Holiday Training Table

by Christina Meyer-Jax, Tastemaker in Residence - MS, RDN, LDN

Photo thanks to  Unsplash  and  Brooke Lark

Photo thanks to Unsplash and Brooke Lark

In the world of athletics many teams dedicate attention to building training table programs. The purpose is usually twofold: provide optimal fuel for individual athletic performance and foster community by sharing food as a team.

During the holidays we are tasked with a similar endeavor, feed a hungry crew that often has unique taste and dietary preferences.  So what’s a game plan for bringing joy (and not headache) to your gathering? Model it after the athlete’s training table!

Set the Menu Theme

A goal of the athlete’s training table is to provide a customizable menu that is well balanced and provides for each athlete’s unique needs.  At most of our holiday gatherings we often have guests with a variety of dietary styles and needs such as food allergies and sensitivities.  

Training tables are also about fueling individuals for their best physical and mental performance.  So while the wine might be flowing, holding back on heavy carb intensive meals might help keep the party hopping and the spirits bright!

Here are my top training table themes that work well for athletes and holiday festivities alike:

Burrito & Tapas Bar

Antipasto & Salad Bowls

Open-Face Sammie’s and Soups

Setting the Table

The key “ingredient” to a great training table is providing several options within each food group category that guests can customize based on their preferences and food allergies/sensitivities.  You can even provide signage to help lead them in building a better meal and chose items that fit with their dietary needs (veg, vegan, dairy free, gluten free, etc).

Let’s take the Antipasto & Salad Bowl theme as an example:

Provide a choose and “build your own” buffet of the following:


1. Cured Meats (salami, turkey pepperoni, pancetta, etc)

2. Smoky Grilled Tempeh (vegan recipe)

3. Cubed Cheese (pick a wide variety including dairy-free/vegan)

4. Feta cheese crumbles

5. Roasted nuts and beans (marcona almonds, chickpeas, pine nuts, etc)

6. Classic Hummus (vegan recipe)


1. Marinated and Roasted Vegetables (peppers, asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, artichokes)

2. Sundried tomatoes

3. Basil leaves

4. Olives (wide assortment)

5. Pepperoncini 

6. Gherkin pickles

7. Grapes 

8. Fresh cucumbers (sliced or cubed)

9. Herb blend salad greens

Carbs and Starches:

1. Thin Italian style breadstick

2. Cooked tortellini pasta

3. Gluten free fusilli pasta

4. Regular and Gluten free crackers

5. Crostini bread slices 

Sauces and Dressings:

1. Pesto

2. Greek Salad dressing

3. Balsamic Vinegar and Oil

4. Cesar Salad Dressing

Additional themed salad:

Antipasto White Bean Salad (recipe)

How to do it:

1. Lay out all the ingredients on a buffet style line.

2. Provide signs and labels to help guests with choices

3. Provide sturdy plates and skewers for guest to build and design their salads and antipasto

4. Refill ingredients as needed

5. Enjoy!

Getting the Team Involved

Sometimes the host is the one stop shop providing all the food and accouterments, but other times guests are part of sharing in the offerings. The beauty of the training table model is once you set the menu you can create a sign-up sheet (I like using Google Sheets) for your guests to contribute ingredients, dishes, or beverages. Keeps it organized and avoids 10 trays of brownies and cookies and 5 different versions of a taco dip!

Recipes: Hummus

My favorite classic hummus, which is worth making homemade can be found at S&W Beans (link)

This is quick to make, very flavorful, and can store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Click on the two recipes below!

Smokey Grilled Tempeh

Antipasto White Bean Salad