Victorian State Public Health Nutritionist, Veronica Graham shows us how to cook a light and healthy Christmas meal without overindulging. Whatever way you celebrate, there are ways to eat healthily over the festive season!
Christmas is a time where people often over indulge in food and drink and they don’t feel that great about it. It doesn’t need to be that way. There are lots of things that you can do that will make your Christmas lunch healthy and light.

What we’re going to do for our Christmas lunch is give really healthy options for the Christmas meal. All of them have lots of vegetables in them and that’s important if you want to keep healthy. It’s important that you keep eating vegetables. Not only do they look good, they taste good.

Healthy starters

The first one we’re going to start with is asparagus and cheese bruschetta. Now this is particularly good. Asparagus is in season over the Christmas period. It’s an amazingly nutrient-dense food. It’s very high in B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, manganese and heaps of others. In fact it’s overwhelming. It’s a real power-pack of nutrition. Very low in calories and salt. It’s good to include in bruschetta and also your salads. Lots of things you can do with asparagus.

What we’ve got here is really good quality bread, it can be white or wholemeal. It’s been cut on the diagonal and toasted in the oven. It’s got a slight brush of olive oil on it. What we’re going to do now is really easy. Add one piece of low fat mozzarella which will melt down beautifully and this asparagus has been cut in half and sat in boiling water for 1 minute – we haven’t microwaved it or boiled it. It’s just been blanched in hot water. Very easy yet again. I’ll just make these up in minutes flat.

So we’ll pop them in the oven now and just until the cheese has melted.

Another healthy and festive starter for the Christmas lunch is the salmon and cucumber concept here. We’ve got a dry cracker here, add a slice of cucumber. Now if you have people who are gluten intolerant, you don’t have to use the cracker - use the cucumber as the cracker. That works just as well.

Using a different knife, add a smear of low fat ricotta. You can also use fetta or other low fat cheese. Using a different knife again, add some smoked salmon and top it off with some dill. A really taste sensation – and healthy snack.

Cranberry and mint soda

A really great idea for a Christmas festive drink is this combination of cranberry juice and the juice has been made into ice cubes. Cranberries are absolutely fantastic fruit – they are full of vitamin c, fibre and very rich in antioxidants which are great for cardiovascular health and for your immune system.

Just to give it some absolute beautiful colour and taste and flavour, we’ve got some fresh mint from the garden. Throw a few in there. You can do jug by jug or glass by glass – it doesn’t really matter. I’ve got a glass here happening and a jug for the family.

Great job for the children to do, if they want to rip the mint leaves up and put them in. The smell is divine - it’s absolutely magnificent.

This drink gives a nice change from the lemon and water which is also lovely.

The colours are Christmas - it’s a bit different and so healthy.

If you don’t like plain soda water you can use plain water, but this just gives it a bit of bubble and fizz. Gorgeous! Look at that, absolutely stunning.

What will happen of course is that the cranberry ice cubes will melt and it will be a mildly sweet drink - mainly water. Wow does that look good.

A very festive and very healthy Christmas drink. Plain soda water, cranberry juice into ice cubes, packed with anti oxidants and fresh mint leaves.

Cheers.

That is very good, that is so good!

Salads

This is about quick and easy Christmas day. We don’t want people stuck in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove.

These vegetables can be done the day before and put in the fridge. All I’d have to do on Christmas day is combine and it’s really easy.

Open a pack of spinach, open a can of chick peas, soak some cous cous and this I prepared the day before Christmas.

This will be my salad bowl today. Fold that in, they are perfectly cooked and the aroma coming off this is magnificent actually. Throw the chick peas in as well – very easy. I’ll start with some of the spinach and see how I go. This salad feels very hearty but it’s not a heavy salad – it won’t make you feel that you’ve overdone things. Packed with vegetables again. Spinach leaves are a fantastic source of folate, other vitamins, iron.

I’m going to add a tiny bit of oil to give it a bit of moisture. That’s one table spoon in there of olive oil.

There you go, roasted vegetable, chickpea and couscous salad.

Another salad for the healthy Christmas lunch is a big green salad – and you can never go wrong with greens, packed full of nutrition, look good and they won’t weigh the guests down. Everyone will eat them and feel fabulous. This one is particularly green.

This starts off with a bed of English spinach. We’ve got some green beans that have been topped and tailed and sat in boiling water for 30 seconds. We’ve got snow peas, the same treatment – blanched in boiling water. Not microwaved or boiled – in they go.

Because we used the asparagus in the bruchetta, we had all the lovely stalks left over. We’ve just blanched these in hot water, we don’t want to waste any vegetables here.

