For a lot of people, Christmas is a time of excess; too much food, too many treats, too many sugary drinks, etc. It was that way for me too, until about two years ago when I had a light-bulb moment. Just because it's been that way in the past doesn't mean it has to continue that way. I could do something about it.
The main insight is that to eat healthily at Christmas, rather than settle for the default, you have to prepare for it. Without the preparation, if a friend gifts you a cake, then that cake might become your breakfast for several days. How can you prepare?
For the 1 week of Christmas (25th - 1st Jan), you need a plan. I've never actually written out a menu but I plan to do so this year. Let me know if you're interested in the menu and I'll share in a later post.
Choose special foods
I've found that what I really want to serve my family at Christmas is something a little out of the ordinary. A meal that conveys I went out of my way to make this for you. So for a family that usually has porridge, cereals, or warm beverages for breakfast, a special breakfast might be pancakes, fruit salad, yogurt and granola, crushed avocado on toast, freshly squeezed juices etc. High end hotel buffets and a la carte menus are a great place to look for ideas.
Choose healthier substitutes
The next step after you have your ideas is to look for ways to make substitutions that make the dish healthy.
Making pancakes? Why not substitute white flour with oat flour, sweeten with overripe bananas and honey instead of sugar, and top with crunchy peanut butter instead of syrup? Here is a recipe that I love.
For a fruit salad, the mere act of slicing up the fruits in a special way, and combining them for your family is what makes it special. And you don't need more than three fruits even. See how Jessica Gavin makes an orange bowl special.
Do you want to serve fruit juice? Try a mix of freshly made orange and pineapple juice. So delish! Or watermelon juice on ice - refreshing!
Use brown bread for your toast and instead of topping with butter or margarine, try crushed avocado. Simply use a fork to smash soft avocado and season with salt and pepper to taste. I usually mix in boiled and sliced eggs. I've tried it with poached eggs and that's pretty good too. Or instead of eggs, you can top your crushed avocado with sautéed mushrooms.
For yogurt, I recommend Zeno's yogurt but don't go for the parfait. Buy the plain greek yogurt and top it with your own additions. I like it unsweetened with groundnuts, and cashew nuts. If you must sweeten, try dried unsweetened raisins or cranberries. Even though I enjoy granola, I haven't yet found a truly healthy one that is mindful of portion control. I'll keep looking and will share when I've found one. Please share with me too if you find it first.
For lunch and dinner, grills are always a great idea. I love grilled veggies so I'll be trying of that this Christmas.
Now that you've actually ensured your main meals are healthy, save room for decadent treats. One woman I met in Cape Town when I went for the in-person training as a VV Grow Fellow some years ago would ask about the snacks served at the hotel: is it worth the calories? And she was dead right. If you're going to eat something loaded with calories, the experience must absolutely be worth it. One of the best desserts I've had was a simple cashew nut tart from Kempinski. That pie was worth the calories, and I've been looking for a way to recreate it ever since. Another dessert that I loved that you can try is a chocolate croustade topped with nuts and a pavlova topped with fresh strawberries from the Glasshouse in Kew. If you drink alcohol, for sure try orange juice and vodka. Simple but amazing.
Stock up on healthy snacks
Stock up on fresh fruits. The first Christmas that I was able to stick to a healthy diet, it was because a friend brought me a basket of fresh fruit. I was so grateful for that basket because it was such a thoughtful gift that saved me from eating lots of fruit cake! The basket was filled with apples, pears, juicy oranges, and clementines. Make yourself a fruit basket so you're more likely to grab those when you need a snack. Seasoned popcorn is also a great low-calorie snack that is special if your usual go to is salt or sugar. Type "seasoned popcorn recipes" into Pinterest and enjoy! My advice is to choose the savoury options over the sweet.
Go with the tried and tested
The week of Christmas is not the time to experiment. Which is why this post is coming at this time. You have plenty of time to try out bits of the dishes you want to serve on the 25th. This is easy to say and difficult to do but if you really want to serve a special meal, then you do need to test things to ensure they will turn out the way you expect.
Keep the spirit of Christmas in mind
Remember to keep the spirit of Christmas in mind as you prepare. Getting overly stressed about about this is not necessary. Christmas is a time to reflect on the deep love of God that motivated him to send his son to the earth so that through in Christ, we might be once more reconciled with God. As we reflect on this love, and inspired by the desire to love one another as Christ has loved us, we go out of our way to demonstrate love to those around us, especially our families.
If your intention is to demonstrate love, it doesn't need to be perfect, so let good enough be good enough and enjoy yourself a little too.
You also don't need to make all of this stuff from scratch. The reason that sometimes we need to make things is because it's difficult to trust how healthy food prepared elsewhere might be. But the treats tend to be less familiar and you can order them from a trusted bakery or patisserie. You can even skip the cooking altogether and dine out on Christmas Day too. Even so, you're not likely to eat out all week for every meal, so make what you can and buy the rest.
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