For the second instalment in my ‘how to survive the festive season’ series today I am focusing on providing you with some practical (but enjoyable) ways you can survive the (often numerous) festive parties. As I don’t know about you but I seem to have something planned in my calendar everyday between now and Christmas Eve.
So, today I’m talking through how you can survive those social occasions with grace and still enjoy yourself at the same time. I know how at this time of year even the most dedicated of healthy eaters can lose their willpower when faced with a Christmas buffet (me included).
First things first
At this time of year we tend to eat whatever is in front of us and looks tempting because often we are so busy we’re not eating on our regular schedules. If this sounds familiar try taking a healthy snack or two with you so that during the day you’ve got something to nibble on and you don’t turn up ravenous and head straight for the Christmas cake.
If you don’t eat the snacks before you go you know you’ll have something to rely on if the food options aren’t great, or you’ll have something to eat on the way home. I’m not usually a huge advocate of eating late but if it’s a choice of eating a nutritious snack on the train home or finishing the night feeling bloated and exhausted from too much sugar and processed food, the train snacks are a good bet.
I’ve written a post about some healthy snack choices here but a quick list of things I tote about with me (that don’t attract too much attention) include: nuts, seeds, small blocks of cheese, popcorn, an apple and olives. I have been known to carry about a mini pot of hummus but I appreciate that is not for everyone!
If you’re going to a buffet-style event
Oh I love a good buffet. I’m definitely one of these people who would rather have a few plates of small things to mix and match than one big dish – which is probably why I always steal a little of whatever my dining companions are having too. This can be great for trying new foods but when faced with a Christmas buffet it can also be the quickest way to derail your healthy habits.
With this is mind, here are the main things I tend avoid:
- Sauces – I love to dip things as much as the next person but try to avoid the ready made dips and glazes as these are bound to be packed full of sugar and other synthetic ingredients. My ideal choice of dip would be hummus or some sour cream with chives chopped into it but really, unless you bring these yourself the dips are best avoided
- Glazed meats – I’m not saying to avoid meats altogether but those honey glazed chicken wings or bbq ribs are again probably full of nasty stuff that will not fill you up and contribute to you feeling rubbish the next day
- ‘Mini’ foods – the mini spring rolls and deep fried samosas are cute and so easy to eat but not so good for the body. I probably don’t need to tell you that most of them are deep fried which is a nutritional no-no but also unless you’ve made them yourself you also don’t know what ingredients they contain and often it’s not just veggies. Best left alone if you can.
- Sun-dried veggies and dried fruits – As much as I love a sundried tomato or a gorgeous caramel-ly dried date, these should be given a wide berth. Sun-dried tomatoes and dried fruit are little sugar bombs and if you’re going for sugar then I’d save it for a Christmas treat like a mince pie or slice of cake.
And here are the things I’d choose instead:
- Hummus and guacamole – as above, if you’re going to dip try opting for these instead of the thousand island dressing. The chickpeas and avocados in the these two are brilliant for your health so you’re getting the good stuff in, even whilst you party. Clever, eh?
- Crudities and raw veggies – the crunch is satisfying and you’re eating your veggies. Win win.
- Cheese platter – cheese is a great option as its a good source of fats and protein (if you can tolerate it) and a small amount goes a long way. I love having two or three small chunks so I’m not restricting myself but also not overindulging at the same time.
- Olives – full of good fats and really tasty. You don’t even notice they are a ‘health’ food.
- Meats – if you eat meat some sliced ham or chicken can be a great way to fill up without eating lots of rubbish. Try to avoid anything sugar glazed or coated in sauce to avoid the extra sugar intake but otherwise I love antipasto selections and a roasted ham at a Christmas buffet.
- Nuts and seeds – again, try to avoid anything that’s honey or maple roasted but generally nuts are a great option. Just be mindful of the portion sizes, a small handful is enough.
If you’re going out for a sit down meal
If you’re going out to eat chances are you’ve had a copy of the menu beforehand so it’s easier to make healthier choices. My top choices for a festive meal out would be…
I love a good starter. Something light but full of veggies (it can be done!) is my ideal choice. May I suggest:
- A smoked salmon starter – a good choice as it contains lots of healthy fats. Try to get it as naked as possible (avoid any gloopy sauces or dressings if you can). Simple and delicious.
