I absolutely love Christmas for sooo many reasons, and a lot of it has to do with my faith obviously, but I also love that we still get some time to slow down and enjoy just being family in a world that is increasingly leaning towards capitalism with an obsession for productivity.
The truth is that it SHOULD be a time for stress free rest and rejuvenation, but the reality for so many of us is a far cry from that. I think I read somewhere that more family tensions and breakdowns happen during Christmas (don’t quote me on that), and it’s totally understandable!
For some, it’s the appeasing of the in-laws with your ‘best’ Christmas dinner or hosting with a house full of guests when all you want to do is run away. For others, it may be not having a sufficient budget to buy everyone the gifts they want (the kids will be devastated!!). And let’s not mention having to get along with that family member that you’ve managed to avoid since last Christmas!
And then there’s the food and all the indulgence that comes with it! Now by all means, Christmas only happens once a year and I 100% believe that you should eat whatever makes you happy! Not gonna tell you to restrict yourselves here. Buuuut, if eating whatever you want results in you having indigestion and feeling sluggard afterwards, then I think it’s worth exploring a better way to strategise around that *wink wink*.
So instead of coming up with a Christmas recipe this year, I thought it would be more worthwhile to give you some tips for a healthy & stress free Christmas (and yes, prioritising your mental health absolutely counts towards being healthy) that I learned after years of consistently hosting Christmas lunches + dinners.
My top 10 tips for a healthy and stress free Christmas
1. Buy fresh wholefoods and organic where possible
The best way to make sure that you’re getting in the most nutrients into your body is to buy fresh whole foods and organic where you can. And it really doesn’t have to be complicated. (I wrote a more detailed blog post about this which you can read here.) Here are some ideas that you can take on board this Christmas:
Add lots of veg to your Christmas lunch or dinner, this can be in the form of roast veg, veggies dips or warm winter salads.
Making sure that your centrepiece roast dish (be it a roast turkey or nut roast if you’re vegetarian/vegan) is organic.
Try to avoid a lot of processed foods where you can (such as ready made canapes and appetisers), as the less you include the better you will feel afterwards.
Swap fizzy drinks or processed juice (like juice from concentrate) with freshly pressed juice and sparkling water are a great way of reducing the amount of sugar you consume. Winter is also a great time to up your intake of herbal teas as an alternative.
You can also swap snacks like crisps for nuts as a more wholesome and protein packed alternative.
Don’t feel the need to make all the changes I’ve mentioned above all in one go. Do what you feel works best for you right now where you’re at. It’s all about making small changes as you go along, one healthy habit at a time.
2. Make your own desserts
Ready made desserts are usually jam packed with sugar and unhealthy trans fats. A very simple option would be to make your own healthier version at home! That’s personally my favourite part of Christmas dinner. At least that way, you know exactly what you’ve put into your dessert, and you can also control how much goes into it.
I’ve made these super addictive chocolate fudge energy balls for Christmas last year that are only sweetened with fruit, require no baking and taste incredibly good!
Pinterest is also a fantastic tool to find healthy recipes that are refined sugar free, so go ahead and start pinning!
3. Keep it simple
I can’t stress this enough, ESPECIALLY if you’re having a lot of people over for Christmas.
Christmas dinner is not the time to be trying out Gordon Ramsay recipes for the first time! Stick to what you know, and narrow down new recipes to 1 or 2 items, but not the entire dinner!
I know it’s very easy to fall into the dinner host trap of trying to impress everybody, but you’re just setting yourself up for having a stressful time. Honestly, people pleasing is just not worth the hassle or stress.
Pick recipes that are flavourful yet simple. Allow the roast turkey (or whatever your main roast is) to be the only thing that takes more than an hour to cook.
There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with featuring regular family favourites. It’ll save you so much time as you don’t need as much brain power as when trying out a new recipe, plus you have the added benefit of knowing that everyone is gonna love it, so why not?!!
