The festive season presents itself with a smorgasbord of unending indulgences, so it’s fair to say that no one should miss out. With many of us committed to numerous social functions from Christmas work dinners to New Year picnics, it can be really challenging to maintain any sense of normalcy, let alone healthy habits! However, you can attempt to combat this with some of our healthy entertaining ideas. These ideas are great not only for if you are hosting a function, but also for any ‘bring a plate’ occasions. We’ve compiled some simple suggestions for any course, right down to nibbles and snacks for the little ones.
Nibbles and Entrees
A great way to keep up your veggie intake amongst an abundance of sugary or processed foods is by making this really festive tomato, basil and bocconcini wreath. It’s super simple to make and can even be prepared a day in advance. This is also a great dish for any children capable of working with skewers – all it requires is threading some tomato, basil and bocconcini onto skewers, arranging them onto a bed of basil, and then drizzling them with some pesto just before serving.
If you are tight on time and have to opt for store-bought foods, you can’t go wrong with dips and crackers. It is, however, easy to pick sodium-laden options, so you just need to keep in mind a few guidelines. Avoid dips with more than 400 mg of sodium per 100 g serve, and opt for those with less than 120 mg per 100g serve where you can. Fairly good options include Pilpel’s Beetroot Almond Dip, Yumi’s Smoked Trout Mousse and Fresh Fodder’s Babaganoush. Pair these with a colourful spread of veggie sticks, toasted wholemeal pita bread, or low-sodium water or wholegrain crackers.
As the festive season falls in the midst of an Australian summer, drinks are a must to quench everyone’s thirst. To make sure you cater for everyone and reduce your alcohol intake, it’s a good idea to offer non-alcoholic, low-sugar options. Fruit-infused water is one of the healthiest and simplest drinks you could prepare, and what’s better is that it looks absolutely stunning as a table centrepiece! You could use up any fruit you have left at home, or choose fruit that matches the colours of the party’s décor. The key is to choose colourful fruits that hold their shape in liquid, and add a few sprigs of mint or slices of citrus to give the water some refreshing ‘zing’.
If you must have something that tastes a little more ‘sparkly’ or indulgent, you could try mixing your favourite cordials with soda water. Now I know what you’re thinking- ‘isn’t cordial laden with sugar?’. But the difference between commercial soft drinks and making your own, is that by using cordial, you can control how sweet you want your drink to be. With the abundance of delicious foods on offer at any social occasion, people often only want a drink to quench their thirst or craving for something sweet. So you really only need to use enough cordial for a touch of sweetness or flavour. To glam up your drink, you could also infuse it with any fruit that takes your fancy.
Whether you are hosting a party or attending one, it’s a good idea to include a substantial salad to the main menu. At this time of year, a cold salad can be really refreshing and a welcome reprieve from rich indulgence. If it includes a mix of veggies, leaves, grains and protein, a salad can be eaten on its own or as a side. To save time, you can purchase bagged pre-washed salad or leaf mixes without dressing and use them as your salad base. If you intend on preparing a roast, reserve or add some extra meat to shred into your salad. Roast some extra veggies with it to incorporate into other dishes- dice them small for a dish such as a frittata, or cut them into chunks for a salad. Veggies that are perfect for roasting include pumpkin, sweet or white potatoes, eggplants and red capsicum. If you would like to keep your salad vegetarian, some good protein options you could toss into it are pulses or lentils such as baked chickpeas, or pan-fried tofu. To add the finishing touch, opt for a non-creamy dressing by following some simple guidelines. Choose ready-made dressings with 8 g or less saturated fat per 100 mL, and 1000 mg or less sodium per 100 mL. An even better option is to create your own dressing by following the simple ‘1:3 ratio’- that is, 1 part acid to 3 parts oil (it’s best to choose extra virgin olive oil). Finally, customise your dressing with your own blend of herbs and spices.
If you’re hosting a festive gathering, it’s a good idea to serve your main meals ‘buffet’ or ‘family style’. This ensures that everyone can listen to their own hunger cues and fill up their plates accordingly, without feeling obliged to eat everything being served. Keep in mind that many people may have eaten somewhere else before seeing you, or even be eating again after seeing you!
Although most of us have already had way more sweets at this time of year than we’re usually comfortable with…what’s a celebratory feast without dessert!? To curb those sugar cravings and keep up your fruit intake, you could set up a fondue with dark chocolate and seasonal fruit. Alternatively, you could also drizzle dark chocolate onto fruit skewers prepared a day in advance. If you’re after something a little more fancy, prepare a fruit salad in advance and then pair it with raspberry coulis and a scoop of ice-cream just before serving. Another refreshing option is to whip up thickened cream with a dash of vanilla and icing sugar, and serve it ‘family style’ with a platter of seasonal fruit and melted chocolate. If you have the barbie running, a unique dessert you could have is Foost’s ‘barbequed bananas’. Simply slice your bananas lengthwise half-way through, pipe melted dark chocolate into them and then grill them until caramelised. Serve them warm with whipped cream or ice-cream!
For the Kids
At such a fun and silly time of year, it can be challenging to limit your children’s intake of discretionary foods. Rather than stopping them from eating what’s on offer, it’s best to provide some fun and healthy options at the table. If you’ve prepared any desserts with whipped cream for the adults, you could use any left-over cream on a ‘watermelon pizza’. Simply slice watermelon discs, top them with whipped cream and fruits, and then drizzle with chocolate if desired. Before serving, slice the discs into ‘pizza slices’ for the kids. This dish is also guaranteed to be a hit with the adults!
If you’re entertaining several kids over the holiday season, another fun snack or dessert option that they could make themselves is Foost’s ‘Grinch on a Stick’. All it requires is threading whole grapes, banana slices, whole strawberries and a mini marshmallow onto a toothpick. A funny grinch face can then be piped onto the grape with melted chocolate. This is a fun and healthy alternative to gingerbread houses, and is much less time-consuming for time-poor parents.
Nadia is a final year Bachelor of Science student, majoring in Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Sydney. Her passion for dietetics, health and wellbeing began as a young foodie with a love for helping people in need, and grew into a dream to become a dietitian.
As an aspiring health professional, Nadia’s long-term goal is to complete a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics and gain a wealth of experience in all aspects of dietetics – from fertility and gut disorders to mental health. In the meantime, Nadia can be found brunching with friends, binge-watching chick flicks with her Mum and sisters, soaking up the sun between classes and avidly reading fiction and non-fiction books.