8 tasty festive food swaps

A few healthy options that still keep the Christmas spirit alive

Christmas is a time of indulgence, and frankly that's one of the great things about it. We think everyone should take this time to eat, drink, be merry and ride bikes!

But if you are trying to maintain a little balance in the face of the chocolate and mince-pie onslaught, there are a few little swaps you can make that will help keep your overall calorie intake in check, but still have plenty of festive fun and tasty treats at those Christmas parties, post-work drinks and team lunches. 

First of all, remember that a few days of indulgence isn't a bad thing. Even if you're on a particularly strict training regime, a few days of tasty food isn't going be a massive set back, especially if you're riding too, and it's easy to swap a few items here and there for lower calorie (but still delicious) options.

That said, if you want it, go for it! Ditch the guilt, embrace the spirit of the season, and go Full Christmas!

Christmas market food

The tempting aroma of German sausage at a Christmas market can be hard to resist
The tempting aroma of German sausage at a Christmas market can be hard to resist

Bedazzled by the twinkling lights and the smells wafting through the wooden cabin-lined streets, it's easy to succumb to temptation when wandering around Christmas markets. These two swaps will give you maximum festive feeling and that traditional market experience.

1. Swap bratwurst for roasted chestnuts

Tasty though a freshly grilled German sausage is, they aren't known for lean, low-fat properties. Add fried onions, a white bread roll and lashings of mustard and you're looking at 390 calories, easy.

But what could be more traditional than chestnuts roasting on an open fire? And at only 170 calories for a bag of 10, they're relatively low in fat for a nut and have good levels of other nutrients such as vitamins B and C. And they taste so good.... mmmmmm. 

2. Swap a gingerbread latte for... a lighter gingerbread latte

Cradling a warm spicy beverage while perusing market stalls is a delight, but one gingerbread latte with whipped cream comes in at 320 calories. Opt for skimmed milk rather than whole milk, ditch the cream and use sweetener, and you're down to 115 easily. 

The Christmas party

Tasty, creamy, spicy, and absolutely packed with calories. Eggnog is nice but you might be better off going for a snowball
Tasty, creamy, spicy, and absolutely packed with calories. Eggnog is nice but you might be better off going for a snowball

With you're having fun with your friends and colleagues it's almost impossible to resist the temptation offered by copious amounts of booze, cheesy snacks and even cheesier music. If you've got several parties lined up and want to try and keep a bit of a check on things without missing out (of course!) then try these swaps. 

There are also a few more alternate suggestions in our Christmas food article.

3. Swap cider for beer

Sorry cider drinkers (that's hard cider, US readers), but the calorie content of this sweet alcoholic beverage is nearly double that of beer. You can cut nearly 100 calories easily by switching from a pint of cider (around 230kcal) to a pint of beer (around 160kcal). 

4. Swap eggnog for a snowball

Eggnog may be a spicy festive favourite, but it's also got a huge amount of calories packed into it — a small cup has around 320kcal. Opt for the equally festive snowball, a mixture of Advocaat and lemonade, and you're down to a very reasonable 108kcal. 

5. Swap mulled wine for sparkling wine

It's perfectly acceptable at Christmas to drink sparkling wine at any point in the week (some would say, at any point in the day), which should cushion the blow of cutting back on the mulled wine. Mulled wine packs in 190 kcal for a small (120ml) glass compared with a relatively minuscule 80kcal for the same volume of chilled sparkling liquid. 

That doesn't mean we won't indulge it in at all though! 

Christmas dinner

Pigs in blankets… delicious but my-oh-my, the calories!
Pigs in blankets… delicious but my-oh-my, the calories!

Christmas dinner is the main event and there's plenty in it that's actually very good for you — think about the protein hit from the turkey or all those nutritious vegetables. Personally we're going to go hard on those festive favourites, but if you are trying to keep things in check these little cheats and switches will have a small but cumulative effect. 

 And it's Christmas, after all.

6. Turkey cheat

Tasty, tender turkey is packed full of lean protein. Pricking the turkey before you cook it and roasting it raised on a trivet allows more of the fat to drip out, and you can also reduce the calorie content further by avoiding the crispy skin. 

7. Vegetable cheat

It's tempting to coat your sprouts in bacon and butter, roast your potatoes in lashings of goose fat, and drizzle honey over your parsnips. 

Roasting potatoes in olive oil rather than goose fat will help, but you'll drop even more if you opt for oven baked potatoes instead. For your sprouts, add a flavour hit with some chopped fresh herbs and a little drizzle of olive oil instead. 

Another great suggestion we've spotted is to swap out the pigs in blankets, those tasty little sausages wrapped in bacon, for asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto, which gives a similarly tasty bacon-type hit for around half the calories. 

8. Sweet cheat

Christmas is all about the sweet treats; chocolate Yule log, Christmas cake and chocolate coils – yum!. While there aren't really many tasty alternatives to Christmas pudding and mince pieces, swapping out cream for low-fat custard or Greek yoghurt (especially if it's not full-fat) can drop hundreds of calories from each portion.

Likewise, ditching the tins of chocolates and sweets for a some high quality dark chocolate can give you similarly satisfying chocolaty hit. 

Christmas dinner – choose wisely, and it's a tasty meal that packs a nutritious punch
Christmas dinner – choose wisely, and it's a tasty meal that packs a nutritious punch

Christmas dinner calorie comparison

It's tempting to feel guilty about going all-out at Christmas, but if you live a healthy lifestyle and are an active person, there's nothing wrong at all about having a few indulgent days. It does the body little-or-no harm, and it can be great for the mind to switch off analysis mode and just enjoy things. After all, as the saying goes Christmas comes but once a year!

There's more good news: a good Christmas dinner will provide your body enough fuel to easily handle a good two or three hours on the road bike, or around two hours on the mountain bike. 

For a quick comparison, we've put two Christmas dinners side to side so you can see both the differences certain swaps can make. 

Christmas food (quantity) kcal Alternative option (quantity) kcal
 Roast, basted skin-on turkey (100g) 146 Skinless roasted turkey (100g) 100
 Roasted potatoes (100g) 149 Baked potato (100g) 109
 Sprouts with bacon (1/2 cup) 130 Sprouts with herbs (1/2 cup) 70
 Honey roasted parsnips (50g) 150 Roasted parsnips (50g) 40
 Marmalade glazed carrots (50g) 30 Steamed baby carrots (50g) 20
 Sausage meat stuffing (100g) 252 Cranberry and chestnut stuffing (100g) 160
3 pigs in blankets  245 3 asparagus wrapped in prosciutto 132
 Christmas pudding with brandy cream 463 Christmas pudding with low fat custard 357
 Small glass of mulled wine 190Sparkling wine 80
 Pint of cider 230 Pint of beer164 
 4 milk chocolates 200 6 pieces of dark chocolate 130
 Total 2,180 Total 1,492
 Road cycling / Mountain biking2.6 hours riding / 2.1 hours riding Road cycling / Mountain biking  1.8 hours riding / 1.4 hours riding
Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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