Asparagus are seasonal over Christmas so really good to include so we’re going to add them in as well.

There are so many serves of vegetables here, you’ll be brimming.

Next we add the olives. You don’t have to use them but they’re a good option. You can use green or marinated but we’re using kalamata olives.

Once again, capers are an optional extra. You could add some crumbed fetta, leave the capers. There are lots of things you can do to vary this.

Finally, we’re going to add some toasted pine nuts to add some more crunch and flavour.

You don’t need to dress this – this could be another nude salad – a no dressing salad and that would be fine as is. But if you do want to add some dressing, a teenie bit of balsamic vinegar – that’s half a tablespoon. And a tiny bit of olive oil, about the same amount.

Ready to go – green bean, pine nut, olive salad.

Vegetarian stuffed mushrooms

This is pretty easy and again, this is a meal you’d get ready the day before.

I’m going to put the mushroom stalks, chopped, into the falafel mix. The falafel mix has been soaking. It’s usually made into balls and fried but in this case we’re not going to do that – we’re going to use it as a base for the stuffed mushrooms.

We’re going to put a piece of tomato down the bottom as a surprise and we’re going to top it with the falafel and mushroom mix. Not too thick and we want it to cook through – it’s so easy, and once again it’s the day before you’d do this and have them ready in the fridge to put in the oven.

Depending on taste you can add some basil, or not – we’ll do some without. And some grated parmesan on top to give it some flavour and that lovely golden colour when the cheese melts down. And that is one half done and that took minutes.

The other one is as easy. It’s just frozen spinach which is great to use, inexpensive, convenient. Mix it with some ricotta – it’s about 50/50 but I have a bit more spinach there. Add 1 egg.

All of these recipes are extremely healthy – you’re not going to feel full and over-indulged at the end of Christmas lunch. In fact you’ll have increased your serves of vegetables so much.

Spoon them in – how easy is this? Beyond easy really.

Quickly spoon them in. This combination of ricotta and spinach is really popular. People put it in pasta, pastry. It’s a real crowd-pleaser. Very few people who don’t like it. Even if you have people who usually eat a lot of meat, they’ll tend to like these concepts here.

Bit of parmesan on top and that’s it – in the oven until the mushrooms are cooked – about 20 minutes, no more. Keep an eye on them, you don’t want them to fall apart.

And there you have a very nutritious, healthy, vegetable-packed part of the festive lunch.

Antoinette’s Festive Chicken

So what we’re going to do now is put Antoinette’s Festive Chicken dish together.

We’re going to combine all the ingredients together for the stuffing and you can see how much fruit and veg there is – red capsicum, onion, zucchini, capsicum, parmesan and wholemeal fresh bread crumbs. We’ll combine that with two eggs and pop it under the skin of the chicken and then the rest in the cavity of the chicken and fill any gaps with some of these brown onions and then finally we’re going to brush the chicken with this combination of French mustard and dry mustard then we’ll put it in the oven and that’s it we can forget about it.

First thing the onion and then – it doesn’t really matter what order because it’s all going to be mixed up together. The capsicum, all finely chopped. We’ve got some great Christmas colours here. Basically all in together. And remember that this can all be done the day before – you wouldn’t be doing this on Christmas Day.

This is for two chickens or for one turkey. If you’re only having one chicken, you can halve the recipe. Doesn’t it look gorgeous! It looks so festive with those reds and greens coming through. I’m just going to crack two eggs in and mix that in. Really easy. And that will just help it bind together.

Pop it in there – right under, as far as you can without tearing the skin.

If you’re a small family or one or two people and you didn’t want the whole chicken, you can do this same dish with small pieces like the thigh and leg – it works just as well.

You can see that these chickens are sitting on a rack in a baking dish. That’s fantastic as we can put water in the bottom of the baking dish and the oil and fats will just drip into the dish. We won’t be using it, we’ll be discarding that. I know a lot of people make Christmas gravy out of it, but this is a bit different, this is Christmas Day the healthy way.

The rest of the stuffing, and there’s heaps of it, will go in the middle. There’s no way you can do this with a spoon – you just have to have nice clean hands for this.

The final step of Antoinette’s Festive Chicken or turkey, we’re just going to get this mixture of dried mustard, French mustard and olive oil. We’re just going to brush this over the top. That will give it some extra flavour and some colour.

Because we’re not using oil, just put some plain water in the bottom of the baking tray. That will steam up and help cook the underside of the chicken and keep it moist.

Antoinette’s Festive Chickens are ready to go in the oven – we’re going to put them there for an hour and a half. Basically until it’s golden brown and cooked through.

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