It seems wrong to call a holiday meal a ‘light dinner.’ If we’re telling it like it is, we’d be better off naming it the ‘Christmas Feast’ or ‘The Annual Homage to Fat, Sugar and Carbs’ or ‘Let’s Get Our Santa Bellies On 2014.’ After all, it’s the excess calories that make it such a good meal. But what if it were possible to serve a healthier holiday meal without sacrificing a bite of flavour? You’d do it, right?
Meet Chef Jo Lusted, the chef, TV host and author of Dish Do-Over. She is an expert on healthy ingredient swaps, but she’s also a realist and a big fan of traditional Christmas dinner. Lusted knows that your Uncle Fred will never talk to you again if you try switching the stuffing for baked lentils. “Don’t stray too far from the classics,” she advises, but do follow her subtle tips and you’ll be the only one who knows that the best Christmas dinner your family has ever had is also the healthiest.
Finally, a healthy holiday menu that doesn’t suck
App tip: Veg it up!“Do something interesting,” with your crudité platter, says Lusted, and the visual treat will distract from the high health factor. Check out this guide to creating gorgeous veg plates, and don’t be afraid to include fruit-based apps like these pears with goat cheese and cranberries.Spache the Spatula; Maya Visnyei
App tip: Add proteinSwap bread-based appetizers for protein-rich treats and your guests will be so happy gobbling they’ll forget all about the lost carbs. Chicken kabobs, shrimp with cocktail sauce, turkey meatballs or Chef Lusted’s turkey sausage rolls will all satisfy nibblers. Gina Kleinworth for Kleinworth & Co.; © Mike McColl for HarperCollins Canada, all rights reserved; A Family Feast; The Healthy Maven
App tip: Ditch the potato chips“Everyone puts out chips,” says Chef Lusted, and because chips are amazing, they get eaten. Satisfy the urge to crunch with make-ahead alternatives like baked pink beet chips and salt and vinegar Brussels sprouts chips. Serve alongside a protein-rich vegetarian dip, like this roasted vegetable chickpea pate.The View From Great Island; The Healthy Maven; Amuse Your Bouche
Sides tip: Veg it up some moreWith a little effort – a delightful winter topping here, a whimsical broccoli slaw there – salads become standout sides. As for roasted root vegetables, mist them with olive oil instead of drowning them in turkey fat and they’ll be crispier and healthier. Maya Visnyei; Renee’s Kitchen Adventures; A Family Feast
Sides tip: Mash cauliflower into potatoesA veggie puree like this celery root and cauliflower blend is healthiest, but most guests will prefer a mix of cauliflower and potato. It’s hard to detect the difference from traditional mash, says Chef Jo, but it saves about 100 calories per cup.Gourmande In The Kitchen; Gibson & Smith
Sides tip: Go with the grainStuffing and dressing are just as good with higher fibre whole grain breads and loads of vegetables, as with this veggie-heavy classic dressing. Lusted also suggests gluten-free alternatives like this pumpkin cornbread stuffing. Gibson & Smith; The Healthy Maven
Turkey tip: Herb it upSeason turkey under its skin, advises Chef Jo, and the flavours will seep into the meat. This way, fat-conscious guests can enjoy seasoned, skinless bites. Try this roast turkey with sage, onions and red wine gravy, or consider brining your turkey for moister meat. Gibson & Smith; A Family Feast
Sauce tip: Be boldCanned cranberry sauce needs a lot of sugar for flavour, but this ginger-rich, spiced version provides so much pizzazz that less is needed. If you’re making traditional gravy, Chef Lusted recommends putting it in the freezer for easier and more effective fat removal. Gibson & Smith
Dessert tip: Make it fruity“People feel obligated to have dessert,” says Chef Lusted, “so I think you should give them options.” She recommends including fresh fruit with every dessert platter, and remembering not to force sweets on your guests.Thinkstock
Dessert tip: Cut the crustSkip double-crust pies, says Chef Lusted, and focus on fruit. This apple pie with crumble topping contains more apple than crust, and these red wine poached pears are sweet without being too filling. A minty yogurt smoothie is also a rich, sweet and relatively healthful way to cap a meal.Roti ‘N Rice, The Foodie Affair
Dessert tip: Offer little bitesEnergy bites are tiny treats that finish a meal without finishing you. "It’s a little sweet you can pop in your mouth instead of eating a whole piece of pie," says Lusted. From lemon vanilla energy balls to chocolate matcha balls to key lime pistachio bites, you can choose the flavours you and your guests love best.The Healthy Maven
Drinks tip: Don’t forget them!“When I walk in the door of my sister’s house, the first thing we have is a rum and eggnog,” laughs Lusted. Keep your traditional grog, but lighten it up a little with her skim milk version, which saves 200 calories PER CUP.Photo from Dish Do-Over © 2014 by Jo Lusted. Photography © Mike McColl. Published by HarperCollins Canada. All rights reserved.