10 Healthy Eating Tips for Holiday Parties
The holidays are a time of celebration. Christmas, New Year’s and company parties and family get-togethers and all have two things in common: food and drink. For people with kidney disease, these social gatherings can also mean tough choices about what to eat and drink. For those on dialysis who need to follow more strict kidney-diets, these choices can affect more than just the number on the scale – they can impact short–term health and well-being. It’s important to enjoy yourself and have fun during social gatherings, and for many, that means participating in the eating part of the party. Buffets and “pot luck” dinners are often tricky for people who need to know what each dish contains in order to make healthy choices. Be prepared with these 10 tips from the National Kidney Foundation to help you to navigate holiday parties successfully.
- Don’t arrive hungry — have a snack before you arrive. This will help you to make smarter choices because your eyes and empty stomach won’t be steering you towards everything in sight. A protein-based snack can be a great way to take off the “hunger edge” because it can help you feel full without creating a surge in blood sugar like snacks high in sugar and simple carbohydrates.
- Distract yourself — Holiday parties are times to be social, so enjoy the company. Survey the selections and take your time at the food table to make smart decisions. When you finish making a plate, sit down and chat. Having a conversation while eating can help you eat more slowly.
- Portion size, portion size, portion size! — Moderation and portion control is the key for everything. A good general rule is that everything is okay to eat in moderation (with the exception of star fruit which is toxic to people on dialysis). Depending on your specific dietary needs, the portion sizes for some foods should be smaller than others. For example, if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, watch out for high sugar foods and drinks.
- Watch your plate — Pay attention to how many times you’ve filled your plate, rather than grazing throughout the party, and it will be easier to remember how much you’ve eaten.
- Avoid alcohol — alcoholic drinks are typically high in sugar and calories. Opt for seltzer or other water-based beverages instead. If you are drinking alcohol, be mindful that these calories add up, even if they don’t make you feel full. Alcohol can also affect your judgment and your ability to make other healthy food choices.
- When eating protein, steer clear of the salt — Many buffets and pot-luck dinners include meats. Be sure to always follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for protein intake and keep in mind that some meats are highly processed, making them high in salt and phosphorus additives. Typically a sodium-phosphate solution is injected into the processed deli meats that you will find on a buffet table. High blood pressure is a leading cause of kidney disease and avoiding and reducing your salt intake can greatly impact blood pressure control.
- Just a taste — A holiday party is a treat, so treat yourself, but don’t overdo it! Take small portions of foods you don’t eat on a regular basis. Sometimes a bite-size (tablespoon) serving of a special food can satisfy a craving.
- Speak up! — It's okay to say "no thanks" when someone suggests you re-join them in the buffet line or offers you “seconds.” Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into eating more than you would like.
- Bring a healthy dish — As your pot luck dish, choose a healthy option that you know you can eat. This will then be a “safe” food that you know you can eat at the party. Not sure what to bring? Check out this recipe for kidney-friendly deviled eggs.
- Don’t let your sweet tooth take over — With tempting desserts left and right, it can be easy for your inner sweet tooth to compete with your self-control this time of year. Try to split desserts with a friend or family member instead of eating a whole portion yourself.
Here are a few extra healthy eating tips for people on dialysis: For those with kidney failure, a holiday spread can be a treasure of high protein foods or a pit fall of high sodium, high potassium, high phosphorus foods, so it’s important to know what to look out for before you start to fill your plate. Know your limitations and make smart choices to get through the holiday season healthy, happy and with good labs!
- If you must limit your fluid intake, save up your fluid — If you know you are going to a party, you can limit your fluid earlier in the day. This will enable you to enjoy the non-alcoholic drinks available, without having to worry about the extra fluid dialysis will have to remove later. Another way to enjoy while limiting fluid is to use small cups and ask for ice. Most parties will have coffee and tea available. These cups tend to be smaller than the cups (or cans of) cold drinks provided. Make sure you still pay attention to how many cups you drink.
- Carry your meds with you, including phosphorus binders — Buffets lend themselves to “grazing” or eating small amounts frequently. If you are on phosphorus binders it is important to take them throughout the time you are “grazing.” This will help bind the phosphorus and keep it out of your blood as you enjoy food throughout the party.
- Be wary of the potassium — Casseroles and fruit punch can contain unknown amounts of potassium depending on how they were made and the types of ingredients (fresh vs. canned vs. frozen) used. Avoid big portions of foods you know are high in potassium, including bananas, potatoes and meatballs with extra tomato sauce. It is okay to have small portions of these but, again, don’t overdo it.
- Know your numbers! — Do you know how your labs have been lately? Do you have room to eat a little more potassium or phosphorus at your holiday party? Have you been running high levels that require you to be extra careful? Speak with your renal dietitian. He or she will be able to help you decide the best way to choose foods and drinks at your special events this holiday season.
Have a healthy and happy holiday season!
Many thanks to Dawn Berry, RD for her contributions to this article.