Ideas for a Happy, Healthy (and delicious) Christmas
The festive season is almost here and as we all know it’s very easy to put healthy eating on hold for a while – until your new year’s resolution comes around! So this year we thought we would put together some ideas for tasty, healthy Christmas food to eat with friends and family, take to a party or even give away as a gift – as well as some tips and tricks for general healthy eating over the next month.
OFFER FRESH FRUIT INSTEAD OF SWEETS
We’re super lucky living in Australia with Christmas falling right in the middle of summer – and you know what that means! Fresh fruit – mangos, peaches, lychees, strawberries, bananas, pineapple, passionfruit – nature’s sweets! Not only are these much better for you than processed sweets and desserts, they taste better and look incredible. So for this year’s parties think about replacing the usual bowls of crisps and chocolates with fresh fruit.
The classic fruit plate is always appreciated but for something extra you can make a beautiful Fruit Tree centre piece with very little effort. Just cut up some pieces of robust fruit (think berries, melon and not over ripe stone fruit) and with the help of a large flat plate and some toothpicks to stick everything into place you’ll have a Christmas treat everyone will want to copy.
If you have children it is always great to provide them with healthy easy to eat treats so while you’re at it why not make some fruit kebabs (just cut the fruit into bit sized chunks and thread onto a skewer), or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous for dessert you can make some Strawberry Santa’s. These involve cutting the top quarter off some large strawberries and filling them with a small amount of either cream cheese or whipped cream then placing the top back on and placing two black sesame seeds on the cream for eyes. They’re cute (relatively) healthy and kids will love them.
MAKE YOUR OWN DIPS
Chips and dips are a Christmas favourite but even the “healthy” dips can hide heaps of saturated fat, sugar, salt and chemicals. Making your own ensures you know exactly what’s in them.
Hummus is an easy dip for beginners, and it’s full of protein, making it perfect for anyone who is worried about vegetarian/vegan snacks. Just take a cup of tinned chickpeas, drain, add a teaspoon of tahini (sesame seed paste), a good squeeze of lemon juice, a small clove of grated garlic and enough olive oil to bring to a thick paste. Start off with about 2 tablespoons, and up if needed, then season with salt and pepper. Whizz in a blender. Change up the flavour with extra vegetables like capsicum or beetroot. Yum!
If you’re feeling adventurous you can try other dips like Baba-ganoush (although cooking your eggplants outside is recommended unless you don’t mind your house smelling like it’s on fire), or Tzatziki which is a simple combination of yoghurt, cucumber, fresh herbs and good quality olive oil.
HAVE PLENTY OF SALADS
Christmas can often be a time for eating a lot of fatty meats (such as pork, duck and turkey) and lots of carbohydrate (potatoes anyone??) so it’s important to add some colour and veggies into your meal. Salads are great because they don’t require any of that precious room in the oven and, on days when it can reach about 35C, they are a delicious refreshing break from a hot lunch.
There are endless possibilities with salads and a good starting point is to go with the flavours you love together. Two things to be wary of: Salads are best made, dressed and served as fresh as possible. They are not something to make the night before and leave in the fridge. If you think you’re going to be busy the next day you can cook any parts that you need the night before and store them separately in a box before putting together the salad the next day. Secondly, with salads, you have nowhere to hide. That means you need excellent fresh ingredients of the best quality you can afford. Farmer’s market produce is great if you can get to one because they often have super fresh veggies for much less than big supermarkets. Salads are not places to throw last week’s leftovers, treat them with respect and you will get some amazing flavours.
Some of our favourites are: Baked pumpkin and green bean salad on a bed of brown couscous – a mint and yoghurt dressing really compliments this one and it’s substantial enough to pass as part of a main course if needed. There is also Beetroot, fetta and spinach salad; Sweet potato, cherry tomato and peanuts and Classic potato salad with a lighter dressing made of fresh olive oil and crème-fraiche rather than the usual cream and mayonnaise. Experiment, with good ingredients and plenty of taste-tests – it’s hard to go wrong.
GIVE PEOPLE HOME-MADE TREATS
There is always so much to eat at Christmas dinner it is hard to fit in dessert. Rather than stuffing yourself or your guests give them the tasty treats to take home. Homemade Christmas sweets are amazing, they smell of fruit and spices and are so much better than the store bought varieties. It’s hard to keep them totally healthy but it’s Christmas and everyone needs a little luxury so take comfort in the fact that if you make these yourself they will have much less sugar and fat than their store-bought cousins and you won’t need any preservatives to keep them fresh on the shelves.
Gingerbread is great fun to make, it’s easy and kids love helping out by cutting out fun shapes from the dough. If you make it in advance you can always cut a small hole at the top, run some ribbon through and use them as Christmas decorations (they’ll keep for a few days before going too stale). To keep them healthier steer clear of icing – fresh from your oven they really won’t need it.
Mince pies are another great treat, you can cheat and buy pastry or make your own. The filling doesn’t need to sit for as long as fruitcake or pudding and if you have gluten intolerant friends or are sending your presents a long way you can just make the fruit mince up in some pretty jars and they can choose their pastry and make their own tarts. Making your own preserves is great fun as well – chutney is the easiest you just need some time to make sure it can cook for long enough, marmalade is great as well but hot sugar and children rarely make for a good combination so steer clear if you have little kids.
Another idea we love is jars filled with a home-made muesli or the ingredients for the receiver to make their own treats!