Tricky Holiday Dining Event #1: Attending an Event with a Set Menu

With less than two weeks to go until both Christmas and Hanukkah begin, things are undoubtedly ramping up in terms of having way too much to do in far too little time.

There’s shopping for gifts, making last minute travel arrangements and, of course, finalizing plans for the main holiday-related dining events.

While it’s straightforward enough to finish up some holiday purchases online or to make your flight reservations, the dining component can easily elicit copious amounts of stress all on its own.

How can we stay on track with our healthy eating when we’ve got cocktail party after work party after significant other’s office party and then some, day in and day out?

This week, I’ll address tricky holiday eating scenarios and offer suggestions of how to best approach them in order to be able to attend, enjoy, partake a little and gracefully handle what otherwise may have been a potential disaster.

Let’s start with the company event theme, mainly because I recently found myself in one just such scenario.

Over the weekend, I attended an event in the most unlikely (for me) place: Las Vegas. My husband had to attend a meeting there for one of his clients and the first part included a prix-fixe dinner at one of the many fine-dining establishments.

I’ve been to Vegas before, and have had no issue finding healthy options upon which to dine, so it wasn’t a case of not having access to clean food.

Rather, due to the combination of the menu being pre-set and the dinner being for a client of my husband, carrying out my usual ad hoc order off the menu, I thought, would prove trying at best.

However, once I noted the small print at the bottom of the menu indicating that the Michelin-starred chef asked all guests to notify him of any and all dietary concerns, I felt confident I’d be able to find something to enjoy.

If that hadn’t been the case, incidentally, in this situation, I would have simply had some protein with a nice dose of fat and veg beforehand, so as not to arrive at a place without any viable options hungry. Alternatively, carrying a single serve coconut oil packet in my handbag has come in handy in the past to tide me over during what turned out to be an unplanned fast.

In any event, what transpired on Saturday was anything but a typical day of eating for me.

Earlier in the day, I’d done a three hour fasted session on the trails with Preston the Weimaraner Pup, followed by my first meal of the day at around noon. Leftover pastured pork loin, salad, broccoli, avocado and olive oil served as a deliciously satisfying lunch and since the dinner was scheduled to begin at 5, the timing for my next meal sounded just about right.

Just enough time to shower, pack, head to the airport and board a plane to Vegas!

Staying hydrated on the plane was all that was in order due to the short flight and recent meal, making travel food not even a consideration.

We landed and then headed to the hotel with just enough time to get ready for the evening.

We arrived just after five and the set menu items had already started coming. Dumplings, miso-braised sea bass, fried noodles… all of which did, indeed, look lovely, but for yours truly, weren’t happening. I learned long ago not to touch gluten or soy with a 10-foot pole and this evening wasn’t going to be any different.

Plus, I thought, I’d easily be able to order something simple that wasn’t listed on the menu, as previously discussed.

Not so fast.

Despite asking the server three times to make sure that what I ordered off their gluten free menu also did not contain soy, the first dish she brought me had tofu in it.

She took it back, apologizing profusely (who knew tofu had soy in it, right?).

Next came the Mongolian-beef sans marinade, sans sauce, which was suitable, but a two-ounce portion was hardly enough to constitute a meal, even with the small side of garlic-olive oil Gai-lan (Chinese broccoli) that was prepared for me.

Fortunately, since there was so much networking going on, I was able to speak with the server without causing a distraction, so getting what ended up being an appetizer was going to have to do the job until I’d have a chance to eat a decent meal.

By then, so much time had elapsed that it was nearly time to leave for the next part of the evening was attending a fight.

The first I’ve ever attended, which was the UFC bout concluding with headliners McGregor versus Aldo lasted several hours an by the time their match began (and ended, a whopping 13 seconds later), and we left, it was near 11 pm.

And I was very, very hungry.

Clients have asked me many a time what to do in the case in which they get home from work quite late and don’t have much time between dinner and bedtime. Should they eat? Or go to bed hungry?

I often advise that while neither is ideal, the best bet is to meet halfway and perhaps have something small.

It’s one thing if you’ve trained your body to adapt to being in a fasted state and are in the middle of it; it’s another to simply not eat a meal all day long.

If you fall into the latter category and the consequence of going to bed hungry only to wake at 3 am absolutely starving and then have a bite to eat, having a small but perhaps lighter dinner even if it is close to bed may be your best bet.

In fact, if you happen to count building muscle mass as one of your health goals, eating before bed may actually help; a 2012 study from Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, found that a protein shake before bed helped athletes with muscle recovery[1].

Back to Saturday evening: my husband (also hungry after having the same meals as I did, but after a 3hr road bike session instead of trail running) and I shared a roast chicken breast, large side of garlic-olive oil laden spinach after a kale salad with olive oil at another restaurant inside the casino, which did a good job at tiding us over for the remaining portion of networking until we finally arrived back in our hotel at 1 am.

We ate very late, but still made good choices and ended up having a two-hour lag between dining and sleeping.

The day was atypical in every sense of the word, but often by sharing the minute details of how a tricky situation can be handled, strategies can easily be developed.

So, your takeaway, therefore:

  • Do your due diligence to determine what the menu at the formal work event will be. Is it a set menu? Or is it going to be more obligatory than fun, and more along the lines of being uncomfortable to order special food? If so, have a meal before hand and bring that emergency fat-snack (like the coconut oil or even a handful of walnuts) to prevent being hungry in a place where there are simply no good options.
  • If, on the other hand, it’s more relaxed, asking for small changes to the menu offerings, such as ‘no cheese, please’ or ‘may I have some broccoli instead of the rice’ can do the trick.
  • Worse case scenario, and this is coming from someone who can’t bear to waste food, if the meals are being served already plated en masse, chances are still strong you can at least ask one of the staff what’s in that chicken or beef and does it have any gluten, allowing you to pick around and enjoy some of it.

Whatever happens, stay your course and don’t succumb to eating food that you know will cause an adverse affect just because its there. It’s a fine balance between doing this and feeling socially comfortable and not as though you’re drawing too much attention to your plate…but it can be done, and done so gracefully, at that.

Make sure to tune in tomorrow to focus on how to approach the trickiest situation of all: dining in someone else’s home!

[1] “Eating Before Bed to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle.” Healthy Eating. San Francisco Gate, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2015