Most people anticipate a delicious traditional Christmas meal eagerly — maybe starting off with some bacon-wrapped scallops or a cheese ball, then sitting down to favourites like turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, vegetables dripping with butter and perhaps topped off by plum pudding drenched in caramel sauce, all washed down with some rum and eggnog.
We decided to ask if there is a way to enjoy the feast while eliminating some of the heaviness.
Heather McIver is a registered dietitian who works with Reactive Health on P.E.I. Bethany Vessey is a private dietitian who’s practised on P.E.I. for more than a decade. And Tracy Michael is a registered dietitian and owner of Nourished Kitchen Dietitian Consulting.
They all agreed that instead of restricting or avoiding certain foods, people should enjoy the festive goodies they look forward to all year without feelings of guilt. However there are easy ways to lighten things up.
Start with small portions of the foods you love and eat mindfully — be aware of when you are feeling full and stop, says Vessey.
“If we just load up our plate, typically we eat what’s on it,” she said. People can eat less mindfully when socializing too, she said — “they get lost in talking to people, then before they know it, it’s gone.”
Try to space out courses so your stomach and brain have time to connect to tell you that you are full, advises McIver.
Serve lots of vegetables as an appetizer, said Vessey.
Watch the liquid calories
For wine lovers, McIver suggests skipping sweet wines like Prosecco that are loaded with sugar and go for drier wines like Pinot Grigio or champagne. Add some ice and carbonated water or diet lemon-lime pop with some cranberries to make a holiday spritzer that will stretch out that same portion of wine.
“Choose drinks wisely and enjoy responsibly,” said Michael. “Sip on sparkling water or make a festive mocktail.”
On the side
Serve lots of vegetables, suggests Vessey — at least three different vegetable side dishes — skip sweet potatoes, which are high in sugars.
Another idea is to offer a seasonal salad including kale, goat cheese and pomegranate. Michael even suggests bringing your own favourite festive salad or side vegetable to holiday gatherings.
“That way, you can be sure to balance your plate with something healthy and delicious while also enjoying the festive foods you love,” Michael said.
If you want garlic mashed potatoes, McIver suggests instead of using garlic butter or garlic cream cheese, beat puréed garlic into your potatoes with a mixer or beaters.
“Everyone is going to likely add their own butter or gravy for extra moisture so no need to do it for them,” she said.
McIver suggests sticking with your traditional stuffing recipe, but portion it out by separating it into muffin tins.
“This makes easy-to-serve stuffing that is perfectly portioned out,” she said.
When it comes to gravy, dietitians have suggestions for lightening it up.
McIver’s is to cut back on the flour to save some carbs and use a bit of corn starch to help thicken up.
Make gravy with just a little of the turkey pan drippings, adding more water instead, said Vessey — use the water you’ve drained from any boiled vegetables, which is packed with nutrition.
Others suggested making a mushroom gravy — great for everyone including vegans.
Whatever your favourite Christmas dessert is, have some if you want it. Christmas can be your once-in-a-while or splurge meal, said Vessey. She suggests taking half a portion, or share a dessert with someone else.
A lighter holiday (or anytime) dessert idea that’s Vessey’s favourite is trifle with layers of fresh fruit, vanilla pudding made with skim milk instead of custard, light whipped cream and angel food cake instead of pound cake.
“When Christmas dinner is over, move on. Leave feelings of guilt behind if you overindulged,” said McIver. Then “try not to let an extra chocolate or two drag into 2020!”
Get some fresh air after your meal by taking a walk to look at Christmas lights or going on a family skate, advises Michael.