Lake Norman Magazine

Skip the buffet? No way!

Shrimp and grits has 390 calories per cup. Try shrimp cocktail for a healthful substitute.
Shrimp and grits has 390 calories per cup. Try shrimp cocktail for a healthful substitute. Yalonda M. James

December’s here, and with it comes not just the threat of flurries and the rush of shopping, but those countless food celebrations that both delight and challenge us.

Partygoers, you know what the holidays bring: Platters of food and delectable treats, all on display at gatherings with family, co-workers or friends. So, what’s the best way to navigate that holiday buffet?

By counting those calories. Granted, calorie counting isn’t the only way to judge a food’s nutritional merit. But it can certainly serve as a guide for making the healthiest decisions possible.

Party with a strategy

Carol Goodwin, health educator with Total Nutrition Technology, a personalized nutrition and health management company with offices throughout Charlotte and in Cornelius, offers clients plenty of advice on how to regard the bevy of holiday treats they’ll encounter while traveling or celebrating.

Partygoers can still enjoy themselves, Goodwin says. If attending a party, plan for it all day. Many often make their first mistakes before they ever get to the celebration. They’ll skip meals throughout the day in order to “save up” on calories, only to overindulge once they get to the party.

“Instead, eat smaller, lean meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism going,” advises Goodwin. “Then you can concentrate on quality, not quantity. Allow yourself to sample one or two of your favorites, and pass on the others.”

Goodwin suggests other strategies. Use smaller plates – like a salad plate – for the buffet line, to prevent loading up on too much food. Move and mingle while in the buffet line instead of camping out next to the food. Eat slowly so you’ll notice when you’re full. And enjoy the food along the way.

Hosts doing the most

Party hosts also can play a role in how many calories their guests consume – and burn.

“If you are hosting the event, consider an active party. Include Christmas caroling around the neighborhood, or hosting at an ice skating rink,” Goodwin suggests.

In the food spread, feature some dishes that have fruits or vegetables so there are a few lower-fat and lower-sugar options to diversify the menu. And while cooking, make healthy substitutions. Use Splenda instead of sugar, for example.

Shocked? Then substitute

Since food science isn’t a common school course, many of us are at a loss when it comes to calculating how many calories are in certain foods. On the next two pages, Goodwin shares her expertise for both party hosts and partygoers on some party food shockers – and some tasty substitutes.

Minding party portions and picks might seem like the antithesis of enjoying the holidays, but taking care of one’s health means making thoughtful choices. By going in to the December party season with an eating strategy, January is sure to begin without the winter weight gain.

Meatballs and pigs in the blanketThe science: What’s a holiday party without one or both of these? Plus, it’s hard to eat just one treat, since these goodies are small. But, fact is, these holiday staples pack on the calories. Five meatballs add up to 350 calories, and five pigs in the blanket total 470 calories.Moderate munchy substitute: Hosts and nibblers can consider choosing five crab cakes instead, for just 225 calories. Or if you like sushi, choose three pieces of California roll, for just 130 calories. Egg nogThe science: For many, egg nog is a holiday must-have. But this celebratory standard packs a punch. With milk, cream, eggs, and sugar as the main ingredients, one cup tallies 400 calories.Toast to this: Those who opt for a shot of liqueur instead take in 150 calories.

Shrimp and gritsThe science: This Southern party staple is considered comfort food – but one cup yields 390 calories.Swap it out: Get your shrimp fix with six shrimp with cocktail sauce instead, and consume only 60 calories.

Macaroni and cheeseThe science: Even though we already know this delight isn’t exactly low-calorie food, this favorite commonly finds a spot on the table because of its appeal to all ages. Just one cup, however, numbers 340 calories.Munch on this: Opting instead for half an ounce of Swiss cheese on a Triscuit is only 55 calories.

Coconut cakeThe science: Looking for a dessert treat to polish off those party pickings? Know that coconut cake amounts to 280 calories per slice.Sweets swap: Opt instead for two pieces of rich and satisfying fudge -- and slice your calorie intake by half, to 140 calories.

Mini-quiche, or baked brie on French baguetteThe science: That mini-mouthful is 120 calories per quiche, while an ounce of baked brie on French baguette is 210 calories.Make a trade: Opt instead for one slice of bruschetta, at 45 calories.

Chips and dipThe science: Looking for a chip and dip combination? Two tablespoons of crab dip (120 calories) or onion dip (100 calories) with just a handful of potato chips (150 calories) packs a hefty caloric punch.Do the math: A cup of raw, cut veggies (25 calories) served with two tablespoons of hummus (50 calories) and two ounces low fat dill dip, made with fat free sour cream and mayo (20 calories) present a lighter option.

Mozzarella sticksThe science: These fried snacks pack a high-calorie punch with 85 calories a piece.Fruit swap: Try something lighter like proscuitto with melon. It only has 25 calories each. And you won’t have that feeling you get after consuming fried foods. You know, that feeling.

Deviled eggsThe science: They are all over party buffet tables and it’s so easy to indulge and have one, two or 12 over the course of a few hours. But beware! They are 65 calories a pop. Tasty surprise: Dill dip made with fat-free sour cream and mayo is only 20 calories for two ounces.

WineThe science: It’s the holidays and a glass of wine here and there won’t hurt, right? But watch what you drink. A glass contains 125 calories.Beverage alternative: White wine spritzer has only 65 calories. It’s a great alternative if you still want a little something.

Party mixThe science: No party is complete with party mix, but with Chex cereal, pretzels, nuts and cheese nips in addition to the butter that it was baked in, this festive snack mix has a whopping 195 calories per handful. That’s a lot for something that’s supposed to be a snack.Nutty swap: Stick to the bowl of mixed nuts. Nuts are a good source of plant-based protein and although high in fat, 10 nuts have 50 calories, a savings of 145 calories.