The holiday season is traditionally a time of indulgence, meaning balanced diets typically fly right out the window when faced with a dizzying array of fatty meats, gooey dips, greasy chips and tempting sweets. When it comes to festive spreads, empty calories and excess fat tend to fill the table. But it’s not impossible to have your cake and eat it too. Parties are opportunities to be social, and—surprise!—also eat healthfully. Which foods at the soiree will keep your pregnancy diet on track and which will set you back?Use this guide to make the most nutritious choices at your next shindig.
Smart eat: Crudites
Those platters of sliced vegetables are a great place to load up on vitamins, anti-oxidants and fiber. “They are crunchy and filling, making it easier to avoid temptation at the dessert table,” says dietitian Tara Gidus, author of Pregnancy Cooking and Nutrition for Dummies. Aim to fill half of your plate with vegetables like carrots, broccoli florets and celery sticks.
Watch out! Most veggie trays are accompanied by dips containing an avalanche of calories. “Typically lower in calories than creamy dips, hummus is a winner due to the extra fiber and protein from chickpeas,” Gidus says. Guacamole can be less hazardous too, since it’s made with folate-rich avocado, and you can count on salsa to be composed of mostly vegetables and low in calories. For creamy options, Gidus suggests blending together your own party dips using ingredients like Greek yogurt and reduced fat sour cream.
Smart eat: Cheese
The tempting cheese plate need not be off-limits. Cheese provides hunger-quelling protein and calcium to help build developing bones. Most cheeses, especially hard ones, are fairly high in calories, so Gidus recommends keeping portions to just a few ounces.
Watch out! “Soft cheeses can more easily harbor harmful bacteria, so avoid them if they have been sitting out for long periods,” notes Gidus.“Cheese balls are particularly risky and tend to be highly caloric.”
Smart eat: Fruit
Chances are, whichever celebration you’re attending, there’ll be an array of alluring desserts. Reach for melons, strawberries and other fresh fruit to help tame an aching sweet tooth. As with veggies, fruit is nutrient-dense and slim on calories.
Watch out! Be leery of those chocolate dips and caramel sauces that hover around the fruit platter. Often, they’re packed with more sugary calories than anything else. If you want to jazz up raw fruit, try squirts of lime or lemon juice.
Smart eat: Whole grain crackers
With more people trying to offer healthy choices at soirees, it’s becoming easier to find options like whole grain crackers when you want something crunchy. Use them as a delivery system for dips and cheese.
Watch out! A staple at any party, chips and pretzels are mostly empty carbohydrate calories, which make it easy to plow through a bowl before you know it. When you do reach for chips, opt for those that are baked instead of fried.
Smart eat: Fish
“Shrimp is really lean, so it’s a low-calorie choice, especially when paired with cocktail sauce, which is also light in calories,” shares Gidus. A 3-ounce serving of shrimp weighs in at only 90 calories. Gidus adds that smoked salmon is an excellent choice for brain-building omega-3 fats.
Watch out! “To reduce food contamination risk, make sure the shrimp is on ice so it’s nice and cold and that the smoked salmon has been cooked,” Gidus advises. Keep your distance from any fish that’s been mixed with items that can significantly hike up the calories, like mayonnaise or sour cream.
Smart eat: Chicken skewers
Made with skinless chicken breast, skewers of chicken are one of the better carnivorous hors d’oeuvres options. Explains Gidus, “The protein in chicken can help fill you up, making it less likely you’ll stuff yourself silly.”
Watch out! Fat-laden skin and questionable sauces should make you chicken to nibble on too many chicken wings. Further, meatballs—often made with fatty cuts of beef plus extras like eggs—could more accurately be dubbed little balls of calories.
Smart eat: Nuts
You might be prone to shy away from the mixed nuts since they’re high in fat, but no need! Their fat is generally considered to be of the healthy variety. Cashews, almonds and the like are loaded with nutrients beneficial for pregnancy, so rather than overdosing on chips, grab a handful of nuts. They’ll keep you feeling fuller longer too.
Watch out! Steer clear of nuts with add-ons like chocolate coating, and ditch those doused in salt, which can send sodium levels soaring.
Smart eat: Vegetable juice
Gidus says virgin Bloody Marys can help you effortlessly get one or more servings of veggies. She adds, “Another drink option is to cut 100 percent fruit juices like pomegranate or concord grape with sparkling water to reduce sugar calories.”
Watch out! “Any of the virgin frozen sweet drinks like daquiris, margaritas piña coladas can be very high in sugar calories,” warns Gidus.
Smart eat Angel food cake
If you’re eyeing the cake platter, opt for angel food cake. This light and fluffy guise of cake is much lower in fat and calories than rich and dense options like cheesecake or pecan pie. Top your slice with fruit such as raspberries or creamy Greek yogurt.
Watch out! Bite-size cookies and brownies may seem harmless, but a few too many can easily set you back hundreds of calories. “The problem with these items is that their small size makes you feel less guilty when eating them compared to a large slice of pie or cake,” Gidus says. “It’s all about smaller overall portions when it comes to desserts,” she notes, suggesting partygoers savor just one or two baked goods.