How to keep your Christmas menu healthy and stress-free
With Christmas just around the corner, thinking about what to cook and how to plan for Christmas dinner is a top priority for many.
Nutritional Chef Francesca Klottrup shares her tips and advice on how to keep your Christmas menu healthy and stress-free, streamline your food shopping and efficiently prepare your Christmas dinner.
What led you to become a Nutritional Chef?
I trained as a chef ten years ago and worked as a private chef for many years. I noticed there was a growing demand to provide food for specific diets and food allergies. I was keen to learn more about nutrition so I could cater for my client’s specific dietary needs and also broaden their culinary repertoire using my knowledge of ingredients and flavour. This led to me train as a Nutritional Therapist at CNM. These days I work as a freelance recipe writer and a nutrition coach helping businesses in the health and wellbeing sector to support and educate their clients.
What are your tips for keeping Christmas menus healthy and nutritious?
A typical Christmas dinner is quite healthy as it mostly comprises of vegetables and lean protein. It’s what we consume away from the table that is our biggest downfall. The pre-dinner nibbles (such as nuts and crisps), alcohol, desserts, cheeseboards and boxes of chocolates are what cause people to feel sluggish and bloated, and also gain weight.
My top tips are:
- Only eat at mealtimes and avoid snacking in between meals.
- Stick to your usual mealtimes to keep in line with your body’s natural rhythm.
- Don’t be tempted to over fill your plate.
- Only go back for seconds after leaving at least twenty minutes after finishing your last mouthful.
- Eat slowly and remember to chew your food. Be mindful and don’t get distracted by conversation as this is when you forget to chew your food.
- Check in with yourself before giving in to a tempting snack – are you genuinely hungry or are you snacking for the sake of it?
What food-related mistakes do people tend to make over the Christmas period?
I often see people making things too complicated; nobody needs an elaborate buffet or three desserts. Particularly for the cooks of the family, Christmas can be quite stressful. When your stress hormones increase, your body becomes less sensitive to insulin (the hormone which transports sugar into the cells) which can cause your blood sugar levels to rise and contribute to weight gain. Keep your Christmas menu simple as less is often more, and it also prevents your guests from overeating.
What are your Christmas food shopping and prepping tips?
Plan your menu, make a shopping list and then allocate set times for preparation. Being organised is the only way you can successfully keep on top of the hectic festive season. Keep your lists and notes of what worked and what didn’t work as they will make planning for next year easier.
What is your go-to Christmas appetizer?
Blinis are always a favourite at Christmas. They are really versatile and lend themselves to various toppings such as hummus, pate, spreads and pickles. Blinis can be frozen and re-refreshed in the oven so they’re quick and easy to assemble. If you’re savvy with your topping choices, they can be great way to sneak in extra fibre and protein to balance blood sugar levels. See my favourite blini recipe below.
What alcohol-free drinks can you recommend?
Kombucha makes a great alternative to alcohol. Its gentle fizz hits the same spot as a glass of bubbles whilst simultaneously feeding all your beneficial gut bacteria. It’s also quick and easy to make at home. Be aware that most shop-bought kombucha is pasteurised which means the good bacteria (as well as the harmful bacteria) are destroyed in the heating process. Infused waters are also a great alcohol-free drink. Add orange/ lemon/ lime slices, spices, fresh mint or ginger to your still or sparkling water to give it some flavour; this is a much healthier option to sugar-laden cordials.
What are your tips for minimising food waste over Christmas?
Blitz leftover vegetables to make a soup and freeze leftover main dishes so you can eat them another time. Be flexible with what you serve; if lunch was late or your guests are still feeling full at dinner time then save your planned dinner for the next day instead.
When cooking, save any vegetable or herb trimmings to make a stock or a base for a soup. If you’re using organic vegetables, give them a wash but resist the temptation to peel them as the skin is where all the nutrients are.
What healthy food-related gifts can you recommend?
Flavoured oils are one of my favourite food-related gifts to give people and they are a better option than sweet treats. Glass bottles are cheap, recyclable and easy to source. Flavour combinations are endless – you can use chillies, herbs such as rosemary or oregano and spices like cumin. Oils have a long shelf life and they look attractive. I always add a label suggesting a culinary use and the nutritional properties of the ingredients.
Francesca Klottrup’s Christmas Recipes
A great gluten-free, dairy-free canape option. Suitable for freezing to help you get ahead for the festive season.
Makes 50 1-inch blinis
- 225g Buckwheat flour
- 3 tsp Gluten-free baking powder
- 465ml Almond milk
- 3 tbsp Flaxseed
- 3 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for cooking
- Pinch sea salt
- Start by mixing the flaxseed with 110ml filtered water in a small bowl. Leave for 15 minutes to allow the flax to absorb all the water.
