As the time of joy and good cheer arrives, don’t stress about not eating this or that when all around you everyone is enjoying tasty meals, yummy shortbread and lots of chocolates! Healthy eating can still be part of your routine without giving up all the festivities. 

by Joanna Burchartz 

BSc (hons) Nutrition & Food Science 

December has rolled around yet again and the Christmas season is upon us once more and with that comes the Christmas parties, the work lunch, the drinks with friends, all leading up to the big day and the big Christmas dinner. What do all these things have in common along with enjoying time with friends and family? You got it – food!

So how do you keep up with your healthy lifestyle and healthy eating habits when all around you are delicious treats, big meals and tasty drinks? A word of advice? Just enjoy it! Of course, if you have medical reasons to avoid certain foods or watch your calorie intake then you should still be careful about what and how much you eat but if you are just conscious of having a healthy diet and don’t want to put on too many extra pounds, then the Christmas party season is the time to allow yourself to relax a little – remember that old saying, ‘A little of what you fancy does you good’? Well, what better time than now to bring that into play. Why watch those plates of tasty looking vol-au-vents pass you by at next week’s party? Go on, try one! And why not have another mince pie even if you had one yesterday? It’s okay.

However, what I’m not saying is to spend the month of December just pigging out on anything and everything that’s available, you still need to keep in mind eating in moderation, so don’t be eating that whole box of chocolates in one day. But when you do have occasions to eat out or go to a party, do it and have fun, just don’t overdo it and then watch what you eat in between to make sure you don’t lose those healthy eating habits. 

Read on for some tips on how to enjoy eating this festive season.

The Work Christmas Lunch

“Now bring us some figgy pudding”

I think people have a ‘love’ or ‘hate’ relationship with our traditional Christmas pudding, personally I love it, especially with brandy butter, so if I’m eating out before Christmas this is a likely choice for me from the menu. Often when going out for a pre-booked Christmas lunch, whether traditional or something different,  there will be set menus so you can make your choices beforehand. Take advantage of this if you can as then you’ll be choosing your meal without being REALLY hungry so you can be a bit more careful about what you have. For example, if you’re a sweet tooth kind of person then choose something light such as fruit or salad for starters, then have your main meal and your favourite dessert whether it’s Christmas pudding or strawberry cheesecake. If you prefer the starters then choose something more filling to begin, followed by your main dish and then a light dessert, or even skip dessert if it’s not your thing.  

It’s important to still maintain healthy eating habits in between your indulgences, so if you’re going out for a big Christmas lunch make sure to still have a healthy but low-fat breakfast in the morning and even though you may still feel full, make sure to have a light meal or snack in the early evening so you don’t end up being hungry in the middle of the night.   

Fun Fact – What are the most popular Christmas foods?

According to a survey of 2,000 people conducted by Asda in 2016, the number 1 favourite Christmas food is… the humble roast potato!! This was followed by carrots (really??) and the turkey came in third. And my Christmas pudding? It came in at number 9 AFTER brussels sprouts!!!

The Christmas Party

Tonight is Christmas party night. You have your outfit ready, your hair done, your make up planned (that’s for us girls) but have you thought about what you’re gonna eat and drink? It’s worth spending a bit of time considering this before the day to make sure you’re party-ready. On party day it’s important to eat well during the day, so a healthy breakfast, a good nutritious lunch and, assuming the party won’t be till later in the evening, you should probably have a light meal before you go so you don’t end up over-eating from the buffet table because you’re so hungry! The other thing to think about is whether you’ll be drinking… by this, I mean alcohol of course. If you are planning to have a few drinks then space them out throughout the evening and stay hydrated with water in between.  One thing you should NOT do is swap food calories for alcohol calories – it’s okay, have a few drinks but be sensible, know your limits and STILL eat! Food is needed to soak up the alcohol and also to ensure you still get important nutrients that you won’t get from a glass of bubbly. 

If you’re like me then you love a buffet table – so many different foods laid out that you would never think of or have time to make yourself and you just want to try them all. Very tempting and… well, it’s Christmas! But just be sensible, don’t pile up your plate with everything in sight, and don’t stay standing by the table grazing all night – choose one of each tasty delight, pop it on your plate then move away and socialize. 

After your night of indulgence, it’s important to eat well the next morning and throughout the following day to ensure your diet stays balanced and you maintain your usual healthy eating regime. And keep drinking lots of water, especially if you had a few drinks last night. 

The Christmas Dinner

Well done – you’ve made it through December! You’ve enjoyed the big lunches and the Christmas parties and finally, it’s Christmas Day. So what’s on the menu?

Fun Fact – Where was the ‘world’s biggest’ Christmas dinner?

Last year The George Pub & Grill in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham claimed to have cooked the biggest Christmas dinner ever served to one person. It included a 5.4kg turkey crown, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, 7 other different types of vegetable, 30 stuffing balls and 20 pigs in blankets – the whole meal covered 4 plates! I didn’t find any follow up articles to say whether or not anyone actually finished the entire thing – I do hope not!!

So obviously, I would not advise anyone to eat all that – you wouldn’t have room for the Christmas pudding – but still, even if you usually keep to a healthy diet, go on and have your traditional Christmas lunch and enjoy it. The best way to ‘eat healthy’ on Christmas day is not to be thinking about calories but just to be sensible in your portions. Even if you know you’re going to be having a big meal in the middle of the day you still need to start with a good breakfast to kick-start your system. Go for something light and nutritious such as low-fat yoghurt and fruit with a handful of low-sugar granola or wholemeal toast or a bagel with low-fat cream cheese and banana. Then when it comes to lunchtime, eat the turkey with all the trimmings, but don’t overeat – when you’re full don’t go for second helpings. If you can’t manage pudding, don’t force it down at lunchtime, save it and have it mid-afternoon. And then you need to watch what you drink, those empty alcohol calories add up – have a glass with your meal and one or two throughout the rest of the day but avoid continually topping up the glass, wait till it’s empty so you can keep track of how much you’ve really had. As the festivities come to an end make sure to finish the day with another light meal – perhaps a fresh salad or an omelette – then treat yourself to one more mince pie!

The Tripwires

Did you know? there is a World Record for the fastest time to eat 3 mince pies? Set in Australia in 2013, Robert Edward Lee ate 3 mince pies in just 54 seconds… who knew???

So aside from the lunches, the dinners and the parties, one of the biggest things to watch out for during this festive season is…. the ‘nibbling’. As a kid, Christmas for me meant my mum putting out a tray of snacks – tasty crackers, crisps and sweets – right there on the sideboard in the living room, available to eat ANY TIME YOU WANT!!! And this is one of the things to watch out for diet-wise – temptation is all around. How many clients will send a box of chocolates or a tin of biscuits to the office? You have to be strong-willed and limit yourself. Don’t just take one every time the box/boxes come around, tell yourself you can have one with a morning coffee and one in the afternoon or only partake every other day. And NEVER just keep the open box out on your desk – that is just asking for disaster!! Continually grazing throughout the month of December will slowing build up the calories and you may end up eating less of your nutritious meals if you’ve been filling up on unhealthy sweets and biscuits all day so this is something to really watch out for.  

The best healthy eating plan for the festive season is to allow yourself to enjoy it. The key things are not to overeat and watch out for the extra snacks, chocolates, nibbles and drinks – have a few, but in moderation. And in between all the festivities stick to your usual well-balanced healthy eating habits to ensure you are still getting all the good nutrients you need and this will make it so much easier to get yourself back to your normal routines once the holiday is over. 

So Merry Christmas everyone and enjoy your Christmas pudding.