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Feast of ideas for a healthier holiday meal

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The 2014 Rising Chef Winner Chef David Ndungi from The Reefs Hotel. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

Christmas can be catastrophic on the waistline.

Studies show that on average people gain 5lbs in the four-week period leading up to the holidays.

That small handful of peanuts, the plate of canapés and those glasses of wine do add up. The Royal Gazette’s Lifestyle section asked chefs to pass on their suggestions for how to make the holiday meal a smidgen healthier.

Read on to find out their best tips:

Choose wisely when you flavour your turkey.

Use herbs to add flavour instead of lathering the bird with butter, executive chef Derek Myers from the Island Restaurant Group suggested.

“Roasting the turkey as it is can be the best thing,” Mr Myers said. “Just rub it with herbs like sage, rosemary, salt and pepper and get a good coating on it and roast it on a low temperature for a long time, so it doesn’t dry out. I like using sage because it’s a good winter herb, while rosemary has a powerful flavour and it’s local, so you don’t have to pay anything to get it. Another thing that helps your turkey is if you put a pan of water in the oven with it. It creates a steaming effect so it stays moist.”

Add root veggies to your potato dishes.

Mashed and scalloped potatoes are a staple in most households at Christmas. One way to cut the carbs in those dishes is by adding root vegetables, explained Mr Myers.

“I make scalloped potatoes using half potatoes and half a root vegetable like rutabaga or turnips sliced thin,” the chef said. “The other thing is, with mashed potatoes try and cut the calories by using low-fat sour cream or cottage cheese instead of butter.”

Pick a heart-healthy cooking oil.

Believe it or not, canola oil has less saturated fat than sunflower, corn and olive oils. It’s also higher in the omega-3 fatty acid that lowers blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation. David Ndugi, from The Reefs, suggests that people use canola.

“Canola is the most versatile type of vegetable oil and provides the best nutritional balance of all the popular cooking oils,” he said. “You never the taste the oil in the food, it has zero grams of trans fat and is cholesterol-free.” It’s also more pocket-friendly than olive oil, he explained.

Grill your veggies.

Don’t cook your vegetables to the point where they’ve lost most of their nutritional value. Mr Myers said roasting or grilling is a healthy option.

“With roasted vegetables you get those natural sugars coming out of it, which gives a completely different flavour profile. You get a far superior flavour when you aren’t using all the butter. I coat the vegetables with a tiny bit of vegetable oil and then throw it in the oven for 40 minutes so you get a good carmelisation.”

Curb your sweet tooth.

Although there are plenty of low-fat recipes for the holidays, Mr Myers considers it tough to keep things healthy when it comes to dessert.

“You can always do a poached pear with ice cream,” he said.

“That’s always a good change. Or fruit trifle using a honey instead of a sugar, so it’s still sweet.

“As long as you stick to fresh fruit you should be okay. It’s when you start going into the chocolate and cakes you get into trouble.”

Source the best ingredients.

Eleven-year-old chef Judah Smith believes a dish is only as good as the ingredients you use. That’s why he suggests that people look for the best sourced ingredients they can. “Avoid anything with pesticides or things that aren’t natural,” he said.

“It’s not always easy to find or know what’s been added or taken away, but try to know as much about where your food has come from as you can.”

Avoid the salt and butter.

Judah has found it important to trust the flavours from the ingredients you’re working with, rather than always resorting to butter and salt.

“Things like garlic, fennel and chives are great ingredients to try out,” he said.

“I was actually just at the farmers’ market at the Botanical Gardens where I got some super fresh herbs like chives and tarragon.”

Skip the cream.

Mr Ndungi encourages people to go easy when it comes to calorie-rich foods that are loaded with dairy, such as whipped cream, cheese and butter.

Instead, you can make dishes without the cream by using ingredients such as low-fat milk, almond or soy milk and then thicken it with a corn starch slurry, he said.

Go for wholewheat.

An easy way to make breads, cookies and pastas more healthy is by choosing wholewheat.

Mr Ndugi said: “Use whole wheat products or substitute half of the all-purpose flour with wholewheat. It’s healthier because it has fibre which reduces the risk of heart diseases and diabetes.

“Fibre also helps the food stay in the stomach longer, so you’re full most of the time and can avoid snacking.”

Chef Derek Myers
Holiday food - the healthy way