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Navigating Holiday Diet Restrictions

How to satisfy both your and your guests’ dietary restrictions this holiday season.

For those with rigid diet restrictions, the holidays can be a stressful time. With so many holiday gatherings, the sudden influx of tempting yet forbidden food choices can be hard to navigate. But with the right mindset, plan and willpower, you can be ready for anything – from fielding a horde of questions about your diet choices to staring down a piece of triple-chocolate cake.

Dietary restrictions come in many forms. Some come from chosen diets such as vegetarianism, veganism and Paleo, while others are necessary due to preexisting conditions like lactose intolerance, celiac disease and diabetes. By following this simple guide, you can arm yourself with the knowledge it takes to make this holiday season a little bit easier.

Don’t Arrive Starving

If you fast all day in preparation for an evening’s big meal, you’ll most likely end up bingeing on foods not in your nutrition plan. Try to stick to your regular meal plan, especially breakfast, which is proven to help curb hunger throughout the day. Be sure to eat meals high in fiber leading up to your event. It will keep you full longer and make you less likely to overindulge later.

Have a Game Plan

Instead of stressing out about the food at an upcoming event, take the guesswork out of it by calling the host for a rundown of the menu. This way, there will be no surprises when you sit down to dinner. Even better, offer to bring a dish that you know you can eat. Bring a dish that complements the rest of the meal and one that you truly enjoy. This will alleviate your food anxiety and the pressure that comes when faced with a dish outside of your nutrition plan. When all else fails, just remember, it’s always OK to say “no.”

When You Are the Host

Things get a little trickier when you're the one serving food to guests who may have special diet restrictions. Here are a few tips to help your guests feel supported, happy and fed.

Ask for advice: Don’t feel like you have to surprise your guests who have special dietary concerns with dishes you think they can eat. Instead, run the menu items past them and ask for suggestions. They know their restrictions better than anyone else, and they will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Read labels: As you shop, be sure to read food labels and look for any red flag ingredients that your guests wouldn’t be able to consume. This way, there won’t be any surprises when you start preparing your meals.

Don’t cross-contaminate: If you’re hosting a guest with a peanut allergy, make sure to keep the utensils you use to prepare that peanut butter cheesecake far away from the apple pie. Better yet, strike allergens off the menu entirely to set your guests’ minds at ease.

Make it a bowl: Instead of designing a rigid menu, set up a buffet-style bar where guests can choose their own ingredients and each enjoy a personalized, diet-friendly meal. This makes everyone happy, and is much less work for you.

Take care of your own needs: While it’s kind to cater to your guests’ tricky dietary needs, make sure to take care of your own. Whether it’s including your favorite side dish on the menu or making cornbread just like Grandma used to, be sure to include yourself on the list of who to make happy this holiday season — you deserve it!

Move Away From the Table

Remember to make time for physical activity, even if you step away from the food and go for a walk with family or friends. This can help you to digest your food and help you to avoid over-eating. It’s a great way to spend time together so you’re present in time with others.