05/12/2015 8:46 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Tips On How To Stay Healthy(ish) During The Silly Season

Friends laughing at joke at Christmas dinner table
Betsie Van Der Meer via Getty Images
Friends laughing at joke at Christmas dinner table

It's not called the 'silly season' for nothing. The lead-up to Christmas is notorious for being a particularly busy time socially, as businesses, friends and family all throw various celebrations toasting the impending end of the year.

While this is great for your social calendar, all those canapes (not to mention the extra alcohol intake) can prove challenging for even the most health-conscious person.

So how do you navigate the Christmas party scene while still maintaining some sense of balance?

"I think one of the first things to do is to take a step back and look at your week ahead," Dr Jane Bowen, research dietitian for CSIRO Food and Nutrition, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Plan which days might be more indulgent and then plan for the other days to be more under control, where you stick to your regular eating pattern a bit more.

"Multiple parties coming up means you really do need to plan ahead. You might want to cut back on your portion sizes over other days or up your exercise.

"If you’re trying to lose weight or maintain weight during this time -- it can be difficult."

While it's oh-so-tempting to reach for yet another rum ball, Bowen also advises to choose your canapes carefully.

"Stop and think abuot the eating pattern you are aiming for, and then try and replicate that with the food on offer," Bowen said. "If you are on a high-protein diet, for instance, look for those foods. A lean chicken skewer is much better than a sausage roll or deep friend arancini ball. Plus it has some nutritional quality and the protein will fill you up."

Settle down, Belle.

Of course, nobody wants to munch on a lettuce leaf all night, but Bowen says it's wise to pick and choose what you plan to indulge in, rather taking a free-for-all approach.

"Within a healthy eating pattern we all have our indulgences," Bowen said. "So plan for that and decide what it’s going to be.

"On one occasion might be a couple of glasses of wine, on another it might be that you stick to water but have dessert that night. Better yet, share a dessert with someone else."

Sadly, alcohol isn't the best option for your waistline, with Bowen noting alcoholic drinks can be high in "empty" kilojoules.

"Having lots of sugary drinks or a lot of alcohol can really add to your kilojoule intake but they fill you up," Bowen said. "Make the commitment before you get to the event, 'tonight I'm just on waters' or 'I am only going to have one alcoholic drink.'

"Once you’ve had a few drinks, it changes your perception on things as well, so you might be more tempted to eat things you normally wouldn't.

"I would suggest you focus on socialising and having a nice time rather than eating or drinking."

If it's your friend or family hosting an event, Bowen suggests offering to bring a plate, so you'll know there will at least be one healthy option on offer.

"I would go for something like a lovely big salad, with lots of rocket and roasted pumpkin and roasted beetroot," Bowen said. "Couple that with some roasted lamb with lemon juice and mint and make it look really beautiful with some pomegranate seeds."

"Herbs and spices are really great for flavour -- coriander, mint, basil -- they can add a lot of flavour without the extra kilojoules."

Another trick is to have some kind of protein before you actually arrive at the party, to keep your hunger levels down.

"Showing up starving to a Christmas party can make the temptation of party food even stronger," Bowen said. "Protein controls appetite and low GI carbohydrates sustain energy, so have a light meal of 100 grams of well-drained tuna or half an avocado on a slice of grainy bread one hour before a party to help keep hunger in check."

But overall, remember to enjoy yourself. It is a pretty fun time of year, after all.

"You have to realise it is a special time," Bowen said. "It’s about celebrating the year that’s been and the year that’s coming -- you should focus on having a lovely time and enjoying yourself.

"You just don't want to be in the position where you are undoing all the good you were aiming to achieve throughout the year."

Need some inspiration for a healthy bring-a-plate? Check out the recipe below.

Christmas salad to share

Serves 4-6


  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small lemon, rind finely grated, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 -3 lamb backstraps
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 x 400g can chick peas, drained
  • 1 cup of rocket or baby spinach
  • 1 cup of mixed herbs, roughly chopped (coriander, mint, parsley)
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • kernels from a whole pomegranate
  • 2 tablespoons toasted nuts (almonds, hazelnuts or pine nuts)


  1. Cook the pearly barley according to the packet directions. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Combine the rind and lemon juice, vinegar and oil in a small bowl. Add the red onion, and allow to the onion to soak until the salad is ready to assemble.
  3. Rub a small amount of olive oil on the lamb then sprinkle with sumac.
  4. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and cook the lamb for about 6 minutes on each side. Allow the lamb to rest for about 10 minutes.
  5. While the lamb is resting, assemble the salad. Scatter the pearl barley around a large plate or platter, then layer on the chickpeas, avocado, red onion (reserving the liquid for dressing the salad). Sprinkle on the spinach/rocket then the herbs.
  6. Slice the lamb and neatly lay on the salad, then finish with the pomegranate kernels and chopped roasted nuts. Finally pour on the vinegar, lemon and oil dressing. Enjoy.