked bread”, “Colonel’s secret blend of herbs and spices”.- Notice pure marketing fluff i.e. “Inspired by” is not the same as “prepared by a Tuscan chef”. Garden Fare is a long way from the garden.- Creamy rich = high fat – and probably not even real cream, but vegetable oils and emulsifiers.

        – Breaded, lightly coated, crispy, “popcorn” = battered and deep fried.

        – Cheesy = Smothered in cheese – and again, probably not the real stuff either.

        – Sautéed, grilled, sizzling = fried.

        – Flame grilled = likely fried, imprinted with fake grill marks, frozen, shipped, and reheated at the restaurant.

        – Sweet and savory/sour or Honey-garlic = caramelized.

        – Glazed = Tons of sugar added.

        – Succulent, tender = Processed, lots of fat.

        – Heart-healthy; vegetarian = High in grains or low fat but high sugar.

        – Piled high = Giant, possibly obscene portion size.

        – Layered = topped with, smothered layers of fat added to improve “mouth feel”.

        – Spinach dip = about 1% spinach, added cheese, oil, butter, sugar, etc.

        – No sugar chocolate = extra calories?

        – Jellybeans, cola, etc.= low fat – manufacturers add sugar and salt to compensate. Low fat doesn’t mean low calorie, low sugar, or high protein.

        -Lean proteins are often topped with sugary sauces.

        – Portion sizes – try appetizers.

        • Myth:  Over-sized or super-sized feels like more value for money.  In the last two decades, restaurants have increasingly catered to this false perception with bigger and bigger servings.  Be aware, often, even appetizers are enormous.* The bread and dip = entire loaf.
          * Flatbread = medium pizza.
        • That being said, ordering from the appetizer menu is often a good option. This is where you’ll usually finD soups and small portions of protein, which you can then pair with veggies.* Someone say Thai?Pair a skewer of shrimp or chicken with a salad, or the eggplant satay.* Yes, “Soup” for you!

          Soup is often a good choice, warm and comfortable. It often has veggies, and often lower in overall calories.  Minestrone is a good option with the beans, veggies and protein.  But remember choose your soups wisely.

        • Notice “danger words”.* Smothered, creamy, topped, rich, etc. = broccoli cheddar with healthy veggies, but everything else (possibly 6 oz. of cheese) cancels out whatever small amount of greenery is in there.* Skip the pesto bread, which is probably oiled white bread, and “dumplings”, which are basically white flour and butter.
        • Salad is often a good bet. By definition, it has veggies, plus you can usually get some protein on top or on the side.* Be conscious of the fact that restaurants often drown their salads in high-calorie dressings (both high-fat and high-sugar) and creamy cheeses, croutons, bacon, tortilla chips, or sugared nuts. “Greens” may be no-vitamin “whites” like iceberg lettuce.* Salads can be deceiving.Strawberry, spinach and arugula salad would be good with chicken on top.  But cut down the cheese and nuts; and ask for the dressing on the side so you can control the amount you want/need.

          * Portion sizing 2 – eat half now.   Sometimes, entrées are actually good options if the salads, soups, and appetizers are full of junk.

          * Try this small test:  Two salads from the same restaurant, Caesar & Garden.  Which is better?

          If you guessed the garden-fresh one, you’re right. Just ask for the dressing on the side, and add a lean protein. Caesar salads have “creamy” dressing, “topped” with cheese and croutons.

        • Many entrées are some combination of protein + veggies.Protein and veggies are a good choice but watch overall food and salt intake. The portion may be more than you need and it has 1895 grams of sodium. (The average daily recommendation is no more than 1500 g daily.)  What to do?Order it, eat half of it, and ask the server to wrap up the remainder before you eat, so it’s not sitting there in front of you whispering “Eaaat meee”.)
        • Go fish.Fish and seafood are often good options.  Not “fish and chips”.Shellfish are typically lower in calories – if they’re baked or steamed in a non-creamy sauce. Look for things like shrimp cocktails or satay, for example.Fish or crab cakes from the appetizer menu may be a good option if they’re baked, not deep fried.

          Many Asian restaurants (e.g. Korean, Japanese, Thai) offer excellent fish/seafood soups that are not made with a cream-based broth.

