Guilt-free Christmas Eating


by: Gabrielle Lambie- Nutritionist

We are well into the Christmas Season and many of us are fighting that battle of enjoying the seasonal treats and dishes that are such an integral part of our local Christmas traditions while trying to stick to our healthy eating plans, or simply not letting our indulgences reflect in our weight. Unlike other religious festivals or holidays, Christmas is not preceded by a period of fasting. The culinary treats are enjoyed throughout the season which for some can stretch for over two months, depending on how soon the Christmas spirit hits you.  So, how do we find that happy balance between not denying ourselves the foods we have waited all year to enjoy and spending the first few months of the New Year trying to get our bodies back to the size we were at the end of October?

Firstly, get the guilt and denial of the way and replace it with some honesty – you are going to eat. You are going to enjoy eating. Once you have done that you can move on to implementing some realistic measures to manage your indulgences and strike the balance mentioned above. Also, accept that you are going to have to make some changes and some effort.

Next, it’s best to have a plan. When you know you have a function or gathering to attend, cut back on your calories throughout the day. This can easily be done by eating smaller portions of your regular meals throughout the day. You should also never attend such functions on an empty stomach. Have a light, healthy snack or meal before you leave home. This will ensure that you don’t overzealously pile your plate too high. It’s the same concept as never going to supermarket when you are hungry. Don’t forget to be deliberate in your choices as well.  Try to balance your meal and include healthier options like vegetables, fruits and salads. Leave room on your plate for that salad that is usually positioned at the end of the buffet. Many Christmas themed salads have fruits included in them so it’s a good time to add some fruit to your diet. It’s really all about taking control of what you eat in every situation.  

What about when you are preparing your own Christmas menu or dishes at home? The advantage of this situation is that you have even more opportunities for control. Not only can you control how much you eat when you’ve finished cooking, you can control what you put into each dish to make it healthier while still preserving that special quality in your treasured Christmas recipes that give you that feeling of nostalgia and satisfaction when you eat them. Here are some substitutions and changes you can choose from:-

  • Punch de Crème
    • Use skimmed milk or low-fat milk instead of Full Cream (or substitute half or more of the Full Cream milk for skimmed or low fat.
    • Reduce the number of eggs used, if your recipe calls for eggs
    • Use sugar as a sweetener instead of condensed milk. You will get the sweetness without the added fat from the condensed milk.
    • Reduce how much sugar you use and instead experiment more with flavourings like nutmeg and cinnamon. You will realise that when you use less sugar, your taste buds are free to enjoy all the other flavors present in your drink.
  • Black Cake/ Sweet Bread
    • Substitute all or some of the white flour with whole wheat flour
    • Remember that black cake can be enjoyed over time, the alcohol acts as a preservative. There is no need to finish it all at once.
  • Pastelles
    • Use lean meats like chicken breast, lean cuts of beef and pork and then mince them yourself to reduce the total fat in your recipe.
    • Fresh seasoning or your own blend of powdered seasonings has a lot less sodium than pre-packaged seasoning.
    • Try making mini-pastelles. Then have the same number per sitting as you would have with your regular sized pastelles, not twice as many!
  • Remember that some dishes like Ham cannot be altered that much, you really just have to exercise some portion control.

These alterations will not miraculously make any of these dishes a ‘superfood’ but they will make them considerably healthier, in appropriate portions.

Lastly, make every effort to incorporate some exercise into your daily routine. Even with the measures outlined above, you are most likely going to be consuming more calories than you regularly would during this season. Exercise is the perfect way to counteract that. Start exercising if you don’t already have a regular exercise routine or add a few extra workouts to your existing routine.

Use these strategies to ensure that guilt or regret don’t overshadow your enjoyment of this integral part of how we celebrate the Christmas season.

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