This might seem counter intuitive. A healthy Christmas? – Is that possible while still enjoying yourself? It certainly is, even this year when we might feel tempted to indulge a little more than normal to try to make this Christmas as special as we can.
In this post I’ll focus on:
Mindful ways to avoid over-indulging
Healthy alternatives to our must have Christmas meals, recipes and treats
Not trying to do too much.
Overindulgence can include spending more than you would like celebrating Christmas, not just eating and drinking too much.
Each Christmas there seems to be more pressure on us to do more, spend more, eat more. The combination of TV adverts, magazine and newspaper articles, Facebook posts, and the beautiful Instagram photos of how to celebrate Christmas, can work their subtle, and not so subtle, pressure on us until we are caught up in a whirl of Christmas preparation.
The preparations for Christmas should be enjoyable, not a competition to outdo family, friends, or even yourself with how well you can do this year compared to last year.
Trying to do too much
OK, this year might be different, we won’t have the parties, festive drinks and get togethers that we normally have. We might not have everyone with us on Christmas day to enjoy Christmas dinner. But don’t try to make up for this by taking on everything you can think of to make Christmas special.
Don’t decide to make all your Christmas meals from scratch, all your presents to be handmade, and being the family arbitrator to sort out who will be a ‘bubble’ with whom.
You might not be able to see everyone you normally celebrate with but get help from your family and friends to make sure no one is left out. You can’t zoom everyone or get them all a present.
Make some special recipes or try some of the healthy alternatives I provide later in this post. Make some handmade gifts, or home-made drinks. People will remember the special recipe and the handmade gift. They won’t remember that you bought the Christmas pudding, unless it’s a showstopper, then it’s up to you if you claim it or come clean.
A lot of people are putting up the tree and decorating early this year. It’s a nice way to give themselves and their family a little boost. If you feel it’s too early and want to wait, that’s fine. Remember if you decorate early, it can be a long time to be jolly every time you see the tree and decorations.
Mindful ways to avoid over-indulging
As a lot of us are starting Christmas decorations and celebrations early, it could be easier to start indulging earlier too. The tree is up, the house is looking lovely and festive, you are at home more than usual – why not have a mince pie, or a little treat?
If you think you might be tempted to over-indulge try:
a different type of treat – a luxurious bath, a good book, a face mask. Whatever you regard as a treat for you
watching an online concert, or listening to an audio book
writing a Christmas letter to a friend you won’t be able to see this Christmas
doing a short yoga routine to relax you and take your mind away from Christmas for a short while
starting a journal and writing down how your day is going, how the preparations are going, what you are looking forward to.
Think of something other than a food or drink treat that you regard as special and look forward to doing that rather than reaching for the Quality Street.
While it is good to enjoy the celebrations and everything it brings, good food and treats, it’s not always the healthiest options that we choose at Christmas. It’s quite tempting to let go of our normal healthy options, our resolve, and our exercise habits. This can lead to feeling sluggish and not your best.
You don’t have to replace all of your favourites with a healthy alternative, but think about the switches you can make, and your body will thank you for not having to deal with such a complex assortment of meals and treats this year.
Let’s start with one of the main events for most people at Christmas - the food.
Have at least one healthy option that is colourful and delicious, you may be surprised how many people will choose it. Why not try healthy muffins.
Muffins are a real treat for Christmas morning. Here’s a delicious and surprisingly healthy recipe without all the fat and sugar usually associated with muffins:
Carrot and molasses muffins *
2 ¼ cups finely grated raw carrot, or 3 cups mashed cooked carrot
4 cups unsalted wholewheat pastry flour
1 ½ cups sifted soy flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 ¼ cups chopped dates
1 1/3 cups chopped nuts (optional)
1/3 of a cup molasses
¾ cup oil
4 tablespoons water
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Combine the carrots, flours, cinnamon, dates, and nuts, if using.
In a separate bowl, mix the molasses, oil, and water.
Add the molasses and oil mixture to the carrot mixture and fold together quickly until all the dry ingredients are moistened and evenly mixed.
Spoon into greased muffin pans and bake in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes, until a fine skewer or fork inserted into the centre of the muffin comes out clean.
Serve at once.
First, don’t do firsts. Don’t have a starter. The starter can spoil the main dinner as it can fill you up. Just try a few healthy hors d’oeuvres that people can nibble as they get together at the table. Often, they will be chatting as the dinner is brought to the table and won’t miss a starter.
If your Christmas dinner is not vegetarian and you are having turkey, don’t buy the biggest you can thinking it will be eaten as leftovers. A good turkey crown that will serve the Christmas meal and provide a day of sandwiches is great.
Don't get such a large turkey that you will be eating every permutation of turkey recipe you can think of for days.
If your meal will be vegetarian, or not, consider something like this wonderful chestnut roast:
Chestnut roast *
1 pound of fresh chestnuts, or a tin of peeled chestnuts
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups of mixed nuts, unsalted almonds and brazil nuts are best
2 tablespoons tamari
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup millet
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
2 ¾ cups water
2 carrots, grated
½ cabbage finely sliced
2 celery sticks, chopped
9 ounces of broccoli tops broken into florets
Flaked almonds, pumpkin seeds, and parsley sprigs to garnish
Serve with gravy and cranberry sauce
1. Heat the oven to 375F.
2. Peel the chestnuts, or use tinned chestnuts which are ready peeled. Cook the peeled chestnuts in boiling water for about 30 minutes until soft; set aside and keep the water for stock.
