Eating with Others

What we eat and how much we eat matters. Our risks for developing diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes and other health problems are directly affected by the foods we eat. Problem is, our food choices are often influenced by the people around us and the situations we find ourselves in.

Tips for Different Situations

Big Celebrations

Social eating is a good opportunity to interact with family and friends. Yet studies show that eating with others tends to make us eat more. Large celebrations are the perfect time to test your willpower when large food spreads and sugary drinks rule the event.

Action Plan:

  • Eat small portions of the selections that are really important to you.
  • Bring low-calorie, nutritious side dishes to share.
  • Have a high-fiber snack shortly before big meals to prevent that famished feeling (try vegetable juice, fruit or whole-grain crackers).
  • Focus on non-food activities: An after-meal walk is a great tradition that partygoers can enjoy.


Holidays can be a tempting time when it’s so easy to justify eating some of that extra food. To help curb overeating, make a plan to eat only those foods that are special to you. Once you realize that most holiday food is available year-round, you may not be as tempted to overindulge.

Action Plan:

  • Be picky. Eat small amounts of seasonal foods and skip big portions of foods that can be enjoyed all year.
  • When cooking for others, choose their favorites, not yours. Serve several low-calorie options with your meals. This Website is loaded with healthy recipes the whole family will enjoy.
  • Plan to deliver holiday cookies and treats as soon as you make them.
  • Banish all treats from view.
  • Talk to your co-workers about holiday food around the office. Chances are they’re having the same battle with their willpower that you are.
  • Bring healthful foods to work   the whole office can enjoy a guilt-free veggie tray.
  • Spend time focusing on the good things to eat, rather than what you should avoid. Challenge yourself to eat your daily quota of fruits and vegetables.

Dining Out

Researchers have found that when we dine out with others, we often lose track of how much we’re eating. To make matters worse, restaurant portions have ballooned dramatically over the last few decades. The average muffin swelled from 1.5 ounces and 210 calories in 1986 to 4 ounces and 500 calories in 2006. It’s important to keep realistic serving sizes in mind when eating out.

Standard Serving Sizes

Chopped Vegetables
1⁄2 cup
1⁄2 baseball or rounded handful for average adult
Raw Leafy Vegetables (such as lettuce)
1⁄2 cup
1 baseball or fist for average adult
Fresh Fruit
1 medium piece
1 baseball
1⁄2 cup chopped
1⁄2 baseball or scant handful for average adult
Dried Fruit
1⁄4 cup
1 golf ball or scant handful for average adult
Pasta, Rice, Cooked Cereal
1⁄2 cup
1⁄2 baseball or rounded handful for average adult
Ready-to-Eat Cereal
1 oz. which varies Cereal from 1⁄4 cup to 1¼ cups
(check label)
Meat, Poultry, Seafood
3 oz. (boneless cooked weight from 4 oz. raw)
Deck of cards
Dried Beans
1⁄2 cup cooked
1⁄2 baseball or rounded handful for average adult
1⁄3 cup
Level handful for average adult
1½ oz.
4 dice

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Action Plan:

  • Preview menus ahead of time.
  • Be the first to order so you’re not influenced by others.
  • Know what you want so you avoid the waiter’s sell of extras like appetizers, drinks, and desserts.
  • Skip the basket of bread or chips – move it out of reach or off the table to curb temptation.
  • Try to be the last to start eating and pace yourself with the slowest eater at the table.
  • Decide how much to eat before you take your first bite – ask for a to-go box as soon as you get your food.
  • Don’t eat blindly. Look at each bite before it goes in your mouth. This will help you keep track of how much you’re eating.
  • Ask for double vegetables and choose fruit for dessert.
  • If you’re eating at a buffet, choose only things that you really want. Fill up on vegetables and fruits first and use a salad plate to decrease portion size.
  • Drink water, club soda or tea instead of sugary drinks like soda and alcohol.

Playing the Guest

It can be difficult being a guest when you feel obligated to accept everything that’s offered to you. This kind of strategy can turn your healthy-eating routine upside down. Recognizing potential problems before they arise and devising strategies for handling them will benefit you and your host.

Action Plan:

  • Let your hosts know about any dietary preferences ahead of time and offer to bring healthy food for the group.
  • Don’t arrive hungry. Don’t come empty-handed. Bring a healthy dish for all to share. At dinner, cover half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. That leaves less room for higher calorie foods.
  • At cocktail parties, start with a non-caloric drink like club soda and lime or something low-calorie and filling like tomato juice.
  • For several-day stays, offer to prepare a meal or two and clean up afterward. Bring nutritious snacks with you, too.
  • Be comfortable saying, “No, thank you.” If you feel uncomfortable, combine it with a compliment. Your host won’t be offended if you tell her that it was wonderful, but you’re stuffed.

Playing the Host

The most respectful thing you can do for your guests is not push food on them. Accept “no, thank you” and remember that people tend to eat more when food is more available, so limit your offerings and remove excess food from the table.

Action Plan:

  • Make two-thirds of your dishes nutrient-dense and low in calories. Focus on presentation instead of richness.
  • Skip the cheese and cracker appetizer. Healthier alternatives are just as delicious. Try marinated mushrooms, hummus and light vegetable dips.
  • Serve non-alcoholic and non-caloric drinks such as club soda, mineral water and iced tea.
  • Provide low-fat dressings, sauces and condiments on the side to give your guests more choices.
  • Offer second helpings; then take serving platters back to the kitchen and out of sight.

Kids Events

Children’s events are hardly immune from the pressures of social eating. It has now become custom to have food at virtually all events for children. Between club meetings, sport practices, games and school parties, kids are faced with unhealthful foods practically every day.

Action Plan:

  • Be a role model. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and be mindful of snacking when you’re not hungry. Your children and grandchildren will follow your lead.
  • Talk to teachers, coaches and parents to make a plan for better nutrition.
  • Suggest having only one dessert at school parties instead of a variety. Hand out pre-portioned amounts to children instead of offering up the whole platter.
  • Circulate a list of nutritious snack alternatives. Some good examples include individual boxes of dried fruit, 1-ounce bags of nuts, orange or apple slices, whole grain crackers with peanut butter and reduced-fat mini-muffins.
  • Be careful not to bribe children with food. Special time at home, fun outings and earning points toward big rewards are good alternatives.

Work or School

Office goodies tend to show up year-round and group lunches are an easy way to lose control of how much you’re eating. Steer clear of daily temptations with these easy reminders.

Action Plan:

  • Steer clear of the office dump – that spot where everyone leaves the junk food they don’t want.
  • Take your lunch break away from the office to avoid the smell of co-workers, unhealthy take-out.
  • If you choose to have some unhealthful fare, put a small amount on your plate next to your healthy choice and move away from the tempting food.
  • Keep healthy food on hand. Each Monday bring five pieces of fruit to work and stash them in your desk for healthy midday snacking.

Distracted Eating

Watching TV, reading the newspaper, driving and using the computer all make us less aware of the amount of food we’ve put in our mouths. These distractions make diet missteps more likely.

Action Plan:

  • Avoid distractions by restricting eating to just one or two rooms like the kitchen and dining room.
  • If you must multitask while eating, measure out a single serving or plate of food and don’t go back for more.
  • Instead of getting up for a snack during commercials, get up for some push-ups or sit-ups.
Women Eating Together