Lighter, plant-based and allergy-friendly recipes for a healthy Christmas.
How many Christmas feasts have left you feeling bloated, uncomfortable and just a little sick? Or perhaps as the lonely vegetarian or vegan at the table, you’d chewed your way through some non-festive vegetables and were left feeling unloved and a little hungry?
Although summer eating in Australia and New Zealand is best suited to seafood, salads and cooling tropical fruit, there’s still some resistance in many households to dropping the bird, steamed pudding and a huge lump of cured pig from the Christmas menu.
Even for those still clinging onto cold weather traditions, there’s usually plenty of room on the table to include some healthier, plant-based and allergy-friendly options to make this an inclusive celebration.
All the recipes mentioned are dairy-free (DF), many are gluten-free (GF), vegetarian (V) and vegan (VG).
Starting the day
Breakfast is a great time to get a serve or 3 of fruit. An all-in-one bowl of fruit salad, or arranged elegantly on a platter is hard to resist. A cornucopia of seasonal goodies might include papaya, pineapple (which both contain enzymes that aid digestion), mangoes, apricots, nectarines, and peaches. If you want to add the signature colours of the season add some kiwifruit and cherries for a bit of red and green, or garnish with fresh mint. (DF, GF, V, VG)
For a more substantial breakfast, plan ahead and oven-dry strawberries for a festive muesli (or substitute strawberries for other red dried fruit such as cranberries, paw paw or freeze dried raspberries). This protein and complex carbohydrate-packed start to the day, is a useful way to keep blood sugar stable if the main meal isn’t going to be eaten until later in the day. (DF, GF adaptable, V, VG)
It’s only one day of the year but for many, it’s not just the main meal that exceeds their body’s energy requirements for the day but all the grazing and drinking that goes on beforehand.
Consider swapping chips and other packaged snacks for raw nuts, vegan-friendly dips and vegetable sticks. Avocado, beetroot and my all-time favourite roasted cauliflower dips sneakily increase the vegetable intake, without blowing out the kilojoules. (DF, GF, V, VG)
Don’t forget to have some jugs of non-alcoholic drinks on hand to keep hydrated in the heat. I like chilled mineral/soda water with frozen raspberries and mint, coconut water or even Virgin Mary’s. These make a tasty and appealing, low sugar alternative to soft drinks and juices.
The main event
These additions to the table offer some lighter options, including seafood, plant-based, vegetarian and vegan ideas.
From the barbecue or grill
- Fish kebabs: marinated cubes of firm white fish (eg blue eye) for 1 hour in 1 part lemon or lime juice to 2 parts olive oil. Add crushed garlic or other herbs for extra flavour as desired. (DF, GF)
- Tofu and vegetable kebabs: Skewers of marinated tofu, with onion/capsicum/zucchini or other vegetables. (DF, GF adaptable, V, VG)
- Barbecued vegetables: Asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms and corn are good. (DF, GF, V, VG)
The beauty of platters over traditional salads is that it’s easier for vegans or those who can’t eat certain foods to partake without missing out on the whole dish due to one ingredient.
- Vegetarian: Wedges of avocado (dressed with a little lemon juice to stop discolouring), halved boiled eggs, grilled eggplant, cucumber, celery, capsicum, blanched asparagus, pistachios or other nuts. (DF, GF, V, VG adaptable)
- Vegan: Artichoke hearts, falafels, hummus and dolmades/cabbage rolls. Take it up a level and make these vegan Badrijani nigvzit (eggplant and walnut) rolls. (DF, GF, V, VG)
- Salad: Vegetables cut into sticks, wedges of iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes and jug or bowl of green goddess dressing (the avocado and fresh herbs in this dressing take lettuce to the next level). (DF, GF, V, VG)
Vegetarians need more than salad for a satisfying and balanced meal. These can be eaten hot or cold and also pack well for a picnic/beach Christmas.
- Mini frittatas: Choose your fillings e.g. spring onion/garlic/shitake mushroom, tomato/olive, caramelised onion and parsley, smoked oysters or mussels. Place a small amount in a greased or lined muffin pan. Beat together 1.5 organic eggs and a dash of water, per frittata, plus herbs, salt and pepper if desired. Half fill each muffin pan with egg mixture. Bake in moderate oven (180c) for about 12-15 minutes until puffed and golden. (DF, V adaptable).
- Savoury mini tarts: This simple version can be adapted to be egg-free, gluten-free and vegan. (DF, GF, V, VG)
- Polenta squares: plain or filled with marinated mushrooms, olives or sundried tomatoes. This version is dairy-free and totally moreish. Can be prepared in advance, then grill or barbecue on the day. (DF, GF, V, VG)
One last thing
It’s only one day! Don’t be a martyr, remember to delegate. If that’s not possible simplify, the menu to make it as easy as possible.
Use smaller plates, to slow down the overeating. Also useful if you’re trying to fit a lot of people around the table.
Take a decent break from eating and drinking and go for a walk, kick a ball or be really smart and give someone you’ll be with on the day a gift that will get you all up and moving like a kite or a frisbee.
If you have eaten too much – herbal teas made from peppermint, ginger or chamomile can help if you are feeling a little off-colour. Likewise, a dash bitters in soda, or just lemon juice in a glass of warm water.
If this cartoon looks like your festive dietary nightmare, explore the recipe archive for more food ideas.
Festive season health resources
Stress-less gifts – ethical and homemade presents
For the lasting gift of wellbeing, gift vouchers can be purchased online at any time.
This is an updated version of an article that was first published on this site in December 2007