- Put the buckwheat flour, baking powder and sea salt in a large mixing bowl and stir in the flaxseed mix and oil.
- Using a large whisk (or electric beaters) start to incorporate the almond milk, adding it in stages to ensure you create a smooth batter.
- Let the batter to sit for 1 hour to allow the baking powder to activate and lighten the batter for a fluffy blini.
- Lightly coat the base of a medium frying pan with olive oil and heat on a medium heat.
- Spoon tablespoons of batter around the pan – careful not to overcrowd the pan to allow you enough room to flip the blinis over.
- After 3 minutes, the underside of the blini should be cooked through and there should be small air pockets appearing on the top of the blini. Flip over the blini and finish cooking for 1-2 minutes.
- Put the cooked blinis on a wire rack to cool and store in an airtight container or freezer placing sheets of baking parchment in between each layer of blinis to prevent them sticking together.
- Before using the blinis re-fresh them on a baking tray in a moderately hot oven for 3-5 minutes.
Chef’s tip: For a more refined looking blini, decant the batter into a squeezy bottle or piping bag and squeeze large blobs the batter into the pan. This allows you to have a more control and achieve a cleaner edge to the blini.
Allergens: Nuts – use an oat-based milk if allergic to nuts
This is a tasty plant-based alternative to smoked salmon. Salt baking carrots in this way gives them a beautifully soft, silky texture. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of salt used, this doesn’t infuse into the carrots and the leftover salt can be recycled to make the base for a homemade body scrub.
Makes approx. 30 slices
- 6 Medium carrots
- 450g Rock salt
For the marinade
- 6 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp Apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp Smoked sweet paprika
- Juice of 1 large lemon
For the garnish
- 2 tbsp Capers
- 15g Dill
- 170g Cashew based soft “cheese”
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C Fan/ 425F/ Gas Mark 7.
- Wash and dry the carrots.
- Coat the base of a medium sized baking dish with 1/4inch of rock salt. Place the carrots on top of the salt base (packed closely together) and top the carrots with the remaining salt and bake for 35-45 minutes. You want the surface of the carrots to be easily pierced with a knife but not the centre to be soft and mushy.
- Remove the carrots from the salt bake, brush off the remaining salt and allow the carrots to cool.
- Cut the root of the carrot off. Using a peeler (or fish filleting knife) to shave long ribbons of the carrots working along the full length of the carrot – discard the outer most peelings which will be overly salty and slightly tough.
- Mix all the marinade ingredients together and place in a wide base dish. Add the carrot ribbons and marinade for minimum of 15 minutes.
- To serve, remove the carrot from the marinade allowing any excess marinade to drip off. Either curl or layer the carrot ribbons on top your chosen base.
Chef’s tip: The finished carrots are not salty and any residing saltiness is diffused by the marinade – specifically the sharpness of the acid and lemon and the sweetness of the smoked paprika. Other root vegetables can be cooked in this way, such as beetroot or celeriac.
Artichoke & Butterbean Pate
Packed full of fibre, this light zesty pate is a refreshing flavour option for any winter menu.
- 240g Cooked artichokes
- 240g Cooked butterbeans
- 1 large Garlic clove
- 4 tbsp Walnut oil
- 1 Lemon, zest & juice
- Sea salt & black pepper to taste
- Place all the ingredients in high-speed blender and blend for 30 seconds then continue to pulse to combine the ingredients to the desired consistency – a chunkier texture spoons better onto things such as blinis or crostini, but a smooth pate makes a great dip for vegetable crudities.
- Garnish with pickled red onions and walnuts.
Chef Tips: Store chilled in an airtight container for a maximum of two days.
Wild Mushroom Pate
- 4 Shallots, finely sliced
- 300g Chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced
- 125g Shiitake mushrooms, finely sliced
- 160g Selection of wild mushrooms
- 15g Tarragon, removed from the stalk
- 1 tbsp Sherry vinegar
- 1 Garlic clove, crushed
- ½ tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 ½ tbsp Cashew butter
- 50 Pine nuts
- Additional sprigs of tarragon
- 3 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
- Gently heat the olive oil in a medium sized frying pan.
- Add the shallots and cook until they soften, then add the garlic and continue cooking for 30 seconds, finally adding the sherry vinegar.
- Add all the mushrooms to the pan, season with salt and pepper and gently cook the mushrooms so they soften, release their water content which then evaporates away.
- Add the tarragon, mustard and cashew butter and continue cooking for a further 2 minutes then take the mushroom mixture off the heat and allow to cool.
- Place the mushroom mixture in a blender – you may want to pick out some of the pieces of mushroom to save for garnishing. Pulse the mixture to create a rough texture pate. Use as desired.
Chef Tips: Store chilled in an airtight container for a maximum of two days. This pate also makes a great sauce or filling for pasta or tarts.
Allergens: mustard, nuts