Monthly Health Message:

Eating Healthy at Social Events

February 2008

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Eating healthy when dining out at social events like parties, receptions, and family gatherings can be a challenging experience when you are trying to balance healthy foods with foods high in fat, salt, and sugar. Selecting "heart healthy" foods is not always easy because you have no control over food preparation by others. Selecting healthier food choices is possible, however. Below are some tips to help you stick to food choices that are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol:

  • Buffets include many foods. Take a look at all the foods that are available, before you get on line, to see what foods are being served that are lower in fat, salt, and sugar. Fill up on high fiber foods such as salads, vegetables, and whole grains and take small servings of high fat foods.
  • Potluck dinners include many food options. Bring a low-fat dish and encourage others to do the same. At least you will know the dish that you prepared is healthy.
  • At parties, focus on the activities rather than eating. Sit as far away from the food table as possible. Help yourself to small portions of healthy foods and fill your plate with salad, veggies, fresh fruit, whole grains, plain fish, or poultry items. Watch out for heavy dressings, fried foods, cheese sauces, or other gravies that are high in fats, cholesterol, and calories.
  • For family gatherings, ask members to include some healthy, low-fat dishes on the menu. Serving healthy fare, no matter where the setting, is smart. Most relatives will be happy to see the changes as no one likes to see their weight increasing or their heart health in jeopardy.
  • At social functions, when high fat foods are offered, politely say "no thanks, everything was delicious."
  • Eating too many high calorie foods at a social event is inevitable at times. Don't feel guilty. Just eat lightly the next day to get back on track.
  • In restaurants, peruse the menu for low-calorie items. Don't be afraid to request that an item be cooked without a lot of fat or gravies. Make sure you ask for dressings or sauces "on the side" and order desserts without high fat toppings. Keep portions of high calorie foods small (e.g., split a dessert).
  • Control serving sizes by asking for a side dish or appetizer size serving, sharing a dish with another person, or taking some food home.
  • If a restaurant "special" comes with choices, select a salad or plain baked potato instead of chips, fries, coleslaw, or other extras.
  • When ordering pizza, order veggie toppings like green peppers, onions, or mushrooms instead of extra meat or cheese.
  • At fast food restaurants, order salads, grilled items (rather than fried), regular size hamburgers (3 ounces), or roast beef sandwiches. Limit the amount of condiments you add. Forget the value meals, deluxe burgers, fries, and high sugar drinks.
By taking one small step at a time, you can enjoy eating out at buffets and social events and still be successful at reducing calories, fat, salt, and sugar in your diet. In addition, many of the above ideas will save you money.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences