Healthy Christmas swaps
You don't have to miss out to eat healthier at Christmas. With just a few small swaps – like choosing fresh fruit, dark chocolate and alcohol-free drinks – you can nourish your body while joining in the festivities
When it comes to the most wonderful time of year, health is rarely at the forefront of our mind. Between the plethora of parties, stream of visitors and preparations for the big day, our usual healthy eating habits can be easily forgotten. However, there are a few swaps you can make during the festive period (and beyond) which can help you to eat a little healthier – without leaving you feeling as if you've missed out on all the fun.
The key to a healthier Christmas is opting for wholesome ingredients that will nourish your body, such as nuts, wholegrains, fruit and vegetables. Luckily, these are all abundant at Christmas, and there are a few tips we can give you to help you cut back on sugar, fat, gluten, dairy and alcohol.
Have a read, then check out all our Christmas recipes, including budget Christmas recipes, vegetarian Christmas ideas, Christmas breakfasts and freezable Christmas recipes which can be made ahead of time.
1. Serve fish for your Christmas Eve meal
Take the night before Christmas as an opportunity to get a good dose of healthy omega-3 fats and cook up a whole roast salmon for supper, or try our next-level salmon en croûte. We have lots more Christmas Eve recipes to inspire you – including easy canapés, if you're planning to entertain.
2. Leave healthy cookies for Father Christmas
With so many chimneys to squeeze down, we're sure Father Christmas wouldn't mind the occasional healthy cookie instead of traditional gingerbread or mince pies. These raspberry, almond and oat cookies are just as delicious and can be made a few days in advance. Pop any leftovers in the freezer, so you can enjoy them after Christmas.
3. Add a side of spinach to your smoked salmon and scrambled eggs
Rise and shine on Christmas Day, serve your scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a side of spinach for an extra nutritious hit – it's high in iron and thought to support both heart and bone health. Alternatively, you could have asparagus on the side – it's a rich source of folate and helps support a healthy gut.
4. Switch to sourdough
For a fibre-rich festive breakfast, serve your eggs, smoked salmon and greens on a slice of toasted wholemeal or sourdough bread. Is someone in your family gluten-free? No problem, we reviewed the best gluten-free breads to buy so no one has to miss out.
5. Start your day with fruit
If a savoury breakfast isn't your thing, try our warming winter fruit salad for a light start to the day. Dried figs, prunes, pears and apricots will give you a healthy hit of fibre and keep you energised until lunchtime. Just what you need when there's lots of cooking to be done.
6. Go for a grazing board
Skip the formal starter and serve a grazing board to cut down on calories and fat. Piled high with fresh fruits, wholemeal crackers, healthy dips and nuts, it's a fun way to start the meal. Our classic board has everything your guests could want but if you'd like more inspiration, check out our guide to building the best grazing boards where you can see our vegan, seafood and breakfast grazing board ideas.
7. Make a healthier dip
Instead of serving a lacklustre shop-bought dip, serve homemade veggie dips instead. Blitz squash into hummus, blend beetroot with yogurt and cashews or make your own version of sour cream and onion. Serve with plenty of fresh and crunchy crudités for dunking.
8. Opt for non-alcoholic wine
With so many parties and celebrations during the Christmas period, it's a good idea to stock a few bottles of non-alcoholic wine. From cabernet sauvignon to chardonnay, read our review of the top non-alcoholic wines to make sure you buy the best. Plus, for more alcohol-free fun, make our mulled wine minus the booze.
9. Swap crisps for olives
Ditch the salt-laden crisps and snack on olives when you're feeling peckish. They're rich in antioxidants and have many other impressive health benefits, too.
10. Use oil to make your roasties
Our recipe for smashed roast potatoes uses sunflower oil instead of goose fat or lard. The results are just as golden and crunchy on the outside while retaining a fluffy inside but now they can be enjoyed by vegan guests, too. Alternatively, make your roasties using antioxidant-rich olive oil and reap the benefits. Or make our air fryer roast potatoes – you'll only need a very small amount of oil.
11. Spice up your Brussels sprouts
Pass on the pancetta and serve these charred Brussels sprouts with garlic, chilli & lemon. Not only are they lighter than the meaty alternative, but they can also be enjoyed by veggie and vegan guests at your table.
12. Switch cocktails for mocktails
It can be easy to get carried away with all the festive cheer but you'll sleep better and save yourself calories if you swap the occasional cocktail for a mocktail. Find your favourite alternative drinks in our collection of Christmas mocktails. From clementine mock mojito, to pineapple & ginger punch and non-alcoholic eggnog, we have a tipple for every tastebud.
13. Choose turkey crown for a leaner main
If you don't want to overindulge on the big day, choose a turkey crown for your centrepiece and you'll get all the turkey flavour from lean white meat with less of the fat from the dark meat. I's also a good option if you're catering on a budget, or to fewer people this Christmas. Try our healthy roast turkey crown and serve alongside healthy gravy and veggie stuffing balls.
14. Make veg the star of the show
Leave out the meat and make a stunning centrepiece using root vegetables, lentils, nuts and cheese. The results will be hearty, wholesome and delicious – not to mention cheaper than most cuts of meat. There's no denying our beetroot, stilton & kale wellingtons are worthy of any Christmas table.
If you're looking for Christmas recipes which won't break the bank, check out our best budget Christmas centrepieces.
15. Skim the fat off the gravy
Slash the fat content of your Christmas gravy by skimming the excess oil off the top before decanting into a jug. Another way to make healthier gravy is to start by pouring the roasting tin juices into a large jug, then leaving to cool and using only two tablespoons of the fat before discarding the rest.
16. Serve healthy stuffing balls
Stuffing isn't known for its health benefits. However, our easy vegetarian recipe uses wholemeal bread, almonds, chestnuts, celery and dried apricots to make meat-free balls which are both delicious and better for you.
17. Cater for gluten-free guests
Make sure no one misses out with our gluten-free Christmas recipes. We have delicious mains, smashing sides, indulgent puddings and starters to make you smile, like this festive sausage roll wreath.
18. Add another portion of veg to your plate
Serve another side of nutritious veggies to get as much goodness on your plate as possible. Choose from our braised red cabbage, buttered leeks & peas or whole baked cauliflower. And don't forget to check our other Christmas sides for more ideas.
20. Pick a pavlova for dessert
Who says your festive pud can't involve fresh fruit? Opt for pavlova instead of rich desserts like chocolate tart and traditional Christmas pudding. Pile it high with whatever fresh fruit you have on hand – we like using tangerines but you can also use ginger and pomegranate, to get a good boost of antioxidants.
19. Or a different fruity dessert
If you're not a fan of pavlova, you can incorporate fresh fruit into a number of other delicious desserts, like our chocolate & clementine log. Make sure you choose dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa, and you may reap some of the health benefits.
21. Serve Christmas pudding with low-fat crème fraîche
Luxurious brandy butter may be the traditional choice for dolloping on your Christmas pud but doing so will add extra fat, sugar and calories to your meal. For a treat that's less rich but just as satisfying, serve our lighter Christmas pudding with low-fat crème fraîche.
Not a fan of classic Christmas pudding? Try our chocolate-orange steamed pudding with chocolate custard – it's low in sugar and diabetes-friendly.
22. Add fresh figs to your cheeseboard
Add fresh figs, grapes and walnuts to your cheeseboard, instead of sugar-laden chutney. The contrast of textures and flavours both looks and tastes wonderful. If you'd like a touch more sweetness, try drizzling honey over one of the cheeses.
Build the ultimate cheeseboard with our helpful guide.
23. Swap five chocolates for a slice of fruity cake
After Christmas lunch, put your feet up and enjoy a festive film with a slice of boiled fruit cake instead of reaching for the chocolates. The number of calories may be the same but you'll get more nutrients from the dried fruit than you would from refined sugar.
25. Make the most of leftovers
When you're in need of a flavour mix up, take leftover veg and turn it into a delicious, colourful meal with our Christmas leftover salad recipes. This hearty dish combines cumin-roasted carrots, chickpeas, mint, nuts, spinach and salty feta – we have lots more fresh and crunchy dishes to try.
26. Enjoy a hearty casserole
While we're on the subject of leftovers, if you have any pigs in blankets which didn't get eaten, roast them with carrots, parsnips and onion then serve with mashed potato or leftover roasties for a seriously comforting supper. This is the sort of rib-sticking food you can enjoy after a lovely Boxing Day walk.
27. Add an extra handful of parsley into your stuffing
Parsley is packed with vitamins and antioxidants – just one tablespoon of fresh parsley provides more than 70% of your recommended vitamin K intake. Incorporate it into your meal with our herby sausage, apple & sourdough stuffing. Another option for making healthier sausage stuffing is to use wholesome granary breadcrumbs.
28. Go nuts for good fats
During the festive period, follow tradition and put out bowls of nuts. Not only does this curb hunger pangs between meals, it also gives a boost of good fats.
Want more Christmas inspiration? Try these...
Do you have any tips for eating a little healthier at Christmas? Let us know in the comments below.