          Instead of sushi, opt for sashimi and other styles of serving the fish alone, such as seafood salads. (Try a seaweed salad – loaded with vitamins and minerals.  To me that’s a deal breaker – No thanks!

          How about a fish entrée that is some combination of a fish filet and veggies?  Option, if the portion size is too large, wrap half up for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.

2.  Working with “food saboteurs”.

Well-meaning friends, family members, co-workers, or clients might try to bump you off track.  Most of the time, they’re not even aware they’re doing it:
 “Just try some of this deep fried cheesecake with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and a caramel drizzle! You’ll love them.”
  “Here, take the rest of this stuffed-crust pizza. I don’t want it to go to waste.”

Other times, they’re downright confrontational:
 “Why are you avoiding holiday treats? That’s stupid.”

Truth is you can have that food or drink any time.  Very few are exclusive to the holidays except maybe fruitcake and you can’t even “give that away”.

If your companions keep pushing your buttons, keep it together.  Try a more direct approach, “Can I ask you something? Why is it so  important to you that I eat these foods?”
  That will usually distract them and get you off the hook.

You can’t control what a dining companion thinks, does, or says. You can only control what you think, do, or say.  Stick to your priorities, remember what YOU need to be YOUR best self.  I’ve got your back.

3.  Look for the best possible option.

Let’s say you have no other option but burgers.  Don’t despair. It’s all about choosing what’s “better” in a relative sense, even if it can’t be “ideal”.

Don’t despair. It’s all about choosing what’s “better” in a relative sense, even if it can’t be “ideal”.

  • What’s the better option . . . veggie burger or the classic sirloin?  Trick question.  Both!For the most part these are free of cheese, bacon, “crispy onion rings”, ranch dressing, or any other fatty, sugary crud.
  • A little suspicious of the tzatziki and maybe the mayo on that sirloin burger? Get both on the side so YOU can control the portions to what you want/need.
  • If you like, try an open-face burger by removing one of the buns or a bun-less burger.
  • Don’t ignore the sides. Opt for a house salad to round out veggie portion and don’t be tempted by the upgrade.

4.  See a Pattern?  Don’t be Perfect.  Just be Better.

  • Practice planning ahead.
  • No forced eating, following strict rules, or perfect meals.
  • No starvation or deprivation.
  • Keep it simple and try to include:
    • lean protein
    • colorful fruits and vegetables
    • slow-digesting, high-fiber carbs
    • healthy fats.

5.  What “counts”?

Make healthy eating happen on purpose rather than hoping it’ll happen by accident.

Remember: Healthy eating success is about planning and being prepared.

As we all know modern life can be very stressful. With so many demands on our time, through juggling family, work and friends, it can be a little difficult to give ourselves the attention that we really need and deserve.

Take time to celebrate the small wins but not with food.

It’s never too late to try Self-Kindness:

  • Give yourself a high-five.
  • Treat yourself to a really good stretch before getting out of bed, also gives you a few moments to connect your brain with your
  • body before the day starts.
  • Drink plenty of water. This is simple, but it’s so good for you.  Being dehydrated makes everything harder. H2O is pure liquid
    . . . WIN!
  • Be a kid and play – This is something we can easily allow to slip away as adults. Try a board game, sports, finger painting or even dancing & singing in the rain — have some fun!
  • Volunteer – Amazingly, one of the best ways to improve our state of mind and general outlook on life is by helping others. This is surely a win-win!  Just look around so many opportunities to contribute to worthy causes.
  • Exercise – Even if it’s just regular walks. Effective way of being kind to your mind and body is exercise that makes you smile or laugh!  Go roller skating, dancing or trampolining instead!  Life’s too short to choose misery. “No pain, no gain” only goes so far.





  • Accept compliments – If someone says something nice to you or about you, rather than deny what they said, graciously thank them for their kindness.
  • Flowers – Buy or gather some flowers for yourself and place them somewhere you will see them regularly.
  • Laugh – Laugh lots, loudly, regularly, and until you have a river of tears running down your cheeks and your tummy is aching.
  • Clothes – Wherever possible wear the clothes you feel most “you” in.
  • Massage – Treat yourself to one, just because.If you have any other self-kindness tips, please do share!


Enjoy your Friday and weekend.  Until next time, I’m only one click away.


Your friend and coach, Jessica


Precision Nutrition 
40 Simple Ways to Practice Kindness/Kindness Blog