Healthy Christmas meal ideas: Delicious and nutritious holiday dinner options with less fat and less sugar
The holidays are the time for family and friends to gather together and feast. The supermarkets will be playing Christmas jingles, inviting home chefs to open their wallets. Ingredients for roasted whole turkeys, glistening glazed hams, sauces, gravies, Christmas puddings, and more come off the shelves and into people’s carts. A little indulgence is acceptable, they think, after all, Christmas only comes once a year. What they might not know is that a fantastic holiday feast can still be had with a selection of healthier choices.
It is important for young and old alike to be mindful of their dietary decisions. The body does not know that it is the festive season. It is only aware of excessive cholesterol, preservatives, salt, sugar, and fat with which we stuff it at the Christmas table. The more careful mothers and wives among us would look for strategies to improve the health and nutritional value of their holiday dinner menu, and we are here to help. Continue reading for our recommendations of dishes to consider, and dishes to avoid, in order to keep the extravagance without sacrificing the health of your family.
Let us start at the beginning, with the first course. Entrées, hors d’œvres, or appetisers, whatever you call them, this course sets the tone for the rest of the meal.
In a more casual setting, family and friends may be invited to graze on a selection of finger foods while waiting for the main. Charcuterie boards are a classic and reliable go-to for this occasion. When considering health, you should limit the amount of cured meats in favour of fresh vegetables or pickled vegetables and fresh or dried fruits. There will be no lack of flavour with the inclusion of fragrant vegetable-based dips such as hummus and baba ganoush. The all-important crackers and toast slices can be easily swapped for their whole grain equivalents.
There are also plenty of options available for a more formal dining experience. Those looking to cut down the calories this Christmas season are spoiled for choice with this course. From our own Christmas Menu, we especially recommend salmon gravadlax. Fish like salmon are an excellent source of not only protein but also vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health and development.
When it comes to entrées, one trick to remember is that some would go down just as well if not even better as a main. For example, confit duck or pork belly would be overly indulgent if presented as a start to the meal, but they would be properly satisfying if served as the main course.
Once everyone has been appetized, it is time for the star of the Christmas dinner to appear: the main course. You may imagine the quintessential holiday feast: a glorious roast at the heart of the table, flanked by decadent sides and sauces, filling the air with warmth and wonderful smells. Family and friends surround the table, admiring the spread with forks and knives at the ready. This is what they’ve been looking forward to.
Between the two traditional mains, a whole roast turkey and whole glazed ham, the bird is the superior choice. While fresh ham is certainly healthier than a salt-cured and/or smoked ham, turkey trumps them both as a leaner and lower-cholesterol centerpiece for the table.
If you are looking to take it one step further, we recommend trying our turkey breast stuffed with cranberry and chestnut stuffing. By incorporating more natural flavours into the main dish, you can curb your family’s dependence on gravy and cranberry sauce, which contain large amounts of salt, fat, and sugar.
If you’re not afraid to deviate from tradition, another healthy choice could be a wholly vegetarian main, such as a mushroom wellington or a whole roast stuffed butternut pumpkin. Those who turn up their noses at vegetarian cuisine will have to reconsider when they taste these modern versions of classic Christmas recipes.
No holiday spread is complete without a tempting selection of sides. Smart homemakers know that side dishes are an easy way to balance a rich, meaty main dish with crunchy, tender vegetables and tart, refreshing salads.
Traditional sides like potato gratin and mashed potatoes are delicious for sure, but their deliciousness comes from a substantial amount of salt, fat, and carbohydrates. That said, potatoes are not a lost cause. These friendly tubers can be surprisingly nutritious when cooked in a mindful way. For example, you could replace the mashed potatoes with a generous bowl of garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes. This potato dish gets most of its flavour from fresh garlic and rosemary, and it also features entire potatoes. Potato skins contain potassium and magnesium, so it pays to keep them on.
Another great option for a side dish would be a platter of steamed or roasted vegetables. It can be hard to fill your plates with a variety of colours, but mixed seasonal vegetables are an excellent way to please the eyes as well as the stomach. Colourful vegetables represent a rainbow of different vitamins and minerals.
Finally, every meal stands to benefit from a tastefully-crafted salad. Salad may not sound like a treat, but beyond the iceberg lettuce lies a world of flavour. We’re talking about apple salad with walnuts and raisins, shaved Brussels sprout salad with craisins, and Moroccan couscous salad. With dishes like these, don’t be surprised if the salad runs out first!
Is there such a thing as a healthy dessert? Well, maybe not as healthy as a kale salad, but there are certainly healthier options to be considered.
The first thing to keep in mind is quality over quantity. It is much healthier to serve each person a handmade mini tart than it is to dish out massive wedges of pie. Likewise, a conservative portion of dark chocolate mousse is a healthier choice than slices of a towering chocolate cake. An argument could even be made that fruits are a vital part of a balanced diet, and that a little dark chocolate now and then might be a good thing. At any rate, it’s important to nourish the soul as well as the body sometimes.
For a lighter and more elegant finish to the feast, you could consider doing as the French do, by inviting your family to nibble from a fresh fruit and cheese board. While cheese is not the most healthful food, it is notably healthier than desserts full of sugar and butter.
As with charcuterie boards, multiple people eating from the same platter brings up a familial and cosy atmosphere, perfect for a holiday party with loved ones. You can invite people to get up from their seats to enjoy the fruit and cheese. Moving around after a heavy meal is known to prevent bloating and regulate both blood sugar and blood pressure, among other benefits, as long as you don’t overdo it.
Curating a health-conscious yet crowd-pleasing Christmas dinner can be a monumental task, especially if you have dietary restrictions or picky eaters in your crowd. If such a task is too difficult for what it’s worth, you can rest assured that there is a compromise to be had. Much can be gained by selecting only the most nutritious dishes for the table, but there is comparable benefit in simply avoiding the worst that holiday traditions have to offer.
In the section about main courses, we mentioned hams, notably the salt-cured and smoke-infused variety, as a distinctly unhealthy choice for the holiday menu. An equally inconsiderate main dish is the famous and beloved beef wellington. There are chemicals found in red meats, including such holiday favourites as beef, pork, and lamb, as well as in processed meats, including ham, bacon, and salami, which are classified as Group 1 carcinogens by the World Health Organization.
It is probably no surprise that some traditional desserts are also nutritionally bankrupt. Our dishonourable mentions in this category go to Christmas puddings and mince pies. These deceitful desserts manage to be even less healthy than they appear. They do this by concealing large quantities of sugar and saturated fat. And yes, we’re just as disappointed as you are.
The holidays are traditionally a time for indulgence and extravagance. However, this indulgence is best enjoyed in the form of family and friends gatherings, twinkling lights and decorations, and presents tucked under the tree. It does not have to include overeating and food comas, nor belt-loosening and antacids at the ready. Honestly, it doesn’t even have to include countless hours of meal planning and cooking.
You don’t have to spend most of your Christmas in the kitchen to have a healthy family feast. Nor do you have to pay hundreds to a restaurant for someone else to cook. With food preparation and delivery services like Delidoor, you can enjoy the festivities without straining yourself or breaking the bank. Happy Holidays!