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Hosting Healthier Holiday Parties

December 13, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - 'Tis the season for high-calorie, sweet-tooth indulgence - that is, unless you use some commonsense strategies for preparing and serving healthier holiday foods.

Those end-of-year holiday parties and office get-togethers can be recipes for disaster if you're watching your weight or on a special diet. But it doesn't have to be that way, according to Portland caterer Joyce McGee of Pans, Pots & Skillets. She says caterers know the freshest foods are not only healthy choices – they're often the most colorful, so they look good and stand out on the buffet table. There is no shortage of creative ways to serve them, she adds.

"Homemade hummus with your vegetable tray. Salad rolls, filled with fresh vegetables. I do a black-eyed pea salad and I can use it as a salad and a salad wrap."

If you're invited to a potluck, CareOregon health educator Denise Johnson recommends setting a good example by bringing a healthy appetizer or salad to share. And if you're the host of the gathering, she says, it's important to arrange the food to help people resist temptation.

"Do you have candy out? Do you have fatty foods out on the end tables? You may want to consider having those on a buffet in one area, where someone has to mindfully go to the buffet. Make it comfortably challenging for them to get that extra food."

Portion control is a big part of catering for different reasons, explains McGee, like minimizing waste and the demand for party foods that are easy to eat. She adds that just about any dessert can be made in smaller portions – even her clients' favorite pies.

"You know, the pie crust has to be there, but I have learned to do 'em as tarts, so you don't have a big pie; you just cut down your portion. But you have to pay attention to those that really like sugar: they'll pop two or three of 'em in their mouth! That's how good they are."

Johnson notes that family members often prod each other into eating more, and one strategy for avoiding that kind of problem is honesty. Let them know that you're watching your food intake and ask for their support. She also advises never going to a party hungry. Have a small meal or some fruit and yogurt first.

McGee suggests experimenting with favorite family recipes, adapting them with low-salt or low-fat ingredients, or introducing new, healthier menu items that might become favorites – that is, if they look and taste great.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR