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Eat, drink and stay healthy over the silly season!

Eat, drink and stay healthy over the silly season!

Christmas looms once again. Given our innate love of indulgence, the challenge is to treat ourselves and have fun without looking like an overstuffed turkey at the end!

With a little planning, however, you can survive the silly season and be fit, healthy and relaxed when it is all over.

When it comes to food, I like to redefine the concept of a Christmas 'treat’. The Oxford Dictionary defines a treat as “a source of special delight or pleasure” and while traditional Christmas favourites such as chocolate, ice cream, éclairs, mince pies, plum pudding, brandy butter, fruit cake, savouries, champagne, cocktails and beer may fit the bill, so do many healthier foods. Foods like salmon, prawns, ham on the bone, turkey, succulent fillet of beef, nuts, strawberries, cherries, mangoes, melons, figs, avocadoes and fresh asparagus are “a source of special delight and pleasure” to me, and these are the foods I concentrate on when planning food for the holiday season. Small portions of chocolate, cake and desserts have their place too, but as trimmings to these delicious foods, not as main players.

My advice for a happy and healthy holiday season is as follows:

  • Fill your menu with healthier treats
  • Allow a few of the less healthy treats
  • Keep your portions small and eat slowly and mindfully
  • Drink plenty of water

Eat, drink and stay healthy…

  • Enjoy fruit and vegetables – use seasonal berries and other fruit to bulk out desserts and nibbles platters. Salads with bread and leftover cold meats make ideal lunches or evening meals. Have small quantities of meat and then fill up your plate with vegetables and salads.
  • Cook your roast vegetables separately from the meat – a light brush with oil or an oil spray is all they need to become crisp and delicious.
  • Buy lean meats and trim off any fat before cooking and eating. Remove the skin from chicken and turkey.
  • Skim fat from meat juices before you make gravy; cooling the juices first helps. Alternatively, use a gravy powder as a base and use vegetable water (eg. pea water) as the liquid. A little brandy, cranberry or redcurrant sauce will give extra zing!
  • Try custard/brandy custard or thick Greek yoghurt with Christmas pudding rather than brandy butter and rich creams/ice creams. If you can’t resist cream or ice cream, have one, not both!
  • Stock up on healthier food items and treats. Shortbread is laden with fat, while biscotti has very little. Berries, mangoes and smoked salmon are great ingredients for any celebration.
  • Make Xmas mince pies with filo pastry instead of traditional high-fat pastry. If using short-crust pastry, use a very thin layer and leave the pies open. Check the label of the fruit mince to ensure it does not contain suet (pure fat).
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or diet soft drinks – this way you keep hydrated and are less likely to overdrink.
  • Avoid overeating at Xmas parties by eating something healthy before you go. This way you are less likely to be tempted by the rich cheeses, sausage rolls, chippies etc. These foods are easy to over-consume when you are hungry and drinking alcohol.
  • Replace butter and margarine with lower-fat spreads such as mashed avocado, hummous, mustards and relishes.
  • Try chocolate-dipped strawberries or cherries as an alternative to chocolate –all the enjoyment of chocolate in a much healthier package!
  • Eat your food slowly – it takes time for the brain to register fullness.
  • Stay active – a walk, swim or game of tennis will do wonders for the body and soul. Use your leisure time to play with the children or socialise in the outdoors.
  • For a sweet treat why not try biscotti or mini-muffin-sized Xmas mince pies (made using filo pastry). They hit the spot with relatively few kilojoules!
  • Swap the savouries for platters full of vegetables. Better colour, texture and flavour and better at looking after your health and weight!

The most important thing is not to feel guilty about having treats on Christmas Day. It’s only one day and you can always make up for it by having lighter, healthier meals on following days.


Bronwen King is a NZ-registered nutritionist and qualified chef, and regular contributor to Healthy Food Guide magazine. She specialises in population health nutrition and weight management and currently manages Appetite for Life, a primary care-based healthy lifestyle and weight management programme in Canterbury. She enjoys everything about food! Check out Bronwen's personal blog, www.eatlosewin.com.

First published: Dec 2012

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