7 Tips for Healthy Eating at Summer Gatherings

Summertime and the living is easy—but for some, it’s the eating that can be hard. For those who are new to eating food with the goal of health and sustainable wellness, the summertime gathering season can feel like a minefield of food-related challenges and temptations. So, how to eat well and navigate party-time wisely when you have no control over the menu? Here are a few tips to make eating well this summer a veritable piece of cake:

1. Eat First, Party Later

Whether you’re watching your weight, are on an elimination diet, or are simply trying to eat as healthily as possible, get in the habit of eating first, before heading out to summer gatherings. Have a filling smoothie or light meal topped with a tablespoon of hunger-curbing chia seeds to help ensure you don’t arrive at the event ravenous and overdo it on not-so-healthy “party foods.”

2. Pass On The Passed Hors D’oeuvres

Mini-quiches. Pigs-in-blankets. Feta and spinach spanakopita. Mac ’n’ cheese balls. Bacon-wrapped anything. All are pretty typical cocktail-hour nibbles. A couple of these mindlessly nibbled before the main event are an easy way to derail a healthy diet—so keep your distance and resist the urge to graze your way through cocktail hour as you wait for the meal to be served. Can’t resist the premeal noshing? Then arrive late, when hors d’oeuvres service is tailing off (if not finished altogether).

3. Help Out With A Healthy Contribution

For more casual backyard affairs, offer to bring a tray of something delicious (and healthy). You’ll be helping out the host, you’ll boost your rep as a gracious guest—and best of all, you’ll be ensuring that there’ll be a nutritious alternative for you and like-minded eaters to enjoy, with no extra hassle for the host. Think nutrient-dense treats like marinated olives with feta cheese, tuna-stuffed cherry peppers, cut veggies, hummus, leafy greens or lettuce wraps, etc.

4. Find The Rainbow—And Eat It

Summer gatherings often feature overstuffed buffets, virtually buckling under the weight of nutrient-deficient comfort foods like macaroni salad, potato salad, and jello salad with marshmallows (don’t even get me started on that one!). Loaded with mayo and sugar, these so-called salads are major summertime diet-derailers we can all do without. My advice is to leave them on the table and head for the rainbow. Look for any unadulterated, undressed, and mayo-free red, green, yellow, orange, or purple veggie you can find—even if they’re just being used as garnishes on serving dishes—and fill up on them instead.

5. Don’t Keep Up With The Hard-drinking, Sweaty Joneses

In the summertime, alcohol has various effects, few of them good. For starters, the sugar in booze fuels hunger, and the alcohol helps loosen inhibitions. By the time that second drink hits, you’re considerably less in control of your appetite and more likely to overeat to quash the alcohol-induced munchies. If you’re drinking to cool off, don’t kid yourself—alcohol makes your body run hotter. And when the vessels near the surface of the skin start to dilate, the sweat glands respond by pumping out sweat—making you look anything but cool.

6. Manage Your Dose

If, despite the sweating, you still feel a drink is in order, choose wisely, sticking to drinks that are lower in sugar, like vodka or tequila. Avoid sweet, fruity concoctions. Trade tonic for seltzer. Forgo all juice or sugared soda mixers. If wine is your thing, very dry, low-sugar wines like sauvignon blanc, Italian pinot grigio, and chardonnay are decent bets. But whatever your drink of choice, nurse it—don’t  guzzle—and cut yourself off after the second round. From there, switch to water or seltzer with lots of ice to combat the effects of summertime heat and alcohol-induced dehydration. Head home with a clear head, and wake up hangover-free.

7. Party Mindfully And Savor, Not Scarf, Your Meal

Off to a sit-down dinner? Then it should be fairly easy to eat mindfully. However, when you’re eating off paper plates while standing up at the neighbor’s annual barbecue, mindful eating becomes more of a challenge—but do try. Doing so will slow your eating speed, aid digestion, and help control appetite by giving the satiety hormones in your brain time to catch up with your stomach to let you know you’re full. How to do it: Take a moment to look at your food. Breathe in the aroma of the food on your plate. Take small bites and really taste each one, completely chewing it before swallowing. Have a sip of water every few bites, then put down your knife and fork and take a breather. Repeat the look-breathe-taste-chew-pause process through the remainder of your meal—to savor your food and your meal.

For more ideas on how to eat well when you’re not in charge of the kitchen, check out our tips on how to eat healthy anywhere.