I'm dreaming of a 'light' Christmas

31 May 2008

Christmas is the time of year to enjoy a well-earned rest and relax with family and friends. All too often though, the stress of weeks of preparation and shopping leaves us exhausted before Christmas Day even arrives. And when it’s all over, we’re left rueing the cost of days of over-indulgence – not least when we step back onto the scales!

With many of us watching the pennies a bit more closely this year, it’s an ideal time to make a virtue out of necessity and plan a healthier Christmas menu that avoids the excesses while still delivering the all-important festive ‘wow’ factor.

Ringing the menu changes... 

If you’ve always gone for turkey-with-all-the trimmings, why not consider a different theme this year that will appeal to the whole family? A Mediterranean theme, for example, offers scope for a huge range of healthy and delicious meals that are simple and cost-effective to prepare. Mediterranean cuisine is a great option if you have vegetarians among your guests, as many of the tastiest recipes are meat-free – saving you money too. Fish is another excellent choice for a festive menu theme that’s both appetising and healthy.

Whatever food, drink and snacks you choose to serve over the festive period, make a detailed shopping list – and don’t leave the mammoth trip to the supermarket to the last minute! Apart from the crowded aisles, the closer it gets to Christmas, the emptier the shelves, and you may be forced to buy more expensive items or make last-minute changes to your menu.

Planning ahead also means you can think about how to make the best use of leftovers to avoid wasting food – for example, cold beef for a lunchtime salad or in sandwiches at tea time; a chicken carcass to make stock for a broth or stew; or vegetables for a supper stir fry or soup.

Quick tips for healthier festive food 

Below are a few more tips to help you pick healthier items and get the best value for money when you’re shopping for food this Christmas:

• Your waistline and your wallet will benefit if you spend just a little more time at the supermarket. Compare portion sizes and number of portions per packet. And do compare different brands, as you can often get similar foods at a cheaper price when you buy supermarket own brands. 

• The party foods in supermarkets can look tempting, but is there a way you could save cash and calories? Buy frozen vol-au-vents, then bake and stuff with low-fat soft cheese or cranberry and a sliver of Camembert. Or roast some chestnuts – the only low-fat nut in existence! 

• Don't get sucked into multi-packs or “buy one get one free” offers. It’s easy to be lured by such signs and buy foods that weren't on your shopping list. Big packs of food can often mean you eat more simply because it’s hard to put the rest away. And if you think about it, by eating more of them, you're probably spending more in the long run. 

• Use up leftover chicken, beef or even salmon by sprucing it up into a fricassee. Just sauté some onion and garlic, add some seasonal veg, the pieces of leftover meat or fish, and some stock. Cook well, then stir in some low-fat Greek yoghurt just before serving.

• Most importantly, when all the planning and shopping is done – relax and have fun with your family!