How to have a healthy, stress-free Christmas - without cutting the fun

From keeping hydrated to delegating on the big day, here are the top tips to avoid feeling like you need another holiday in January

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year… and quite possibly the most unhealthy. The festive season now stretches out for the whole of December and as far into January as we can justify. We quaff mulled wine, liqueur coffees and noggy drinks like our lives depend on it (well, it is awfully cold out there). The office tin of Quality Street is pilfered on a regular basis (not to mention the Terry’s Chocolate Orange you had for breakfast). And that’s before we’ve even begun to consider Christmas dinner - and yes, the second and third helpings of roast potatoes.

So, is there a way to deck the halls without decimating the diet? Chef Gurpareet Bains thinks so. He has created a ‘Guilt-Free Gala’ - Christmas dinner with all the trimmings - altogether clocking in at less than 1,000 calories. Which is less than two-thirds the calories of a normal feast. And it actually looks appetizing, with butternut squash and pear soup with lobster to start, turkey breast poached in mulled wine spices with blueberry sauce for mains and superfruit pudding with green tea and chia seeds for dessert.

Bains, whose cookbook The Superfood Diet is a bestseller, says: "Christmas is a time for indulgence and for enjoying the finer things in life. But that enjoyment doesn't have to come at the expense of your waistline or cholesterol levels. I set out to create a traditional Christmas dinner with a twist, and one that is not just better for you than classic lunches but that is actually good for you.”

All well and good - but what of the rest of the day? The cheeseboard, tubes of Pringles, your mother’s insistence on you having a second helping of Christmas pud, the wonderful leftover sandwiches, the chipolatas that surely don’t count because they’re oh-so-tiny, the cocktail party nibbles. Then there’s the stress of it all - we spend so much time racing around trying to sort out shopping and prep, before the pressure cooker environment of an overheated house full of over-excited children and over-fed adults, that not only our health but our sanity is suffering. Reason alone to reach for the sherry, and certainly not the serene, Nigella-esque fantasy of Christmas hosting we all harbour.

 

Before I’m tarred as a grub Grinch, let’s be clear - of course you’re not going to spend Christmas Day with a turkey kale salad and sparkling water while everyone else tucks into the chocolate log. If you can’t eat, drink and be merry now, when can you? But back-to-back parties and pig-outs can be overkill for even the most spirited of us - come on, aren’t we a little glad to don the sackcloth come January? However, staying a little saintly is not as simple (or as boring) as simply reaching for an extra helping of sprouts. We asked the experts for a few tips to help you enjoy and indulge without the regret, or that extra layer of, erm, stuffing.

Just add fruit juice

"To add a burst of flavour to my Christmas vegetables, I like to par-cook mine in a fruit juice, followed by a drizzle of pure maple syrup, before roasting - adding just the right touch of sweetness to your vegetables. For a gluten-free stuffing, simply follow your favourite recipe and substitute the breadcrumbs for gluten-free breadcrumbs (Mrs Crimbles is a good brand to buy) or you can make your own from store-bought gluten-free bread. Also make sure the sausage meat is gluten-free (I always use the meat from store-bought gluten-free sausages from brands such as Heck and The Black Farmer)."

Amanda Parker, development chef at gluten-free bakery Beyond Bread

Avoid white sugar and gluten

"I would never tell anyone to avoid indulging this time or year, but there are plenty of ways of enjoying extravagant food without an excess of white sugar and gluten. Swap bread as a canapé base for a homemade buckwheat blini. A simple mix of buckwheat flour, egg, milk, baking powder and salt fried as mini pancakes does the job perfect and is a great base for smoked salmon and creme fraiche or cream cheese. And swap the large tin of chocolates for home-made choc and nut bites - blend a cup of nuts with a cup of dates and add 50g cocoa powder for the perfect truffle base. Add a dash of salt and some spices or vanilla extract for a richer flavour."

Ceri Jones, natural chef and food writer, www.naturalkitchenadventures.com

Keep hydrated

"A glass of water is the last thing on anyone’s mind during the party season with all the festive cocktails and warming hot chocolates doing the rounds. Everyone gets more irritable when they’re dehydrated so keep the calm by keeping the water flowing. We like to make up decorative jugs of water for the dinner table or place them around at gatherings to inspire people to stay hydrated. Rather than add to the Winter chill with ice cubes, we fill the jugs with large sprigs of pine leaves, fresh cranberries and spirals of orange peel to create water jugs terrarium style! Use naturally carbonated water and a squeeze of orange or clementine juice and it’s as refreshing as any cocktail."

Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley, authors of The Art of Eating Well

The 70/30 rule

"For me it’s all about the healthy alternative - make your own version of your Christmas treats without the sugar and additives. It’s not about depriving yourself, it’s about nourishing and supporting yourself. So don’t feel guilty about the choices you make. I follow a 70/30 rule when it comes to eating healthy, so if you want to dive into the Quality Street on Christmas Day do - just maybe have a green smoothie first. And eat before your Christmas party to help you steer clear of the canapes and balance your blood sugar if you are having a glass of wine. Remember that food is fuel, and you must feed yourself in the right way to make you feel fantastic."

Natasha Corrett, creator of the Honestly Healthy plan

Natasha’s third book, Honestly Healthy Cleanse, is out January 1st

The two-glass rule

"Most of us consume an extra 7,000 calories in alcohol alone over the Christmas period - this equates to 2lbs of fat. You can cut this by a third by sticking to the 'two-glass rule' at every function you go to. If you eat a protein snack or meal with just two glasses of fizz, you will likely escape a late night and a hangover - which has an even greater effect on an increase in calories the next day. The next day, you'll likely be able to stick to your healthy eating regime."

Louise Parker, weight-loss expert

Time for yourself

"Christmas can often seem to be about other people; seeing family and friends, giving carefully chosen gifts and cooking amazing meals. Some people may feel it's selfish to make time for yourself when there's so much to do, but if you're running on empty, you won't be able to give your best and you'll be tired and irritable. Schedule in some time for yourself and let others know you're doing this so that any jobs can be covered. Go for a walk or run, have a bath, practise some meditation or even just having a few minutes of deep breathing will recharge your batteries and make the whole Christmas experience a lot more enjoyable and calm."

Chloe Brotheridge, hypnotherapist. Get a free guided relaxation download at www.calmer-you.com

Delegate

"Make everything from scratch, so you can be sure it's healthy (and really nice). But get organised, make Christmas cake and pud a month before and store them, make mince pies and freeze them, even make the stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and bread sauce and freeze them. That way, on Christmas Day, you only have to concentrate on turkey, potatoes and veg. And don't be a martyr! Make everyone do something towards the meal, even if it is just peeling the potatoes."

Deborah Thackeray, nutritionist

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