How to enjoy food and meet your health goals this Christmas

By Hannah Buckland, Healthy Hearts Care Planner

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Or…not. There is a definite feeling of apprehension this festive season as we try to wrap our heads around what a “Covid Christmas” might look like.

For many of us, Christmas will be very different this year; it may not be possible to celebrate with family and friends, there may be additional financial stresses as a result of the pandemic, and many of the traditions that we normally undertake may not be possible. Add to this the usual stresses of Christmas and things might be starting to feel a little bleak! In this article, we aim to provide some reassurance around one of the most common causes of stress at Christmas: food.

We know that Christmas can be a difficult time of the year when it comes to reaching your health goals. With more opportunities to indulge, the festive period can be a somewhat challenging time to eat well. There’s no denying that food and drink are central components to many of our Christmas celebrations. However, rather than adding food guilt to the list this Christmas, we want to celebrate the joy that food brings and remind you that it is possible to follow your health goals whilst still relaxing and enjoying any festive celebrations.

The key is to find a balance between making healthy choices and enjoying your favourite foods; there’s no need to be completely restrictive or avoid every indulgence. Remember, food at Christmas is about sharing, celebration, tradition, memories – it is so much more than just calories! So, however you celebrate Christmas this year, take a moment to enjoy, appreciate and celebrate the food that you’re eating.

Here at Healthy Hearts, we have been getting into the festive spirit by discussing our favourite meals for this time of the year. One of our Care planners, Elisabetta, has kindly shared the recipes for one of her top festive dishes. In the spirit of things being different this Christmas, this dish can be enjoyed as a healthy alternative to some of the more traditional festive meals. We hope you have fun getting creative in the kitchen this Christmas and that you are able to take some time to relax and re-charge. Stay safe and have a very Merry Christmas!

VEGETARIAN LASAGNE

Serves 6-8. Preparation and cooking time 2 hours.

Ingredients

For the Béchamel sauce:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 litre of oat milk (I suggest barista oat milk as it is creamy)
  • 100g plant-based butter
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of nutmeg (grated)

 

For the lasagne:

  • 500g lasagne sheets (fresh or dried)
  • 2 butternut squash
  • 2-3 packs of mixed wild mushrooms or chestnut mushrooms (they diminish in volume once cooked)
  • 1 pack dried porcini mushrooms (optional but they add extra flavour)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 onion
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Grated parmesan
  • 250g mozzarella

 

Method

  1. Peel the butternut squash and cut it into small cubes.
  2. Dice the onion and fry slightly with a small amount of olive oil. When the onion is golden, add the butternut squash with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add boiling water to cover. Continue to add water if needed and wait until the butternut squash is well cooked. Take off the heat and put to one side.
  3. Meanwhile, soak the porcini mushrooms for 10 minutes in boiling water.
  4. Chop the mushrooms. Slightly fry a garlic clove with a small amount of olive oil and when it is golden, add the mushrooms. Add salt and pepper and the porcini mushrooms if using, and cover until they are tender and cooked. Take off the heat and put to one side.
  5. Mash the butternut squash until you have a sauce.
  6. Blend the mushrooms until you have a sauce. Add water if necessary to achieve the desired consistency.
  7. To make the Béchamel sauce
    1. Warm the oat milk without boiling it.
    2. In a pot, melt the vegetable butter over a low heat.
    3. Add the flour and mix well in order not to form lumps. Leave it until it turns golden.
    4. Add a pinch of salt and the grated nutmeg.
    5. Add a splash of milk and mix it well. Then add the rest of the milk and start mixing with a whisk.
    6. Keep mixing and cook it on low heat for about 5 to 6 minutes until it thickens and begins to boil.
    7. Note: if you want a more liquid Béchamel you will have to reduce the amount of butter and flour; for a thicker Béchamel sauce, you will have to increase the amount of butter and flour.
  8. Grate the parmesan and cut the mozzarella into cubes.
  9. Preheat the oven at 200°
  10. Assemble the lasagne. Take a large baking dish and spread some butternut sauce at the bottom, then add the first layer of lasagne sheets.
  11. Spread some butternut sauce on top of the lasagne sheets with some Béchamel, mozzarella and grated parmesan. Keep adding layers, alternating the butternut squash sauce with the mushroom sauce or adding them together in the layers (your choice). You can also mix the sauces directly with béchamel sauce; it is even better!
  12. Once you finish the layers, bake until the lasagne pasta is cooked, which should take about 45 – 60 minutes.

It might not be a quick recipe, but the time and effort to make this dish is definitely worth it! It’s a real showstopper that’s bound to impress at any family gathering. Top tip: it’s also delicious the next day as all the ingredients blend together and the sauces dry up a little, so make sure to save any leftovers for your lunch! Enjoy!

References

British Nutrition Foundation (2018). Christmas and New Year. BNF. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/seasons/christmas-and-new-year.html [Accessed 16th December 2020].

Mind (2020). Christmas and coronavirus. Mind. Available from: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/christmas-and-mental-health/christmas-and-coronavirus/#collapseab4a3 [Accessed 15th December 2020].

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