Potlucks are a fun and convenient party plan, especially for the host. Less cooking means more time to relax, let loose and spend time with your guests. But if you’re making an effort to eat healthier in your day to day life, potlucks–whether you’re hosting or not–can pose a few problems.
The problem with potlucks
First, it can be difficult to find lighter dishes that aren’t swimming in creamy sauces or excess amounts of cheese. Casseroles, gratins and dips are the usual culprits. Their high content of unhealthy fats–not to mention high calorie count–makes them some of the worst potluck options. I know, I know, they are also the most crave-worthy!
Second, the typical potluck spread tends to be heavier on the meat (think cocktail meatballs, cold cuts and chili) and weak on the vegetables (aside from the requisite veggie tray, of course). If you’re aiming to eat more plant-based foods and less meat, vegetable-centric dishes can be hard to come by. This is even more of a concern for vegetarians and vegans.
Finally, and most concerning of all, the “buffet effect”–that tendency to eat more than usual because there are more options to choose from–is in full force at a potluck. Yup, it’s a real thing backed by science! It makes sense…everything looks so good, so you add “just a bite” of each dish to your plate. Before you know it, you’ve got a heaping dinner plate full of food.
A healthier potluck strategy
With this is mind, it only makes sense to make mindful, mostly healthy choices at your next potluck. You’ll feel better afterward and it may even motivate you to continue eating mindfully through New Year’s and beyond. Here are some steps on how to navigate a holiday potluck in a smarter way:
Step 1. If you have special dietary restrictions or are very particular about what you eat, consider bringing one or two dishes. You’ll have at least something to eat, and you might even encourage your friends and family to try something new to them.
Step 2. Grab a small plate and scan the whole spread beginning to end before adding anything to your plate. That way you won’t fill up valuable plate space with “meh” dishes you didn’t really want in the first place. This is easier said than done, but one lap around the buffet table won’t kill you!
Step 3. Zero in on nutritious but also filling dishes that contain vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Bean salads, rice pilafs and the usual green salads are great bets, as are blended vegetable soups, vegetarian curries and raw veggies with hummus or Greek yogurt dip. Seek out some lean protein such as shrimp, chicken, fish or even devilled eggs. I have personally never seen tofu at a potluck, but it depends on the kinds of food your friends and family are used to eating.
Step 4. Now that your plate is loaded up with healthy eats, carve out a small corner for whatever creamy, cheesy, guilty pleasure dish happens to be calling your name. Make this something you don’t frequently eat and can’t easily make for yourself. For me, it’s usually some kind of baked pasta like lasagna or mac ‘n’ cheese. That way you can enjoy a taste of that special treat without feeling weighed down after the meal.
Step 5. Don’t bother with seconds unless you truly don’t feel full after 20 minutes. I’ve actually tested this many times and not once have I felt actually hungry or even peckish after waiting for a bit. It takes time for your brain to register that you’re full, so stuffing your face just because the hunger signal is still “on” won’t do you any good. Here’s a neat trick: if you had just enjoyed the same meal at home, are you so hungry that you would go to the trouble of preparing a whole other meal or even snack right after? If so, grab some more of the healthier options by all means! If not, you’re probably full.
Step 6. Forgoing dessert is easier for some than others. If dessert is your favourite part of a meal or you’d simply rather not skip it, choose one treat that you like best and enjoy a serving of it. One piece of pie, a cookie or a brownie is just the right amount to feel satisfied and not deprived. If you’re going the no dessert route, there’s nothing more comforting after a meal than a cup of mint tea.