Bah humbug: what you should be eating for Christmas lunch

It's the ultimate anti-Christmas feast: three oysters, one-and-a-half prawns, an 80g slice of roast turkey and a serving of vegetables.

If that doesn't quite fill you up, consider dessert – a cup of fruit with two scoops of ice cream or 40g of Christmas pudding.

A healthy Christmas lunch. Credit:Eddie Jim

It seems highly unsatisfactory, but it's what our plates would look like come December 25 if we stick to the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

"I don't think anybody meets the guidelines," admits Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Newcastle. "If you were to try, there’d be no ham, that’s for sure."

Rather, Professor Collins says the most important part of Christmas eating is being mindful about what you consume and how much you need to satisfy cravings.

While some dishes on the Christmas menu can contain good nutritional value – particularly roast meats, poultry, seafood and salad – people tend to forget about portion sizes.

Know your limits when you seat down to eat this Christmas, nutritionists say. Credit:Simon Shiff

Spokesperson for Nutrition Australia, Aloysa Hourigan, agrees that eating in excess is the biggest mistake.

“Where the nutritional limits get pushed at Christmas is mostly with the discretionary foods and drinks, alcohol or the portion size,” Hourigan says.

With alcohol and sugary drinks often a key culprit in exceeding the day's kilojoule limit, Hourigan says to instead “look for options based on sparkling or soda water”.

Mocktails are a healthy dietary option during Christmas.Credit:William Meppem

These might include soda water based mocktails made with fresh herbs and fruit, or adding a dash of flavour to sparkling mineral water with mint, lime or lemon slices.

"A key to helping you remain mindful is keeping an eye on your alcohol intake," Professor Collins says. "Alcohol dilutes your willpower and gives you eating amnesia."

It’s not necessarily how we eat on Christmas day itself that upsets the balance – leftovers can be an unsuspecting source of dietary trouble. “It’s the leftovers that often cause the problem with consuming too many kilojoules,” Hourigan says. “Try to cook what you need for the day, and ask guests to take some home if they can transport it in a food safe way.” But Christmas is “just one day of the year”, Hourigan says, “so it is better to relax and enjoy”.

And if you need help to recover after a Christmas splurge, she recommends regular meals across the core food groups with an emphasis on vegetables, which are a source of antioxidants to counter your body’s inflammatory reactions to excess food and drink.

Five tips for Christmas eating:

Christmas meal according to dietary guidelines:

Starter: Six fresh oysters or three large prawns plus four bocconcini, cherry tomato, basil leaf and pesto sticks on toothpicks.

Meat: 80g roast turkey slice or 100g of fresh seafood.

Salad: ½ cup of dry roasted starchy vegetables such as potato or sweet potato with 1.5 cups of steamed greens.

Dessert: One cup chopped fruit with 2 scoops icecream or small serve (40g) Christmas pudding or a small serve trifle with ½ a cup of custard.

The serve size and food groups have been prepared by Nutrition Australia and are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating:

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