Eating a few healthy items at home—before you attend a big gathering—could help you resist platefuls of sweets and other high-calorie temptations. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

For many folks, family and food are a big part of the holiday season.

While you probably want your family to be as sweet as possible this time of year, you may want to think twice about gulping down too many of those over-sweetened—or super-fattened—holiday meals.

The truth is, holiday foods such as cranberries, green beans, turkey and pumpkin can provide some nutritious benefits on their own. It’s when you mix in the sugar, creamy condensed soup, gravy or cream cheese that the benefits quickly begin to disappear.

These foods can be high in calories, saturated fat and sodium, especially when eaten in excess. Occasional indulgences aren’t an issue, assuming your diet is balanced overall.

Beyond the mealtime staples, you also have to grapple with the indulgent foods that are left on kitchen counters or in candy bowls all season long. Those temptations are always there—a constant visual enticement.

One great strategy to control calories when you’re at home: Put away those indulgent items when guests aren’t around. That way you won’t be tempted to chip away.

You don’t have to give up all the good stuff during the holidays. (Imagine, for a moment, how surprised your guests would be if only salads and fruit plates were offered at your holiday party.) There are reasonable ways to keep yourself on the path to weight maintenance, even at this time of year.

Follow these tips to keep yourself on track this holiday season:

1. Eat ahead

Eat a little bit—preferably some health items such as meat, vegetables and fruit—before going to parties. This can keep you from eating too much of the “bad” stuff when you’re there.

2. Eat slowly

Eating fast can lead you to consume twice the amount of calories in a sitting. Slow it down and enjoy.

3. Drink water

Keep a glass of ice water in one hand at the party. Water is a great way to keep your intake in check.

4. Use a small plate

A smaller plate will help limit you to small portions.

5. Survey the buffet

Take a good look at what’s offered before going through the buffet. Fruits and vegetables may be at the end of the buffet and your plate may be full by the time you get there. Start with the fruits and veggies.

6. Socialize

Talk to as many people as possible. Socializing is a fun, healthy part of the evening—and it can keep you from milling around the bar or the appetizer table.

7. Opt for fruits and veggies

Dig in to vegetables and fresh fruit. If you have a second serving, make sure your second trip also includes fruits and vegetables.

8. Hold the salt

Keep saucy meats, cheeses, dips, desserts and salty snacks to a minimum. Salty snacks will encourage you to drink more.

9. Pace yourself.

Keep beverages (except water) to two servings. Two to three of those beverages can account for an entire meal’s worth of calories.

10. Make it self-serve

Ask if you can bring a dish for everyone. You’ll know what’s in it—and it could end up being one of the healthiest items of the evening. (You’ll be surprised at how many people will thank you for the healthy choice!)

11. Log a pre- and post-workout

Exercise the day of the party and exercise the day after. Exercising multiple days a week will always help keep your metabolism revved up.

12. Think smart

Remember your past successes, and remember that you absolutely have what it takes to achieve your health goals.

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