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Festive health hacks

Keep Christmas hosting happy, with dietitian Karissa Woolfe’s sure-fire shortcuts – from menu to clean-up.

We all know entertaining can be stressful. In fact, a recent Australian survey found more than half of the respondents thought throwing a dinner party is more stressful than going to work, and catering for special dietary requirements is the number one stress factor in deciding what to cook for a large crowd.

Surely it doesn’t have to be this hard? No it doesn’t. Follow these shortcuts, lighten your load and start to celebrate and feel great this Christmas.

Menu planning

Catering for a large group can prove a handful, especially when you have to factor in special diets. Here are three easy ways everyone can eat well this holiday season:

  1. Encourage BYO
    Ask your guests to bring a plate to share but keep food safety in mind when they ask what to bring. If they’re travelling more than an hour, suggest food that doesn’t require any heating or refrigerating. This guarantees everyone will have something that’s safe to eat.
  2.  Chill out
    A no-cook menu saves time and means less fuss in the kitchen on a hot summer day. The choices are often healthier and you don’t even have to open the oven.Try these no-fuss ideas:
    nibbles – unsalted nuts, hummus and crudités
    mains – seafood, cold roasted chicken, salads (including grains and/or legumes)
    desserts – fresh cherries, individual frozen treats, ice cream in a cone.
  3. Barbecue to the rescue
    Meat and vege skewers make it easy to serve healthy portions alongside salads and are high in fibre. You can even do the bulk of your food prep ahead of time, which frees you up to socialise.Here are three ways to get in more veges:
    grilled corn – season with cracked black pepper and a squeeze of lime
    vege burgers – swap meat patties for grilled portobello mushrooms
    salads – a garden salad is simple to toss together at the last minute.

In the kitchen

Time in the kitchen steals you away from enjoying festivities with your guests who, after all, came to see you, not just to eat. Plus, cooking for a crowd can increase stress levels. Here are four things to do beforehand so everything goes well on the day:

  • For dips – buy dips, and serve with cut celery, Lebanese cucumbers and baby carrots
  • For mains – marinate meat, thread kebabs, make fish parcels and roast and carve poultry. A head start helps
  • For salads – cook grains or pasta the day before, buy colourful bagged salads and make dressings in a jar
  • For sweets – in the lead-up to the day, make Christmas cake, pudding, healthy slices and fruit balls, or buy fresh fruit and individual frozen treats.

Safe celebrations

In the hot weather, remember to keep your eye on how long food is left out at room temperature. This will stop your guests receiving the Christmas gift of food poisoning, they really don’t want.

Follow these tips to keep food safe:

Stock up – make sure you have ample dishwashing detergent and soap to ensure clean hands and utensils. Paper plates can be handy.
Label it – write your guests’ names on disposable cups to avoid drink mix-ups.
Divide or perish – don’t leave dips and cheeses out too long. Bring out fresh batches instead of top-ups.
Gauge it – a full fridge has to work harder to keep food chilled. Remember to adjust the controls or use ice.
Take care with leftovers – you can refrigerate hot food once the steam goes. Make sure you eat it within two days.

Eat, drink and be merry

Christmas can be a blast without overdoing it.

  1.  Fuel right – begin your day with a relaxing, nourishing smoothie for breakfast. Create an energising combo of yoghurt, fruit and oats that’s full of fibre to help you stay satisfied.
  2. Drink wise – skip sugary drinks. Sip water to stay hydrated and, if you drink alcohol, set a limit ahead of time.
  3.  Keep your hands full – it’s easier to keep nibbling to a level you’re happy with if your hands are full. Grab a platter and mingle with guests.
  4.  Scan the offerings – before you dig in, tune in. Select foods that appeal to your senses and plate up a portion to match your appetite.
  5.  Savour the flavour – chew food slowly. You’ll notice when you’re filling up, so you can pause before you get that ‘stuffed’ feeling.
  6.  Make the most of summer – enjoy the balmy nights by heading outside for a walk or game of cricket with the family.

The party’s over

After a big day, it’s tempting to hit the couch and delay the clean-up. But many hands make light work.
Here are five ways to actually enjoy your clean-up:

Pull the last Christmas crackers – laughter lowers stress hormone levels, so giggle (or groan) over those corny cracker jokes – and recharge.
Chew mint gum – this can have a calming effect and stop you from picking at leftovers if you’re already full.
Turn up the music – it’ll help you wash up with enthusiasm.
Go for paper – disposable tablecloths, plates and cutlery save time and energy when cleaning up.
Foil temptation – provide packs for guests to take home leftovers. Your guests will love you for it and you won’t be left with more food than you need.

First published: Dec 2018



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