Healthy Holiday Tip: Have a Pre-Party!

Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Your calendar is filling with events where there will be lots of food and drink, including holiday treats we see once a year, making them all the more irresistible.  The typical adult gains between 5 and 8 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s according to Susan B Roberts, PhD, director of Tuft’s HNRCA Energy Metabolism Laboratory (See Reference).  Do you want to be an exception?  Consider the following strategies. 

Have a Snack

You may have heard the advice to eat before a party and avoid food at the event.  That’s not fun.  My advice is to have a nutritious snack. That way you can still have some special party foods without going overboard.

My pre-party idea is Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus (recipe below) served with lightly cooked or raw vegetables.  This pre-party spread offers nutrient-rich veggies, protein, carbs and a little fat for sustained satisfaction.   If a holiday potluck is on your schedule, bring this dip with a platter of vegetables and whole grain crackers.  That insures you will have something light, tasty and crunchy to balance heavier selections. 

Have a Drink

…of water.  Water won’t fill you up for long but if you are making a move for second helpings pause with a glass of water and give yourself time to assess your hunger and need for more food.  Some people switch to water after they’ve had an alcoholic drink to pace their intake.  If you’re concerned with  drinking excess calories stay away from cocktails made with cream, sweet syrupy mixers and classic eggnog.  If eggnog is a must-have treat for you, dilute it with some skim milk.  Light alcoholic drink choices include a glass of champagne, wine and lite beer.  If you’re throwing the party, include some flavored sparkling waters or other light beverages as an alternative to alcohol. 

Don’t Skip Meals

If you skip a meal or two to “save up” for a big event, your metabolism will sag along with your energy and mood.  When you arrive at the party in a near-starved state you may eat indiscriminately –  too much and too fast. Arrive with a reasonable hunger and you are more likely to select what you find  most enjoyable  in healthful portions. 

Be Picky

Survey the foods at a party and take only what’s really tantalizing.  Fill half of your plate with light, fiber-rich choices such as fresh fruits, salad and vegetables.  Drop your membership in the “clean plate club.”  Sometimes we take more than we can eat at a buffet or the food looks better than it tastes.  Leaving food on your plate may be hard to do depending on your background and experiences so you may want to practice in advance.  Remind yourself that cleaning your plate to not waste food can have health consequences. 

Be Aware of the “Second Meal Effect”

Researchers use this term to describe when, at a meal following an especially delicious meal, people feel hungrier and eat more than they would ordinarily. (See Reference)  Over time, such as a series of holiday events, this can lead to over-consumption.  It is theorized that the “second meal effect” was helpful in times long past to bulk up for leaner times when food was hard-to-find.  Today it may promote weight gain.

When you experience the “second meal effect” break the cycle by focusing on fiber- and protein-rich foods, including legumes (beans), whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables and salads.  It is much harder to over-consume whole foods than refined and sugary treats.

The goal is to strike a healthy balance and fully enjoy holiday events.


Secrets to Healthy Holiday Eating. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.  November 2013. 

Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus

Roasting the squash concentrates the flavor. 


2 cups cubed, roasted butternut or other winter squash*

2/3 cup cooked (or canned, drained) garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

1/4 cup tahini

2 cloves garlic, blanched if desired**

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons water from blanching garlic or plain water, as needed


In bowl of food processor, combine squash, garbanzo beans, tahini, garlic, salt, cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper.  Whirl until smooth, stopping machine to scrape down sides of container once or twice.  If hummus is too thick for dipping, add a tablespoon or two or water and process to blend.   Chill for 1 hour or until serving time.  Makes about 1 3/4 cups.


*To roast squash:  Preheat oven to 400°.  Place squash on oiled baking sheet.  Spray or brush lightly with oil.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Roast for 20 minute or until tender.  Cool.


*To temper the raw garlic flavor: Simmer garlic in boiling water for 30 seconds.  Drain, reserving water.  Cool. 


© 2013 Lorelle Del Matto

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


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