Reign it in or let it all hang out this Christmas?

I spent a lot of time planning some healthy balanced dishes to include in my menu plans over the coming weeks. I am all about menu planning, it is my number one TOP TIP piece of advice to any busy person trying to keep their diet on track and the lead up to Christmas has got to be the worst! Before you know it, boom, you are trailing in it’s wake, getting home late from school nativity plays, Christmas concerts, impromptu drinks, the cupboard is bare and all you can rustle up is some cheese on toast and a packet of biscuits…. the dishes in my Christmas Menu are not  exactly there for the rustling, but if you put aside a bit of time at the weekend, you can have a fridge full of treats to keep you on track and feeling your best. Have a read and you will find all the recipes listed in the post below x

Omega-3 is an Essential Fatty Acid for good reason; it is essential to support a healthy heart and brain as well as helping to manage blood sugar, control diabetes and strengthen bones, but Omega-3 is also important for healthy nourished skin, something which can be sorely lacking at Christmas. Too many late boozy nights leave us dehydrated and our skin sluggish – so our starters contain a variety of ingredients high in Omega-3. Mackerel pâté is quick to make and can be prepared in advance, so that you always have something to feed to drop-in guests. The date and goats cheese bites have added walnuts which are pretty much the best  vegetarian source of Omega-3 (along with flax seeds and chia seeds).

Most shop-bought canapés are made with pastry, high in pro-inflammatory Omega-6 as well as refined white flour which will spike your blood sugar levels – the combination leaves us  feeling stressed out and grumpy.

Instead I have included a pumpernickel bread and homemade oatcakes, both high in fibre and low on Glycemic Index, shown to help promote weight loss . I often make a big batch of oatcakes in advance (they store well in an airtight tin) and you can also freeze the dough. The kids love helping with the cutting out, smaller shapes are perfect for party food, and larger oatcakes are great for lunches alongside pâté, cheese, soups and my personal favourite… shop bought hummus!

Kimchi  (recipe below) can be substituted for a few small capers, a flake of pickled ginger or small slices of pickled gherkin.
Colour, texture and flavor are vital to encourage all the family to indulge in some healthy new treats over the Christmas period. Christmas is a time so entrenched in tradition that introducing new dishes must be handled with diplomacy.

So, the main dishes served here are not designed to replace the turkey and roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts, (although trust me when I say that sprouts can be the most delicious dish, sautéed lightly with fresh ginger and sesame seeds…) but these are dishes are to accompany your traditional table.

Walnuts as we discussed earlier are a fantastic source of Omega-3; the lentil and walnut loaf would be delicious served as a standalone lunch with a big green salad. Lentils are a good non-meat source of protein for days that you wish to choose something lighter to enjoy.

Raw slaw salads are one of the most useful things to have on hand in the kitchen, they last well, mellowing in intensity as they cook ceviche in the citrus dressing and the inclusion of raw cabbage, fennel and apple. Cabbage is part of the family of cruciferous vegetables, along with sprouts, and the strong smell we all recognize form overcooking the cabbage comes from the phytochemicals known as sulporaphanes. Sulphoraphanes reduce oxidative stress, the damage caused to our bodies from an excess of external and internal toxins; including sugars, alcohol, processed foods. Overcooking destroys these phytochemicals and they are therefore best eaten raw.

Don’t let this put you off cooking an enormous dish of braised red cabbage however. It is always a crowd pleaser, freezes well and leftovers are delicious served alongside an omelette for breakfast!

Christmas is a time when the glycemic load of all our meals creeps up, artisan loaves freshly served alongside homemade soup, handy mince pies and sausage rolls, and of course roast potatoes, gratin potatoes, potatoes dauphinoise, baked potatoes, and then of course fish and chips on New Year’s Day… (or is that just me?)  I know folks who don’t eat potatoes at all during the whole of the rest of the year and suddenly can’t live without them between 24th December and January 2nd. There is nothing wrong with potatoes per say, but to balance our blood sugar levels, thereby managing mood, stress levels, energy balance and ultimately our waistlines it is good to consider a few potato free alternatives.

Cauliflower rice is a well-known replacement for white rice and delicious served with boxing day curries. But quinoa is a simple and easy way to bring together delicious winter dishes. It is a pseudo grain, that is to say it is a seed, a good source of protein, but also a source of high fibre carbohydrate, so ensure you stock up on those fabulously easy pouches to have on hand… a few snips of spring onion, some fresh squeezed lemon juice and it becomes a tasty blank canvas for anything you wish to add to it.

Speaking of seeds. Can I recommend making a large jar of toasted nuts and seeds to keep in the cupboard. They will add instant crunch, protein and healthy fats to most dishes. A sprinkle over some soaked chia or overnight oats in the morning. Leftover pumpernickel toast with avocado and omega-sprinkles for brekkie or lunch. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds or toasted sesame seeds on your soup. An excellent source of both zinc and magnesium, Dr Michael Mosely has recently been talking about magnesium as a useful supplement for depression, migraine, PMS, sleep and insomnia. Magnesium is a helper molecule, which is implicated in hundreds of processes in the body and the symptoms of deficiency are standard for many people over the Christmas period.

Puddings

Dark Chocolate Bark with cranberries and pistachio nuts
Protein cacao truffle Christmas Puds

Following on from talking about magnesium strikes me as a good time to introduce the benefit of dark chocolate. Rich in antioxidants and another good source of magnesium, I wanted to include my chocolate bark recipe. ( it is not really a recipe; just melt a couple of cars of Lindt 85% dark, in a bowl over a simmering pan, once melted pour out flat onto baking parchment and sprinkle with jewelled berries, seeds and nuts… a bit of edible gold leaf wouldn’t go amiss either…. no such thing as too much bling!). Christmas to me is always linked to reds and greens, colours which we can easily incorporate into a healthful diet. This bark makes a great gift too, and is always a winner at the end of a meal, when everyone has already consumed more than they comfortably planned on eating, yet there is still room for a little taste of something sweet. I included cranberries because they are heart protective, rich in antioxidants and so perfect for Christmas. Cranberries are very sour, so all the dried ones will contain some added sugar, whilst not as beneficial as fresh, it is the dried ones I recommend you using here. And chocolate truffles, well these are just a more refined version of a regular energy ball, with the almond blitzed really fine, if you don’t have a super strong blender, try using a jar of almond nut butter and adding that to a pack of 9-10 medjool dates instead.. add your raw cacao and once rolled into truffle shapes, roll again in powdered cacao… I swear no-one will know they are not the chocolate and cream version!. This is another job for the children over Christmas, the craft shop in Cranbrook sells little confectionary boxes, they make a great gift. If however these are purely for home then the best way of storing them is in stacked egg boxes in the fridge!

If you would like any more information on any of the things we talked about please get in touch or follow me on instagram where I post daily @thekitchenproject_kent
Love and thanks
Camilla x

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