- Soup – a good veggie soup can be a lifesaver at a Christmas meal. This is usually my go to starter as I know I’ll get a hit of veggies from the outset of my meal and the flavours around Christmas are usually so yummy – spiced parsnip anyone?
- Salad – any kind of salad for starter is a winner in my book. Goat’s cheese is usually a favourite on Christmas menus and you can even ask them to hold the dressing (sorry, they are usually full of rubbish) and ask for plain olive oil instead (my preferred choice). If you’re lucky you might find that some menus do a hot salad with seasonal root veggies which would be another great choice.
Mains are usually the easiest to navigate as the choices are pretty good. My top choices are:
- Traditional Christmas dinner – Ah you can’t beat it and in health terms as long as your plate contains some good protein (roasted meats or fish), lots of veggies and not too much sauce (cranberry is a no-no for me because of the sugar content) it’s a safe bet. Try to eat a variety of veggies and don’t overlook the brussell sprouts. They are amazing for you!
- Nut Roast – as more and more companies recognise that vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming mainstream the quality of nut roasts has really started to improve. If you don’t fancy the meat offering but want the tradition of a Christmas dinner then try the nut roast. As above, as long as your plate has lots of veggies and not too much sauce you’re good to go.
- Steak and veggies – ok, this might not be traditional Christmas fare but some quality steak with a side of greens and root veggies is a good choice. The protein will fill you up and I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you why veggies area good idea? You can even swap out the steak for fish if you prefer.
Pudding isn’t the easiest course to navigate at Christmas and a treat now and again is ok but if you’re eating out more than a couple of times a week I’d go for:
- The cheese platter – as with a buffet, cheese is a great option for filling you up and having a treat but without the huge sugar hangover. I swerve the chutneys and tend to go for pickles, crudities and crackers along side where possible.
- Fruit plate and cream – pairing the fruit with a side of cream will help to slow the sugar absorption rate in your blood and you’ll be getting a hit of healthy from the fruit. Opt for low sugar options if possible like berries, melon, kiwis and pomegranate rather than bananas, mangos and pineapples; and try to make sure the cream is plain and not flavoured with alcohol or sugar.
Ok, that’s about as healthy as your pudding option is going to get, sorry people. I’m not a total grinch thought Christmas is a time for enjoying yourself so if you do go for a pud now and again then enjoy it. Beating yourself up over a mince pie or slice of chocolate torte will take away from the pleasure factor of actually having the treat – and then what’s the point? If you’re going to have a pudding try to make it a mindful choice rather than an automatic one.
And finally, on to the booze. Christmas parties can get crazy and before you know it you’re out drinking every night. If you can, try to plan ahead. Check your calendar for the week and see when you’re going to be out. That way you can choose one night to drink or allow yourself a couple of drinks each night instead. I tend to have one or two (I’m not a big drinker anyway) and alternate with water between each alcoholic drink. Alternating with water will obviously reduce how much alcohol you’re consuming and is kinder on your body over the course of the evening.
My top drink choices are:
- Red wine – it’s low in fructose and there are some reputed health benefits to choosing this over white wine. My regular drink of choice.
- Clear spirits – Gin and Vodka would be my choice but I make sure to mix them with soda water only (to avoid the sugar hit from lemonade or tonic water) and some fresh lemon or lime juice if possible. I always avoid the lime cordials, again as they are full of rubbish and I actually prefer the taste of fresh lemons and limes now.
- Beer – you may be surprised at this but because the sugar in beer is maltose (and not fructose) it’s generally a better choice for me than a sugary alcopop or spirit and cola, as we digest this sugar much easier. A word of warning though, beer is rather calorific so if you’re watching your waist-line be mindful that one pint can contain up to 200 calories (for a bitter or pale ale) whereas a vodka and soda water contains about 80 calories for a single measure.
And that brings me to the end of my top tips for navigating the festive party. Thank you very much for reading, I hope this has been helpful and given you some practical ways to keep up the healthy habits without depriving yourself. On Sunday there’ll be a special guest post about how to beat the Christmas bulge from a lovely mate of mine (who also happens to be a qualified Nutritional Therapist). Until then, have a great week everyone,