Jane Feinmann shows you and your family how to survive the festive season in better shape than ever before – without cutting back on the fun

A merry Christmas doesn't have to be unhealthy or leave you struggling to recover for days or even weeks. After all, you'll have plenty on your plate what with freezing weather, vicious flu and the worst recession in history to face. But if there's trouble ahead in 2009, that's all the more reason to have the healthiest Christmas ever. Here are four strategies to ensure you and your family stay safe and supported throughout the festive season – without cutting back on any of the fun.

KEEP THE CHRISTMAS TASTE WITHOUT THE FAT

A typical Christmas Day's food can add up to a massive 6,000 calories – three times the recommended daily amount for women, and more than two and half times the amount for men. That's why the average weight gain over the holiday season is a couple of kilos (five pounds).

But you don't have to pile on the pounds over the festive season. There are simple ways to cut back on calories while still enjoying all the traditional favourites. It's easy to swap the unhealthiest foods for a healthy version, according to the British Nutrition Foundation. Here are their top tips.

Turkey

The skin is full of fat – unlike the breast meat, which is virtually fat free. Before you cook your bird, prick the skin to allow the fat to drain out. Cook it on a trivet or upturned ovenproof plate so it's not sitting in the fat. Then remove the skin before eating and choose breast instead of leg or thigh to get the fewest calories.



Stuffing

Bin the sausage meat and stuff the turkey with roast chestnuts, which are low in fat, along with cranberry and orange.



Roast potatoes

Bake them instead and they're just as tasty but much better for you than boiled potatoes drenched in oil.



Gravy

Fat-free gravy is tastier as well as healthier but takes a little more time to prepare. Pour the turkey juices into a jug and wait for the fat to rise to the surface, then carefully pour or spoon off the fat before using the liquid to make gravy.

Bread sauce

Luxury bread sauce mix is a high-fat processed food. Make it yourself using semi-skimmed milk and add a clove of garlic to boost the flavour.



Vegetables

Add chopped herbs or lemon zest to the Brussels sprouts instead of butter.



Christmas pudding

Being crammed with fruit, it's full of good things: B vitamins, potassium, iron and calcium and plenty of fibre. But it's also heavy on sugar, so restrict yourself to a small portion after lunch. If you substitute low-fat custard, or fat-free Greek yoghurt for the brandy butter or double cream that's more traditional, you'll slash your calorie intake.



Mince pies

Use filo pastry (two sheets are 80 calories) instead of puff pastry (one sheet is 620 calories).

GET ACTIVE

You can burn off a couple of mince pies-worth of calories just by walking to the shops to pick up some last-minute presents. Every move you make refreshes your mind and body and leaves you less stressed. Here are three ways to enjoy exercising over Christmas.



Ice-skating

Just 40 minutes will burn about 400 calories. With winter ice rinks now a seasonal fixture in many British cities, it's a great way to de-stress and fun for kids and adults alike.



Keep dancing

Instead of lazing on the sofa after lunch, put on your favourite Christmas compilation and get all the family dancing. Your best moves are guaranteed to keep everyone entertained – and you'll burn about 360 calories an hour.



Fun in the park

It's free and it's just minutes from your house. While lunch is cooking, attach a piece of tinsel to the dog's collar and get the family out from under the cook's feet. It's a great time to try out any new outdoor Christmas presents, too. Play an hour and a half's football in the park and you'll burn off 630 calories – as well as allowing your over-excited children to get rid of excess energy.

For longer walks over the holiday period, check out the Ramblers Association ( www.ramblers.org.uk ) and Natural England ( www. naturalengland. org.uk ) websites.

KEEP YOUR COOL

The requirement for family merry-making at Christmas can be stressful in the extreme – why else would divorce lawyers be at their busiest in January? This year, stress levels are likely to be at an all-time high, with almost every family in the country affected by the recession. Here are some ways to smooth ruffled feathers for real peace and goodwill this Christmas.



Expect the worst (and plan for the best)

Being a pessimist is good sense if it means you anticipate potential problems and then take steps to avoid them, according to Suzanne C Segerstrom, in her new book The Glass Half Full (Constable Robinson). Here's four ways to make the big day harmonious.

