Mindfulness Matters During the Holidays
Only a few days till Thanksgiving. As preparations begin on Thanksgiving dinner, the big question is: Do you know your audience?
Being a good host/hostess is truly an art form. It takes a mix of organization and creativity to effectively host a successful holiday dinner. There certainly can be a level of stress involved as well: Is the food edible? Has anyone noticed the centerpiece? Can I time the food so it’s simultaneously served hot? Did I buy enough wine?
But the best way to be the host with the most is ensuring mindfulness of guests coming to dinner. As we meet our true loves and families begin to expand, new faces can pop up at the dining room table. And if you want them to come back for another meal, then the best way to make the experience less stressful on everyone is to make sure you’re being mindful.
Perhaps it’s my Italian heritage that makes me a nut about accommodating guests so no one leaves hungry. Or the fact I’ve been a semi-vegetarian for over 20 years and have attended my share of dinners where I’m stuck picking at a few side dishes because the star of the meal is a pork loin.
My family has been well aware of my eating preferences for years and is super accommodating at the big family meals. But once Mr E and I started combining holidays, it became a new experience for me. I’m overly polite and don’t want to insult the host by being a demanding guest or bringing my own food when they’ve worked hard to put a meal on the table. And I kind of hoped my loving husband would have tipped his family off to my no beef/no pork eating lifestyle since his family was so new to me. But alas, there is no such thing as the perfect man.
As dietitians, we’re ingrained to ask people about their eating habits and dietary preferences. So of course, I asked some of my colleagues about their approach to mindfulness at the big meals when it comes to being a host or guest.
Dietitian Tip #1: Open Your Mouth
Knowing your audience is a key step when hosting. “It’s always polite to ask for food preferences prior to the meal so that someone isn’t left with an empty plate,” advises Amy Baertschi, MS, RDN from Green Eyed Nutrition LLC: A Fresh Look at Everyday Eating (@). “I also make sure there are plenty of vegetable options so there is something healthy for everyone to enjoy.”
For guests with special dietary preferences or needs, it’s always better to speak up rather than sit in silence with a few string beans on your plate. Use the opportunity to educate others. “As a vegan, I am very used to handling this situation when visiting other people’s homes and explaining my dietary choices. When I am visiting family over the holidays, I will ask if I can bring a dish or two to share (usually a main item and dessert). This way, I can enjoy my vegan food and share it with the rest of my family so they understand that I eat more than salad,” shares Kathy Brown, RD, LDN (@).
Dietitian Jillian O’Neil encourages guests to ask about specific foods. “If you think an ingredient or recipe doesn’t match up with your dietary preferences, simply pass and choose another option. If an allergy is involved, call the friend/family member and ask if that particular ingredient is common among the spread. This way you can bring a small serving of your favorite option if the main dish isn’t applicable.”
Dietitian Tip #2: Change it Up
“Dietary preferences and food allergies/intolerances should be recognized and respected when hosting a large meal over the holiday season,” says Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, Family Nutrition Expert & Founder of Family. Food. Fiesta (@). “When I find out that someone has an allergy to a specific food or has a dietary preference such as vegetarian or vegan, I’ll modify my recipes accordingly. Making simple swaps can be easy. I also put the excluded foods on the side so people can add them at their own discretion. For example, don’t eat meat? I’ll have a veggie version with the meat on the side to add if one wants. Or if someone is gluten-free, I’ll make gluten-free dishes so everyone can enjoy.”
Dietitian Tip #3: Show & Tell
Samina Qureshi RDN, LDN (@) also suggests, “If you don’t get around to asking your family and friends about their food intolerances, allergies, and preferences before the party you can always place a food card in front of each dish with a list of ingredients in the recipe. The good thing about a food card and ingredient list is that it allows your guests to be aware of what is in each dish without having to continually ask.”
Dietitian Tip #4: Get Pot-lucky
“Ensuring that everyone’s dietary needs or preferences are met can be a challenge and perhaps a bit stressful,” cautions Karla Moreno, MDA, RD from Nutritious Vida: Eat. Simple. Healthy (@). “Hosting a potluck dinner may be a good approach. Family and friends bringing their favorite dishes helps alleviate the planning stress by providing comfort there will be
something for everyone. Consider having a Google Doc where everyone can sign up for what they’d like to bring – others can know ahead of time which food items they may happily enjoy. My boyfriend and I are both vegan and this year we will be bringing a dish or two to holiday parties. This not only allows us to share our favorite holiday dishes with friends and family but it also helps the hostess feel less worried on how to best accommodate our restrictive diet.”
Dietitian Tip #5: Strive for Perception, Not Perfection
Making an effort to be perceptive of your guests’ preferences is a great first step towards mindfulness this holiday season. At the end of the day, we do our best to meet most needs, but also be realistic. “I try to accommodate preferences and have foods that everyone can eat, while realizing that not every item available has to meet all preferences,” Jamie M. Marchetti, MS, RDN, LD (@) reassures our hosts.
How well do you know your guests?
What will you do differently as a host or guest this holiday season?
Have a tip you want to share?
Sound off in the Comments below!
Thank you to my fellow Registered Dietitian Nutritionists for contributing. Make sure check out their sites and follow on Twitter for more great nutrition information.