There are many fine Christmas traditions – mince pies, roast turkey, dodgy jumpers – but being healthy is not one of them. In the midst of the festivities, we can often make some unhealthy decisions – too many chocolates, an extra helping of trifle, over indulging on the wine, skipping out on our regular exercise day, and for many, not enough sleep. So, what can you do differently this year to make this Christmas a Merry Healthy Christmas?
The good news is you don’t have to miss out – you can have a healthier Christmas and still enjoy yourself just by making a few small, simple changes. Try our tips for making the festive season healthier (and no one will be able to tell the difference!).
Swap overindulging on five days for one
At Christmas time a lot of people say ‘I just want to eat whatever I want’. That’s fine, but choose one day, not five days, to go for it.
Start the day with a healthy breakfast
Christmas morning breakfast is a warm, festive tradition. However, starting the holiday with unhealthful Christmas morning treats — bacon and eggs, for example — could leave you feeling ill. Simple, healthful breakfasts are a better choice. Encourage everyone to sit down for a healthy breakfast on Christmas morning, preferably one that is going to keep you full for a while, such as porridge oats or a smoked-salmon bagel. That way, the kids (and you!) will be much less tempted to dip into the snacks and Christmas lollies as much.
Don’t constantly graze on canapés, crisps and chocolates as they tend to be very high in calories and fat. It can be difficult to avoid high-fat food choices at this time of year, but there are some healthier options.
Healthy examples include vegetable sticks with low fat dips. Don’t have dips made with cream or cream cheese. Choose tomato-based dips, such as salsa, or mix some chopped herbs into low-fat yoghurt. Prepare your sandwiches with lower fat fillings, like sliced egg and tomato or low fat spreadable cheese with roasted vegetables.
Make open-top mince pies. Using less pastry cuts down on calories and fat. Alternatively, use filo pastry, which is thinner and lower in calories than traditional pastry. Add finely chopped apple to the mincemeat to make it fluffier and slightly lower in calories.
Serve rice cakes, oatcakes or plain popcorn with drinks, instead of crisps and salted nuts. Some seasonal favourites do make healthy festive snacks. Satsumas are high in vitamin C, and roast chestnuts are low in fat.
If you are going out, don’t head off to the party hungry, as you are likely to be tempted by the less healthy options and may find you eat more than you normally would. Instead, have a healthy snack beforehand such as an apple or a pear, low fat yogurt with dried fruit or a fruit smoothie which will take the edge off your hunger and helping you to make better choices.
Healthy Christmas Dinner
You needn’t sacrifice the traditional favourites such as turkey and stuffing for a healthy Christmas dinner menu. There are loads of healthy recipes, tips and tricks that will help you to keep your Christmas menu both healthy and delicious!
Turkey is a good source of protein and, without the skin, is low in fat. It provides B vitamins, which you need for energy production. Although the skin of the bird is delicious, avoid eating it as it’s really high in fat. If you remove the skin you can save around 40kcal per portion. Light meat also has slightly fewer calories than dark meat, so choose breast instead of leg or thigh. Before you cook your bird, prick the skin to allow the fat to drain out. Cook it on a trivet or upturned ovenproof plate so it’s not sitting in the fat.
If you use the juices from the bird to make gravy, let it stand so that that fat rises to the top. Skim the fat off and discard it. Gravy can be high in salt. Too much salt may increase blood pressure. If you have gravy, try not to add salt to your meal.
See Christmas lunch or dinner as a great opportunity to get plenty of serves of different vegetables on the table. Pile your plate with vegetables because it will leave less room for high fat foods. Be sure to steam, roast or microwave them. Or boil your vegetables in a small amount of water until they are al dente. Don’t overcook them and don’t be tempted to add butter to them once they’re cooked.
Instead of brandy butter, try half-fat crème fraiche with your Christmas pudding. Or better still, have a fruit salad after that heavy meal.
And very important! Take your time. Eating slowly will prevent you feeling uncomfortably full. Enjoy the company of your loved ones and the meal you’ve prepared. Stop eating just as you start to feel full and try not to eat until the point you feel you are going to pop. It takes a while for your brain to catch up with the satiety signals from your stomach.
Remember to keep yourself well hydrated, and we do not mean drink as much alcohol as possible by that! Keep within sensible alcohol limits which is no more than 3-4 units a day for men and no more than 2-3 units a day for women. Swap a glass of bubbly for a glass of sparkling water. Try alternating alcoholic drinks with water or pure, unsweetened fruit juice.
Alternating drinks will lower your intake of calories and can help steer you towards better food choices. Drinking alcohol lowers your ability to “say no” when tempted by poor food choices. Set yourself a rule to have a glass of water between drinks and cap yourself at a certain number of drinks. If you are to drink, opt for lower carbohydrate beverages such as vodka with soda and a squeeze of lime and stay away from the beer and wine.
Keep active during the festive season and help work off the extra calories. With all that eating, the torpor sets in, but don’t be tempted by the sofa, you might stay there until bedtime.
Go for a brisk 15 minute walk half an hour after your Christmas dinner. Go for a walk as a family or encourage the kids to come along on their bikes. It’s a great way to spend time together and you won’t notice that you’ll already be burning off a little of that dinner. Dancing is another great way to have some fun and dance away the calories of your Christmas dinner!
And once the feasting has come to an end, the presents are opened, and the desserts are devoured, how will you spend the rest of December? Eating out? Movies? Consider some active activities to shed some holiday pounds, or to keep your family active and healthy as you ring in the New Year; go ice-skating, walk on the beach or through the forest, go cycling or horseback riding and have some fun together!
Continue to make those healthy choices, and may you experience even greater blessings this holiday season.
Happy Healthy Christmas!