* Call a truce with any Christmas guests you've been arguing with during the year. If there's time, meet up and get your differences into perspective. Otherwise, find a moment to phone and say how much you're looking forward to seeing them, suggests Relate counsellor Christine Northam.

* Make a timetable of activities for Christmas Day. Consult others who will be there, including the children – you will please everyone and ensure you don't have to spend too much time alone with difficult relatives.

* Resolve not to drink too much – booze is the usual suspect when banter turns into angry exchanges.

* Rather than wasting time and money trying to have the most fabulous Christmas ever, settle for one that's adequate. Research shows you'll probably have a better time. "It seems that trying too hard to have fun is a sure way to kill your buzz," says Segerstrom.



Open up to others

Be aware of what's happening in the lives of those you're likely to see over Christmas, whether friends, family or neighbours. "A perspective check promotes inclusiveness and makes people feel wanted and understood," says Belfast social psychologist Dr Arthur Cassidy. "When times are tough, we need to care about each other's mental and emotional wellbeing," he says.



Relax into the ritual

"Traditions and rituals link us with our extended families, our ethnic groups, our religions, and our heritage. They help us to remember what is important and we come away with a deeper sense of where we come from, a feeling of being part of a whole," says Miriam Weinstein, author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals.

MAKE YOUR HOME SAFE

The combination of excitement, stress, tiredness and alcohol can create unexpected health hazards in the home at Christmas. More than 80,000 people a year require hospital treatment in Britain for Christmas-related injuries such as falls, cuts and burns. "The home should be as safe as necessary, rather than as safe as possible," says Sheila Merrill, home safety manager for England at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). "With a little more care and forward planning, most accidents could be avoided."



The kitchen

"The Christmas meal is probably the biggest meal most families cook all year and it needs careful planning to avoid injuries," says Merrill. "Try to keep other people, especially children, out of the kitchen, stay off the alcohol until you've finished cooking, and wipe up spills as soon as they happen to avoid people slipping."



Stairs

Clutter, alcohol and tiredness make the stairs an accident hotspot during Christmas, says Merrill. "Keep the stairs well lit and free from obstacles, especially if you have guests who could be going up or down the stairs to the bathroom during the night," she says.



Presents

"Have a screwdriver ready for toys that are screwed into packaging," says Merrill. "Clear up the packaging and wrapping paper as you go along, and remember to recycle." That way, you won't trip on the debris, or cut yourself when you're assembling presents.



Christmas trees

That little Norwegian spruce is not as innocent as it looks. About 1,000 people are injured by their tree, usually while fixing stars, lights or other paraphernalia to the higher branches, reports RoSPA. "Always use a stepladder to put up the decorations and don't over-reach yourself," says Merrill.



Fairy lights

About 350 people a year are hurt by Christmas tree lights, according to RoSPA. Children have been known to swallow the bulbs, and people can get electric shocks and burns from faulty lights. "Test your lights and the wiring before you put them up. If you have old lights, buy new ones that meet higher safety standards," says Merrill. "Don't overload sockets, as that's a fire risk."



Decorations

Around 1,000 people are hurt every year when decorating their homes, says RoSPA. Use a stable ladder when you're putting up decorations, and, Merrill advises, "glass trimmings should be placed out of the reach of toddlers and pets".



Candles

The Government has warned that people are 50 per cent more likely to die in a house fire over Christmas than at any other time of year. "Never put candles on or near a Christmas tree," says Merrill. "Never leave an open flame unattended."



Christmas plants

Mistletoe berries contain toxic proteins that slow the heart rate and can cause hallucinations. The orange berries of the Christmas cherry can cause stomach pains, and the Christmas rose is such an effective cause of diarrhoea it was used as a chemical weapon by the ancient Greeks. "Check with the garden centre whether the plants you're buying are toxic," says Merrill. "If they are, keep them out of the reach of children."



Indigestion and food poisoning

Read the instructions on the turkey well. It takes hours to cook a turkey properly and, if you don't, you could end up with salmonella, which can be life-threatening.

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