3. Spread the mixed nuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until lightly brown, stirring from time to time. Coarsely chop the nuts and set aside.
4. Cook the millet, following the packets instructions, in water, and set aside.
5. Heat the oil in a pan and add the carrots, cabbage, and celery. Cover and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes, then add the broccoli and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Then add the tomato paste, tamari, pepper, Italian seasoning, cooked chestnuts, toasted mixed nuts, and cooked millet. Stir in enough of the stock (from step 2) to bind everything together.
6. Transfer the mixture to a greased 9x5inch bread pan and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes.
7. Garnish with flaked almonds, pumpkin seeds, and parsley sprigs, and serve with gravy and cranberry sauce.
Have a break after the main course before you have pudding. Go for a walk or play a fun, gentle game before having pudding or dessert.
Try a healthier or lighter alternative to Christmas pudding, such as poached pears, or try this healthier Christmas pudding recipe:
Plum pudding *
1 cup chopped dates
½ teaspoon apple pie spice
1 1/3 cups raisins
3 cups fresh wholewheat breadcrumbs
1 1/3 cups currants
1 ½ cups chopped almonds
1 1/3 cups golden raisins
8 ounces vegetable suet
1 cup chopped prunes
Scant 1 ½ cup wholewheat flour
1 cup mixed peel
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons orange juice
Dates and barley malt syrup
1 generous cup Barbados sugar, or use extra dates and barley malt syrup instead
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Wash the dried fruit and place in a large mixing bowl. Stir in all the dry ingredients and then the orange juice.
Cover the bowl and leave to stand overnight.
The next day, stir the batter – the consistency should be soft and firm not runny. Add more orange juice if needed.
Press the mixture into a greased pudding basin, or a heatproof bowl.
cover the top with two layers of waxed paper, or a pudding cloth and secure with string.
Stand the pudding basin in a large pan with 3 to 4 inches of boiling water in the bottom. Cover the pan tightly and steam the pudding over low heat for about 2 hours, checking from time to time and adding more water to prevent it boiling dry.
Turn out the pudding and serve.
Consider serving the pudding as part of your evening meal, so you are spacing out all that rich food a little.
Again, try healthy hors d’oeuvres before the pudding or dessert. People are usually full by this time, so a lighter meal with the pudding could be a better option for everyone.
And try not to ruin that healthier approach to your Christmas day meals by overdoing it on the chocolate.
Chocolate and festive treats
There is no avoiding the association of chocolate and treats with Christmas. A healthy Christmas doesn’t mean avoiding them altogether, just not eating as much, and trying some healthier alternatives such as dark chocolate rather than milk. There are proven benefits to eating dark chocolate in moderation.
Or try these alternative biscuit, and brownie recipes below. You won’t believe they are healthy.
3 cups plus 1 tablespoon rolled oats
1 ½ teaspoons of ground ginger
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon wholewheat flour
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¾ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/3 of a cup raisins
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons oil
1/3 of a cup raw unsalted peanuts
about ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
Heat the oven to 400F.
Grease two or three baking sheets.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add the oil and mix thoroughly.
Stir in enough water to make a dough.
Take a spoonful of dough about the size of a table tennis ball. Roll into a ball, place on a baking sheet, and then flatten to a circle about 4 inch in diameter. Repeat to make 12 cookies.
Bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes until golden at the edges.
Cool on a wire rack.
You could use sunflower seeds, roughly chopped almonds or unsweetened coconut instead of the peanuts. Or a combination of all of them to suit your taste.
Carob nut brownies *
2/3 of a cup oil or butter melted
1 2/3 of a cup carob powder
¾ cup honey or date syrup
½ teaspoon salt
2 ¼ cups water
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 cups plus 1 tablespoon wholewheat flour
2 ¼ cups walnut pieces
1 ¼ cups milk powder
Heat the oven to 350F.
Grease an 8 x 12 baking pan.
Mix the oil or butter, honey or date syrup, and water in a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl mix the flour, milk powder, carob powder, salt, and baking powder, then stir them into the honey mixture. The consistency should be fairly runny, add more water if needed.
Stir in the walnut pieces.
Pour the batter into the baking pan and bake for 30 minutes.
Leave to cool in the baking pan then turn out and cut into squares.
For people who do drink alcohol, having a festive drink is part of the celebrations. Always have a non-alcoholic alternative available such as the holiday punch below. If you have an alcoholic drink, make your next drink a glass of water, or just the tonic with the festive garnish.
Holiday Punch *
4 ½ cups cranberry juice
10 to 12 whole cloves
4 ½ cups apple juice
2 ¼ cups freshly squeezed orange juice
5 or 6 strips lemon peel
2 crisp eating apples, sliced
1-to-2-inch piece of fresh ginger root peeled and coarsely chopped
2 oranges or satsumas, divided into segments or coarsely chopped
2 large cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
Honey to taste, optional
Combine the cranberry and the apple juice with the lemon peel and spices in a heavy pan. Bring almost to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir in the orange juice and fruit and add a little honey if desired.
There are many healthy delicious recipes out there that are special enough to be included in your celebrations. And trying a few of these alternatives and small adjustments to your usual festive food and drink could make a healthy difference.
If you do celebrate Christmas, I hope that you have a healthy, fun, and peaceful time whatever you do.
Enjoy this lovely time of year and take care of yourself and your loved ones.
* all recipes are from The yoga cookbook from The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center. This is a brilliant book of vegetarian recipes for body and mind.