4. Meal prep well beforehand
So that you don’t have to spend the whole day in the kitchen on Christmas day, where’s the fun in that?! It takes a little organising and planning but it absolutely pays off in the end. So this is usually how I go about it:
I consult with the fam to discuss the Christmas menu (our Christmas is by no means traditional, we just cook whatever our favourite dishes are so anything from roast leg of lamb to pesto + pasta to tabbouleh, it all goes in!).
I create a shopping list and buy whatever I can in advance to avoid the Christmas rush (things that I can freeze or keep in the pantry, so all the meat, pulses, nuts, grains and condiments). I buy the fresh produce a couple of days before Christmas.
Then I look at what each meal entails in terms of preparation. Do the nuts or grains require soaking? Can I chop some veg or meat beforehand? Is there anything I can do 1 or 2 days before Christmas day without the food going off? I then put together a 2-3 day pre-Christmas to do list.
I always make desserts and any stews or curries on Christmas eve as they keep well in the fridge, so that’s a big thing off my mind and then I can mainly focus on the roast on D-day and cooking grains and veg.
5. Portion control
I realise this may be a hard one for a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be. And I speak as a fellow my-eyes-are-bigger-than-my-stomach victim (side note, don’t go shopping when you’re hungry, that’s just a bad idea).
So rather than piling on the food mountain onto your plate, serve yourself in rounds. Eat little, chew thoroughly and then if you are still hungry go and grab some more. That way you only eat what you need, without putting your digestive system under stress (unless of course your family members are ravenous wolves, then by all means my friend, pile on that food mountain - survival of the fittest is of utmost importance).
A great tip to help you with portion control is to simply grab a smaller plate, there’s only so much food you can pile on a small plate right??
6. Get some movement in
Look, I’m not asking you to go to the gym on Christmas day coz that would be cray cray. What I simply mean is try to do some light exercise of some kind to help you digest all that food so you don’t feel like a couch potato.
Anything from taking a short walk in the crisp cold with the fam to playing Just Dance on the Xbox (or whatever is the latest game or console out there, can’t keep up with the kids these days) with everyone. It really is a lot of fun and fantastic for your physical and mental health!
7. Go easy on the booze
Easy for me to say as we don’t really drink as a family. But if you do, try to limit how many units of alcohol you take to no more than 2 units per day to lower the risk of liver damage amongst other health issues that regular alcohol consumption has been linked to.
It is possible to have fun and enjoy time with your loved ones without the alcohol. Allow the enjoyment of having a drink to be just that, without it having to affect your health or relationships.
8. Stick to a budget
Finances can be a leading cause of stress during the holidays. And with all the consumerism that we see on TV and shop fronts, it’s so easy to feel like you are trapped and that you HAVE TO buy things that you can’t actually afford.
I’m not against buying gifts for your loved ones, I think it’s a beautiful thing! But I also think it’s important to live sustainably and within your means. Having a budget that you can work with is a great way to help you make decisions about how much you can buy, and when things are beyond your affordability you can always get creative. Which leads us to my next two points.
9. Make your own gifts
Again, this really doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s such a beautiful and unique way of letting your family and friends know that they mean a lot to you! This is something that I only recently got into, and I love making food for my friends and family!
You can make anything that will keep well in the fridge, like pickles, jams/conserve, chutneys or nut butters. And as my gift TO YOU, I hooked you up with a refined sugar free chocolate almond butter spread with Christmas spices that is beeyootiful! Check it out here.
10. Give back
There is nothing like serving others that gives you the priceless gift of perspective and gratitude.
And you can do it in a way that works around you, your time and resources. Also, if you are a parent, it’s a great opportunity to teach your kids that there are others who don’t have half as much as they do! It’s an invaluable way of instilling empathy,compassion and gratitude into them which will help them become kind and decent human beings when they grow up (hopefully).
What can you do? Feed the homeless? Sponsor a child out of poverty? Invite someone who doesn’t have family around for dinner? Allow this time to be a time of reflection on the past year and how much you have to be thankful for.
Do you have any other tips on how to have a healthy and stress free Christmas? I know mine is by no means exhaustive!
Wishing you all a peaceful and joy filled Christmas and new year.
With lots of love from our family to yours,