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How to make Christmas lunch healthier

Siski Green / 23 December 2015 ( 02 December 2014 )

The festive period is famously fattening, but a few healthy tips and tricks can transform your Christmas feast into a relatively healthy meal.

Healthy Christmas veg
Try our easy tricks to lighten up your festive meal.

Turkey: Light on fat, heavy on the protein, turkey is one of the healthiest meats you can eat. It’s also loaded with heart-healthy B vitamins and sleep-enhancing tryptophan. That said, there are still ways to make it even healthier.

Go white. "Opt for the white meat which has less saturated fat than the brown leg meat, and take the skin off before you eat," says nutritionist Helen Ford, of the Dr Marilyn Glenville Clinic in Kent.

Go wild! Instead of a turkey why not try a game bird this year? Pheasant is delicious and smaller than a turkey too so you won’t have to eat leftovers for the rest of January!

Stuffing: Depending on what you put in your stuffing it can be a healthy part of your lunch. 

First, steer clear of packet mixes which are usually loaded with salt. 

Second, forego the minced pork – it does add flavour but it also adds a lot of fat. If you like your stuffing moist, simply add more stock or an egg. Or if you can’t live without the flavour of pork, mix it up with minced turkey or beef so the fat content is reduced. 

Finally, add flavourful elements such as chestnuts or apricots, to give it some health value. Chestnuts are packed with cholesterol-lowering fibre and also essential fatty acids, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium – all nutrients that are good for your heart and circulation. Apricots also contain lots of soluble fibre, as well as beta-carotene, an important antioxidant.

Related: Find out more about Vitamin C, Potassium and Magnesium with our A-Z of vitamins and minerals guide

Don’t stuff... And your stuffing will be even healthier. "It’s called stuffing because you’re supposed to put it in the turkey cavity but if you bake it in a separate tray it’ll be far lower in fat because it won’t absorb any extra from the bird itself,” says Ford. “Try making your own stuffing with chestnut puree and nuts and herbs to cut down on the starchy carbohydrate content.”

Sauces: Bread sauce is a classic comfort food – warm and full of sleep-inducing milk and cream. "Because of that, however, it’s also relatively high in fat and starchy carbohydrates," says Ford. "Keep your servings small or swap the cream for (low-fat) cut low fat crème fraîche."

A splash of red. Be sure to add a dollop of cranberry sauce to your plate. Homemade is best as jars of the sauce are often laden with sugar. All you need is fresh or frozen cranberries, sugar and a little orange juice. Heat, while stirring and it’s ready in ten minutes.

Gravy. Turkey and other meats lose their juices in response to the heat but that doesn’t mean you should waste them. The juice contains vitamins and minerals just like the meat.

Related: Expert tips for Christmas gravy

Equip yourself. The less-healthy aspect of gravy, however, is the fat. So invest in a gravy separator. This is a jug-like tool with a spout that has a hole at the bottom of the jug cup – that way the fat of the meat, which naturally rises, doesn’t get poured out until the end. Use the meat juices to make your gravy, along with vegetable water (from your Brussels) and whatever herbs you prefer.

Roast potatoes. Roasting potatoes in fat doesn’t add any nutritional value but potatoes in themselves are an excellent source of vitamin C. Because heat causes the breakdown of vitamin C, parboil the potatoes before you roast them to try and preserve as much C as possible.

Related: Diana Henry's perfect roast potatoes

Bake ‘em. To avoid adding extra fat to your Christmas lunch simply bake your taters instead of roasting them. Rub olive oil and a little salt over them beforehand for extra tasty and crispy skins.

Brussels sprouts. With fibre and lots of heart-healthy vitamin C and folate, you can’t go wrong with these beauties... unless you smother them in butter!

Opt for olive. "Instead of adding flavour to Brussels with butter, drizzle a little olive oil and black pepper over the top," says Ford.

Christmas pudding. The pudding itself isn’t so bad – it does have lots of sugar in it but it’s low in fat and, if it’s stuffed with fruit, also relatively good for fibre.

Yes to yogurt. Forego that high-fat, high-sugar brandy butter and have a dollop of fresh yogurt or low-fat crème fraîche this year. "Doing so will reduce your saturated fat intake," says Ford.

Tips to make it an even healthier Christmas

Eat later. That way you won’t have so long to keep ‘grazing’ afterwards. “It’s in the hours after Christmas lunch that people often overeat,” says Ford. “And because you’re not necessarily putting all the food on a plate and eating it in one sitting, you don’t realise how much food you’re eating.”

Eat slowly. “You’ll recognise when you’re full much sooner by eating slowly,” says Ford. Chew each mouthful until the food is completely mushy in your mouth, and be sure to talk between forkfuls – it’ll slow you down!

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.