Eating well over the holiday season

By Sally Marchini, Accredited Practising Dietitian at Marchini Nutrition (www.marchininutrition.com)

The holiday season is a wonderful time for socialising with family and friends. Of course that means our intake of ‘sometimes’ foods can become a little out of control, which can cause later regret. We know that eating a balanced diet contributes to a healthy body and a healthy brain which also means greater vitality and a better quality of life as we grow older. So, although it’s the holiday season, try to remain focussed on healthy habits.

We’re spoilt in Australia at this time of year with so many wonderful fresh foods around. They’re full of flavours, textures and nutrients that will keep us bouncing out of our skins. So revel in those delicious foods and lead by example by sharing fresh seasonal foods at social occasions and at home on a day to day basis.

Managing the lead up to Christmas

When it comes to your food shopping over the holiday season, remember that Christmas day itself is just one day. This means you’re better off avoiding tempted by the likes of fruit mince pies, rum balls, Christmas choccies or shortbreads in the lead up to The Big Day, and save your purchases of these ‘sometimes’ foods for your shop for Christmas Day if you really do want them. If you buy them earlier, chances are that you’ll be tempted to have them beforehand. Everyone knows that if you don’t have something in the pantry at home you can’t be tempted to snack on it.

When you consider that these ‘sometimes’ foods that some people associate with Christmas are also considered luxurious, why not fill your shopping trolley with healthy luxurious fresh foods such as:

  • Summer fruits (that we all love!)
  • Fresh or roasted unsalted nuts
  • Brightly-coloured vegetables and salads
  • Tasty homemade dips
  • Quality lean protein sources such as fresh seafood, ham on the bone and lean turkey.

People will appreciate the food even more if they know that you’ve gone to the trouble of preparing fresh and healthy foods that will satisfy the flavour cravings and fill those tummies while also looking after their health.

If you feel that it’s important to have a Christmas cake on hand to serve guests, then why not make your own. That way, you know what’s going into it and your loved ones will appreciate that you made with love by your own hands. This also gives you the opportunity to modify the recipe to include more nutritious gluten free flours such as lentil and chickpea flour rather than refined flours, a little less sugar and healthier fats that are higher in mono- or poly-unsaturated fats such as canola or light olive oil (light in flavour) or even Greek yogurt rather than saturated fats such as butter.

How do we manage Christmas parties?

In the lead up to Christmas Day we look forward to the series of Christmas parties that we all love to attend. Some really helpful tips include:

  • Before you go, eat a good balanced meal. Include low-GI carbs, lean protein and a good serve or two of extra vegetables to take the edge off your hunger. This will help you to make better choices when you’re at the party and help you to avoid overeating of foods you know you’re better off without. It also means more time to socialise, without having to worry about eating for satisfy a grumbling stomach.
  • Watch your alcohol intake. Take a bottle of water or fizzy water with you to either mix with your alcoholic drink or at least to have as an alternate between the alcoholic ones. One of the downsides to drinking too much alcohol is that it often makes your food choices less desirable and while your body is processing the alcohol, the less desirable foods are stored as fat.
  • Offer healthy options (if you’re the host) or take a healthy plate (if you’re a guest). If it’s your party or if you’re taking a plate to someone else’s, you can choose to offer:
    • Lots of fresh vegetables such as blanched asparagus tips and snow peas and flavour burst baby tomatoes
    • Top quality wholegrain gluten free crackers with fresh homemade dips such as an avocado guacamole, hummus and tzatziki. Whenever I take these kinds of dips and dippers, they’re always the first to be finished!
    • Big bowls of roasted unsalted nuts
    • Selections of wonderfully marinated olives and roasted vegetables
    • Tasty and easy to make canapes such as Vietnamese rice paper rolls filled with prawns and fresh grated veggies and vermicelli noodles with a dipping sauce, or gluten free blinis with smoked salmon and a small dollop of Greek Yogurt on top flavoured with lemon zest, black pepper and finely chopped chives as just a few easy ideas.
    • Fresh prawns and oysters are also a great favourite and are lower in calories than you might think!

One of my favourite dips to take to Christmas parties just uses a drained tin of cannellini beans with zest and juice of a lemon or lime, a big handful of fresh parsley, a fresh chilli or two and a clove of fresh garlic or two, salt and pepper to taste, and extra virgin olive oil and water to loosen – just whizz it all together and serve. I find this is very popular with the men with the bold chilli and garlic flavour! The green colour adds to the Christmassy feel when served with green blanched veggies and bright red baby sweet tomatoes. It also works as a good dip for fresh prawns!

Family traditions

For Christmas Day do you have family traditions? Many of us do. In Australia, many families are changing the old fashioned cooked hot Christmas meal for a lighter, cooler option. If your family is one like that does the old-fashioned cooked option and after Christmas day you’re left feeling bloated and heavy, perhaps it’s time to suggest a lighter Christmassy alternative.

It’s also easier to prepare as most if it can be done in advance and stored in the refrigerator, and just brought out on the day to make a delicious smorgasbord of fresh luxurious ingredients that everyone will remember and talk about with their friends. Not to mention, they’ll be left with extra energy and vitality to get on with enjoying our beautiful Australian outdoors.

A nice idea is to start the celebration off with a glass of bubbly to help get everyone in the mood. This can be accompanied by fresh summer fruits such as plump cherries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries and for something savoury try deliciously marinated olives and macadamia nuts (or whichever nuts you prefer).

For the entrée, try something light and fresh that might be as simple as slices of rockmelon wrapped in prosciutto, or a duo of cold Christmas coloured veggie soups (my family’s favourite). We make a green zucchini soup which is just zucchini, potato and fresh tarragon cooked in chicken stock then cooled and whizzed into a smooth soup. It’s delicious and popular with the whole family! And a red soup of course is a tomato based soup full of fresh herbs for added flavour.

For the main, you might still serve the traditional meats, but they can be served cold. In our family, we have a choice of two: a whole leg of ham with a special glaze, and cold turkey with cranberry sauce. Cold seafood selections also work well here. These are served alongside a wonderful array of salads including:

  • Fresh sliced tomatoes with torn mozzarella and fresh basil topped with ground black pepper and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil
  • Baby potatoes served warm tossed in fresh mint leaves and olive oil
  • A quinoa salad with lots of flavourful ingredients such as rocket, toasted pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and fetta or halloumi cheese.
  • Fresh blanched asparagus with quality shaved parmesan on top
  • Steamed green beans topped with slithered almonds
  • A mixed green leaf and avocado salad dressed with fresh herbs and white balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil

And then we finish off with a small serve of home-made Christmas cake and a selection of spectacular cheeses served with rye bread or wholegrain crackers, quince paste and summer grapes and figs.

Remember to keep in mind basic food safety tips at Christmas time to avoid food poisoning. The NSW Food Authority has some handy hints, including a fact sheet on ‘Summer Eating’.

All this wonderful, nutrient-rich food will leave you and your guests with very happy tastebuds, tummies and will contribute to everyone’s wellbeing. You’ll be the star of Christmas for sure!

Some useful sites in building your healthy Christmas:

http://seasonalfoodguide.com/australia-general-seasonal-fresh-produce-guide-fruits-vegetables-in-season-availability.html

http://www.taste.com.au/gallery/50+salads+to+light+up+the+christmas+table,301?ref=zone,christmas-sides-salads

https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/the_guidelines/n55g_adult_brochure.pdf

https://www.thehealthychef.com/2014/11/a-healthy-christmas-cake/

http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/fp/summer-eating

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