The festive season puts food front and centre.
While many of us are happy to indulge over Christmas, the extra girth gained seems less appealing once the New Year rolls around.
Weight gain over the festive season is a major contributor to excess yearly weight gain, especially for people who are already carrying more weight than they would like..
But rather than fearing the fare on offer, a few simple considerations when preparing food for Christmas can keep it fun and fulfilling, and healthy too.
With more time to relax, an abundance of sweet summer fruits, and friends and family to share food with, the festive season provides a perfect opportunity to improve your diet and nutrition.
Our tips to help keep the extra kilos at bay and increase fruit and vegetable intake will not only leave you feeling better, but have cancer prevention benefits too.
- Consider portion sizes
While it’s easy to excuse Christmas as an occasion to over-eat, why not consider it a chance to save and savour. Stop and enjoy what you’re consuming. Prepare and serve a little less. Not only will you save money and reduce waste, you won’t be tempted to polish off unwanted extra kilojoules just because they are on the plate. Learn about the guidelines on portion sizes.
- Meat portions
Meat portions are sometimes overlooked when preparing for the holiday season. There is a clear body of evidence which shows that bowel cancer is more common among those who eat the most red and processed meat. To reduce your risk of cancer, Cancer Council recommends eating no more than 700 grams (raw weight) of red meat per week. That’s equivalent to a small 65g serve of cooked meat each day or 2 serves (130g) 3-4 times a week. Find out more about the links between red meat and cancer.
- Serve healthy snacks
Set the scene and serve healthy easy snacks ahead of the main course. It will also keep you and your guests from going hungry and overeating when it’s time for the sit-down meal.
Carrot, celery, capsicum or cucumber sticks, served with guacamole, salsa or a hummus dip, are a quick and easy starter. Homemade potato wedges can also make a great snack.
- Include fruit and vegetables
Whatever style of meal you choose for Christmas, vegetables and fruits make a great accompaniment, and can be served in a host of creative ways.
If you’re serving a hot roast meal, add some of the delicious fresh vegetables in season over summer, such as green beans, potato, squash or sweetcorn.
Or opt for cold cuts and seafood with side salads: use in-season cabbage to make coleslaw; grab some lettuce or salad mix and toss in cherry tomatoes, cucumber and capsicum for an easy garden salad; or use cooled roasted or steamed spuds with low-fat mayonnaise, wholegrain mustard and herbs as the basis of a potato salad.
For dessert, serve up some colourful fruit. Mangoes and cherries are summer favourites that are regulars on Aussie Christmas tables. Go for the easy option and slice up some fresh produce to make a fruit platter. Use tree- or star-shaped cutters to create melon pieces with festive flare. Replace traditional rum balls with those of apricot, fig or date varieties. Keep the trifle heavy on the fruit and low on the cream.
Novelty fruit and vegetable creations for snacks, centrepieces and desserts are great too – think watermelon trees, strawberry Santa hats, banana snowmen … the ideas (you’ll find them on our Healthy Lunch Box Pinterest board) are limited only by imagination. What is a serve of fruit and veg?
- Limit alcohol
Overdoing it on the drinks will not only leave you with a festive season hangover, it will contribute to unwanted weight gain too. If you do opt for alcoholic beverages, try to drink no more than two standard drinks a day. For alcohol alternatives, try a fruity punch, iced tea, or soda water infused with lemon or lime. Add a bit of extra sparkle to non-alcoholic beverages with some fruit- or herb-infused ice cubes.
Instead of using the festive period as an excuse to ditch exercise, why not use the break from work and other daily demands as an opportunity to get moving?
Make the most of the summer weather and meet a friend for a walk or a swim. Ride a bike with the kids. Or play a game of backyard cricket with friends and family at your Christmas or New Year’s gathering.
Being physically active is an important way you can reduce your risk of cancer.
Making a few healthy swaps to the traditional Christmas menu can still bring the Christmas cheer to all while making the festive period that little bit healthier. Cancer Council is offering easy, delicious healthy alternatives to the traditional Christmas feast this festive season, with the Festive Cookbook.
The Festive Cookbook contains over 30 recipes offering all the Christmas favourites, including roast dinners, seafood platters, summer salads and of course a Christmas pudding for dessert.
The cookbook is available for free download here: www.cancercouncil.com.au/festive-cookbook/
 Schoeller DA, 2014, ‘The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight’, Physiology & Behavior, Vol. 134, pp. 66-9