Like many Filipinos, I have been used to eating rich dishes every Christmas season. Sumptuous meat dishes such as lechon, ham, morcon, embutido, and roast chicken would always be present in buffet tables. For dessert, there would be leche flan, fruit salad, ubeng halaya, kakanin, and the family’s favorite cakes.
Consequently, post-holiday troubles often include unwanted weight gain, a heavy and sluggish feeling, and even diet-related illnesses. Moreover, the celebration is not limited to only one during the season. Holiday-related events, reunions, and Christmas parties that one has to attend could start as early as November and end around January—that’s quite a number of parties! Add to the food consumed at those events the edible gifts such as fruit cakes, candy bars, food for the gods, and other Christmas sweets and treats. Thinking about all those sugar and fats is enough to make one shudder.
A few years ago I made a conscious decision to prepare and serve healthy dishes as often and as much as possible during the holiday season. My son was around eight years old at the time, and I didn’t want him to get used to the kind of food culture I had grown up with. Fortunately, most of my loved ones I celebrate Christmas with are also healthy eaters. They won’t mind a little meat once in a while, but mostly they are agreeable to wholesome food choices even for our usual family get-togethers.
I realized that it is much cheaper to celebrate this way, and definitely healthier for everyone. The preparation time would probably take longer because you can’t pick up just anything from the store or the restaurant. But there are places that deliver healthy dishes, or stores where you can buy wholesome alternatives. However, it is advisable to prepare most of it yourself. You can even get your children, nieces, and nephews to help out and turn cooking time into a bonding session!
Here are some ideas that might help you if you want to start serving healthy dishes this holiday season.
1. Serve a lot of greens. This doesn’t take much adjustment since you can prepare the same favorite dishes, only with more vegetables. For example, I still make pancit but instead of loading it up with pork, I include a lot of carrots, crunchy snow peas, and cabbage. You can take it to another level by replacing meat with fried tofu or a meat substitute. Trust me, it will taste almost the same, but without all the fats.
Check where you can buy organic vegetables in Metro Manila here
2. Skip the canned goods. For example, when making fruit salad, use fresh instead of canned fruits. Get some ripe papaya, sweet bananas, apples, grapes, honeydew, and kiwi or pear. You can still toss them in cream if you want to, or you can opt to just squeeze some lemon over them and put the bowl in the fridge a few hours before serving. This will make the fruits stay fresh and taste good.
3. Bake your own pastries. If you know how to bake, then consider baking your own bread, cookies, or cakes. Choose wholesome and organic ingredients such as steel-cut oatmeal, cranberries (for your bread or cookies), organic raisins, bananas, and carrots (for bread), and nuts like cashews, walnuts, and pili. All of these would make your baked goodies nutritious and wonderful. You can even wrap them up in fancy paper or put them in holiday-themed boxes and give them away as gifts!
4. Pay attention to drinks. It would be good if you can skip the soda and all the canned juices or bottled drinks that are chockful of sweeteners and preservatives. A refreshing after-dinner drink sans the guilt that I like to make is pandan tea. Simply boil some pandan leaves, then squeeze calamansi or lemon in the tea. You can substitute (or add) lemongrass to the pandan. Add brown sugar, honey, or muscovado. Chill, serve, and enjoy. Kids seem to enjoy drinking it, too!
5. Befriend your blender. I have discovered that the blender can help in whipping up amazingly delicious and nutritious kitchen output, like the pumpkin soup! Christmas time would be cozier as you and your loved ones gather around steaming bowls of healthy vegetable soup. Make it more exciting by adding carrots, potatoes, celery and greens into the blender and see your family members devour vegetables like they never used to! Smoothies are another great idea—you can also try it for dessert.
Doing these simple steps and changing how and what you eat during holidays will make you stay happy long after the celebrations are over. Aside from keeping off the weight and feeling good physically, you will also have more strength and energy to go through the hustle and bustle of the season. Moreover, you can save more money! From my personal experience, I can guarantee that it doesn’t take too much effort to cook and eat healthy for the holidays.
Cheers to a healthy and happy holidays!