Wednesday 23 November 2016

The Healthy Taste of Christmas

   To my mind, there are three times in the year when you should certainly allow yourself to indulge and temporarily cast your healthy lifestyle into the breeze. These are: your own birthday (but allow yourself a nice meal and a slice of cake on your partner and best friend's birthdays, too), a holiday to another country with a unique menu consisting of ingredients or dishes you can't easily get at home, and, of course, Christmas.
   But the thing with Christmas is that there's not really any clear beginning or end to it. The shops put out their Christmas decorations in mid-September, chocolate gifts come out in mid-October, and the mince pies are abound by mid-November. But Christmas isn't until the end of December. So it can be hard to be good, especially if you love your Christmas tasties and want to make the most of them. But what you've got to realise is that a lot of that is in the flavour.
   That may be obvious, but it is in fact so obvious that it is constantly overlooked. Take a moment to consider the taste of Christmas: spices like ginger and cinnamon, oranges, roasted nuts and the like. In many cases these are combined with other things, but spiced fruit and nuts are extremely dominant in an English Christmas, just as speculaas spices are in the Netherlands. And you can do a lot with them to get a taste of Christmas without having to eat unhealthily.
   Or, at the very least it's a great way to balance out the indulgence. I'd be lying if I told you I said 'no' to any mince pie offered to me, so I like to use these following recipes and products to keep my healthy lifestyle in order on the run up to the big day without having to miss out. And in many cases, these options are just as good if not better than what is on the market at Christmas.

Clean & Healthy Homemade Christmas

Chestnut bites

Made from dates, hemp protein, chestnut flour and a sprinkling of cinnamon, these are a nutritious option for a deliciously chewy but nutty Christmas treat. The dates lend a light caramel taste, while the chestnut flour adds nuttiness and sweetness, which also makes it ideal to sprinkle over the top once finished as it doesn't have any bitter taste.
Full recipe here.

Apple pie porridge

Instead of adding any sugar or sweetener to your porridge, add in a teaspoon or two of apple puree (no added sugar) and a pinch of all spice and mix it in, and you've got yourself a wonderful winter pudding for breakfast! I cheat a little with Bootea's Little Oats because they're 150 calories per serving, have 7g of protein and are only slightly sweetened with xylitol. It's really mild, so you can really taste the apple puree and spices - and you can do the same with pumpkin puree to make a pumpkin spice porridge in the autumn! Make your own clean apple puree by peeling, coring and slicing an apple, putting it in a pan with enough water to cover it, bring it to the boil, then let simmer for 15-20 minutes, drain and mash with a fork. Let it cool then put it in a jar and store it in the fridge - this will yield about 10 teaspoons/6 heaped, making 5-6 servings at 10 calories each.
   Of course, if you want to be naughty on Christmas morning but don't want the trouble nor the calories from a full spread (perhaps you're saving yourself for Christmas dinner and two helpings of dessert - I really am in no position to judge), you could buy a lovely Hotel Chocolate tree decoration which contains three small chocolate snowflakes at just under 20 calories each (about 55 calories for all three), and pop them on top of your porridge. They melt in the most wonderful way: the outer edges soften and melt but then seem to reveal another smaller snowflake in the middle which you never noticed and takes a little longer to melt. I speak from the seasonal experience of three Christmas Eves.

Speculaas smoothie

It makes a wonderfully nutritious breakfast or snack - and if you swap the almond milk and cacao powder for a scoop of all-natural chocolate protein and 250ml water, it's a brilliant Christmas post-workout smoothie, too! It's easy to make, delicious and only mildly sweet - just as speculaas is supposed to be!
Full recipe here.

Healthy mince pie filling
Steps 2-5 of The Kitchen Shed's recipe for clean mince pies keeps it nice and simple with the juice of one clementine, one diced apple, some water, raisins, sultanas, mixed spice apricot preserve and, if you like, some pure maple syrup. Once cooled, you can stuff it in a jar and add it to greek yoghurt, porridge, smoothies or just make your own mince pies with the added clean sweet pastry recipe - at least you'll know what's in them!

Healthy Store-Bought Christmas

Nakd Christmas Pudding bars
These are simply perfect. Fruit and spices make up a great deal of the Christmas pudding taste, and given that these bars are made of nothing more than fruit, nuts and spices, all that's missing is a bit of fire and a sixpence. Truly, these capture the taste of the traditional Christmas pudding perfectly. And guess what else? One Nakd Christmas Pudding bar is less than 150 calories and counts as one of your 5 a day.

Graze's Speculoos Dipper
Graze can be trusted when it comes to wholesome ingredients, and their speculoos dipper is to die for. I absolutely love it. It's 19g of carbs but only 5g of sugar. The cinnamon biscuits are sugar-free and sweetener-free, instead the sweetness comes from the speculoos dip, and even that isn't particularly strong. It's more the spices and the texture that matters here, and my goodness it's worth it. It's also only 150 calories per punnet, and you can get them in their Graze Light boxes, and as a package of six from their store. I always have some of these on hand year-round, if I'm honest!

Green & Black's Maya Gold Chocolate
Dark chocolate means less sugar and more good things. Cocoa is renowned for health benefits, but it's often refined and over-produced and that means that what goodness was there has been drastically reduced, and with all the ingredients beyond cocoa added into chocolate bars, that means less room for the cocoa itself. But Green & Black's is known for high quality organic chocolate and for using only the most necessary ingredients - even the sugar is raw and unrefined - so their dark chocolate is still packed with goodness and the taste isn't compromised by anything artificial. Their 60% cocoa Maya Gold, in particular, has an unintentionally festive twist with orange, cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of vanilla.

Twinings' Options hot chocolate
Options hot chocolate isn't necessarily "healthy", as it does have artificial sweeteners rather than all-natural ingredients, but a little bit of artificial stuff every now and then is fine and, given that the serving size is 11g and that you're not likely to have one every single day, it can easily be overlooked. Plus, if you're counting the calories, it's a hot chocolate for less than 50 calories, and to be completely honest, it may not be as thick as the hot chocolate in my local coffee shop, but it's certainly more tasteful than any of the others I've had. It comes in tubs and single-serving sachets for about 40p, and is available in a range of flavours, but I find the strawberry hot chocolate and orange hot chocolate to be the most festive. Add a handful of mini marshmallows and you've doubled the calories, but at 100, it's still less than half of a typical hot chocolate and much bigger on flavour.

NaBloPoMo November 2016


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