How to avoid eating too much on Christmas Day

by Jennifer Bowden / 24 December, 2017
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Wondering how to avoid calorie traps at Christmas? Menu planning and plenty of veges are the answer.

Christmas Day is done and dusted in 24 hours, so by all means let’s enjoy the celebration. But thanks to pre-Christmas parties and post-Christmas supermarket promotions, the festive season tends to run and run. The effects of foodie presents and piles of leftovers can take a toll on the body.

So rather than following the Christmas marketing hype, create your own healthy celebration – starting with wholesome foodie presents, a survival plan for the supermarket and some simple tips for Christmas menu planning.

Enter any supermarket or department store and you’ll be confronted by displays of boxed chocolates, tins of cookies and other high-sugar goods. Add to that end-of-aisle displays offering two-for-one packs of fruit mince pies, deals on wine and soft drinks and checkout counters laden with more sugary items.

“Impulse marketing” is the name given to placement of high-energy occasional foods in prominent places within supermarkets, petrol stations and department stores. The goal is simple – to get you to make a spur-of-the-moment, emotion-driven purchase triggered by seeing the product, notes a New England Journal of Medicine article.

Product placement within stores is the most important determinant of sales, because the simple fact is the longer you look at a display, the more likely you are to buy something from it. It’s almost impossible to avoid end-of-aisle displays and, unsurprisingly, these goods typically account for about 30% of all supermarket sales, the journal says. Which explains why manufacturers are willing to pay supermarkets a fee to stack their products in those positions.

To thwart festive-season impulse marketing, plan your purchases. The simple way is to make – and stick to – a shopping list.

The less time you spend looking at impulse displays, the less likely you are to buy something on the spur of the moment. So if you’re serious about avoiding unwanted sugary goods, quickly pass the displays by and get on with your real shopping.

When it comes to gift ideas, think outside the chocolate box. Consider such things as cookbooks or magazine subscriptions, instead.

Jamie Oliver.

Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food, for example, is packed with simple meal ideas that encourage the use of real ingredients to create delicious home-made meals. Magazines such as Recipes+ and the NZ Listener are other sources of healthy eating tips.

Kitchen gadgets can also make good gifts. A vegetable spiraliser, for instance, is a simple tool for turning vegetables such as zucchini, carrots and kumara into strands for use in salads or for cooking as alternatives to noodles or spaghetti. A hand-turned spiraliser will set you back about $30, and an electric model with all the bells and whistles will go for about $100.

Gourmet teas and coffees are attractively packaged sugar-free options that come in a range of flavours and go well with gifts of tea cups and pots and coffee cups and makers.

The holidays are also barbecue season and as well as the usual implements, reusable non-stick Teflon barbecue mats, which make it easier to cook veges and eggs, are a novel gift idea. Other ideas for barbecuers are gourmet items such as vinaigrette salad dressings, New Zealand olive oil and relishes and chutneys.

Planning is the key to creating a healthy Christmas meal. Decide on the menu and let that guide you at the supermarket.

Make seasonal vegetable dishes the stars of your menu, starting with nibbles. A platter of brightly coloured vegetables – sticks of asparagus, green beans, carrots and chopped capsicum and cucumber, along with sweet baby tomatoes, sugar snap peas, raw broccoli and cauliflower – makes a good starter. Crunchy, raw vegetables go well with dips such as yogurt-based tzatziki or flavoured hummus.

Vegetables are a good basis for the main meal, too, whether that’s a platter of steamed green beans and asparagus, a leafy green salad, or stuffed mushrooms or capsicums. There are endless healthy and delicious options.

If you’re going down the traditional roast route, do potatoes and kumara with their skins on to get the benefit of the fibre and nutrients that would otherwise be lost.

Serving from a side table rather than the dining table will slow down return trips for seconds. If you’re having a buffet-style meal, take a leaf out of the marketers’ book and arrange the food platters so people load up with non-starchy vegetables first, before helping themselves to meat and root vegetables. That way people are encouraged to eat more of what’s best for them.

Make jugs of still and sparkling water available on the dining and buffet tables so there’s an option other than calorie-filled alcohol and soft drinks. If wine, juice and soft drinks are on a separate table, the extra walk will slow everyone’s intake.

The last course needn’t be a sugar hit, either. Seasonal fruit can form the basis of desserts such as fruit salads, roasted and barbecued fruit and fruit-topped pavlovas. Berries and stone fruit such as peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots make summer desserts both a delicious and healthy option.

With all that goodness tucked away, have a Merry Christmas and healthy New Year.

This article was first published in the December 23, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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