Make merry without worry

The cooking method of the traditional Christmas feast of turkey and stuffing, baked ham, gravy, potatoes and dessert, can be adjusted to reduce the calorie count, without compromising on taste.

For example, the usual butter- and cream-laden recipes can be replaced with healthy olive oil and flavour-enhancing lemon and orange zest.

You can also substitute anything "white", such as rice, bread and other refined grains, with whole grains where possible, such as brown rice and wholemeal bread, said a Health Promotion Board spokesman.

Whole grains are beneficial to your health as they have been shown to lower the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer, she added.

In addition, whole grains add bulk to your diet and can promote the feeling of fullness for a longer period of time. This prevents one from snacking in between meals.

You can also choose healthier cooking methods, such as baking, grilling or steaming, instead of frying.

This can help to cut out unnecessary fat in your diet, said the HPB spokesman.

Other than choosing healthier types of food and cooking more healthily, one should also not overeat, even though the temptation to do so during this festive season would be greater than normal.

The key word is moderation.

Try to enjoy all the varieties of food served, but in moderation, said Ms Apple Chan, a dietitian at Singapore General Hospital.

Studies have shown that people who chew their food or eat more slowly tend to eat less but still feel full, she said.

Given that our sense of satiety kicks in only after 20 minutes of eating, take a portion of food and rest for a while after eating it, said Ms Chan.

Allow some time for the stomach to send a signal to your brain on whether you are full.

If hunger pangs persist after 10 to 20 minutes, then opt for another portion of food, she said. But if you feel full, it is a signal to stop eating.

It is important to remember that a single high-calorie Christmas meal should not affect you too much, provided that you continue to eat balanced meals afterwards, said Ms Verena Tan, a senior research dietitian at the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

Too many high-calorie meals during the festive season, however, would unfortunately lead to weight gain, she said.

If you are faced with a choice of wine or beer, pick wine, especially red wine, as it contains resveratrol, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.

The festive season is no excuse for excessive alcohol intake, cautioned Ms Tan.

Women should consume no more than two standard drinks a day; and men, no more than three standard drinks a day.

A standard drink is equivalent to 100ml (1 glass) of wine, 330ml (1 can) of beer and 30ml (one shot) of hard liquor, said Ms Tan.

Eating a snack or meal before and during a drinking session will help to slow down one's alcohol absorption too.

Drink slowly; sip the alcoholic drink and alternate it with a non-alcoholic beverage.

Avoid salty food, which makes you thirstier so you end up drinking more alcohol to quench your thirst, said Ms Tan.

And if, despite all the best intentions, you still end up with a hangover the next day, there is no quick fix. Time is the only sure cure for a hangover, said Ms Tan.

But there are a few things you can do to help yourself feel better, she said. They are:

1. Sip water or fruit juice to prevent dehydration.

2. Resist any temptation to treat your hangover with more alcohol. It will only make you feel worse.

3. Consume food and drinks that contain fructose, such as fresh fruit or fruit juice, as doing this may help your body metabolise the alcohol faster.

Now that you know some of the ways to avoid the major pitfalls of festive feasting, here are a few healthier recipes you can try. They have been slightly altered by Ms Sarah Sinaram, a senior dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre.

Tips and tricks

There are ways to make this festive season a jolly one without the guilt and consequences of over-indulgence, said Ms Verena Tan, a senior research dietitian at A*Star. They include:

1. Choose smaller portions that will allow you to taste many different types of food without consuming too many calories.

2. Use a small plate during a buffet so that you will not over-pile your plate.

3. Choose foods that are baked or roasted instead of deep-fried.

4. Remove skin from poultry and trim visible fat from meats.

5. Include more fruit and vegetables - they are lower in calories but higher in fibre content.

6. Go easy on the alcohol, which contains calories too. Consider low-calorie drinks, such as unsweetened tea or iced water.

1. Roast turkey 

(Serves 15)


5kg turkey
2 tbs olive oil
1 lemon, cut in half
Salt and pepper


3 litres water
4 tbs coarse salt, heaped
4 bay leaves
2 tbs whole coriander seeds
2 tbs whole black peppercorns
1 tbs fennel seeds
12 cloves garlic


  1. Boil all the ingredients for the brine in a big pot for about 15 minutes, until the salt has dissolved.
  2. Let it cool to room temperature.
  3. Immerse the turkey in the pot and leave it in the fridge overnight.
  4. If the pot is too big to fit in the fridge, place the turkey and brine in a big ziploc bag and put it in the fridge.
  5. You may want to double bag the bird to ensure there is no leakage.
  6. Brining helps to keep the turkey moist during the cooking process.
  7. The next day, take the turkey out of the brine solution and pat it dry.
  8. Rub salt and pepper over the bird to season.
  9. Preheat the oven to 160 deg C.
  10. Place the turkey in a roasting tin and, starting at the neck of the bird, slide your hand between the skin and the breast meat to loosen it.
  11. Take some of the olive oil and rub it onto the breast meat under the skin. Rub some more of the olive oil over the top of the skin.
  12. Place the two lemon halves in the cavity of the turkey, to help to keep the bird moist.
  13. Roast for an hour, until the turkey is golden brown all over. Remove and brush with olive oil, then put it back into the oven.
  14. Baste the turkey every half an hour by spooning the juices that have collected at the bottom of the pan and pouring them over the turkey.
  15. The turkey should be cooked after another three hours, or when the juices from the thickest part of the leg run clear. Garnish with fruit and vegetables of your choice.


The original recipe uses butter, which, when served together with the gravy and stuffing, amounts to 923kcal per serving.

You can modify the recipe by replacing the butter with olive oil, as instructed above, said Ms Sarah Sinaram, a senior dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre.

By using the healthier olive oil, the calorie count per serving will drop to 825kcal.


(Serves 15)


Neck and giblets from turkey
200ml water
1 onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 bunch fresh thyme or rosemary
1 bunch fresh parsley
60ml white wine


  1. Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey and place them in a separate pot along with the water, onion, celery stalk, carrot and herbs.
  2. Bring the mixture to the boil for 15 minutes or until the vegetables soften.
  3. Pour this through a sieve, pressing on the cooked vegetables to get the juices out. Discard the giblets and neck.
  4. Pour the sieved liquid into the roasting tin that has been used to cook the turkey earlier. Stir to scrape up the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the roasting tin. Add a splash of white wine for extra flavour.


The original recipe contains 527kcal (assuming the turkey neck weighs 160g and giblets, 85g).

If you discard the neck and giblets, as instructed above, it cuts the calorie count to 209kcal, said Ms Sinaram.

To further reduce the calorie count, do not drizzle too much gravy on your food

2. Stuffing

(Serves 10 to 15)


1 tsp butter, heaped
2 onions, diced
1 apple, diced
120g minced chicken
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 sprig thyme, leaves only
1 pinch grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Half a lemon's juice


  1. Lightly fry the chicken until it is just cooked. Set aside. Heat the butter in another saucepan. Add the onions and soften them over a low heat without colouring. 
  2. Stir in the apple and cook until slightly soft. Remove from heat. Then, stir in the chicken, breadcrumbs, thyme, nutmeg and parsley.
  3. Squeeze in the lemon juice and mix everything well for about a minute.
  4. Bake the mixture in an ovenproof dish at 200 deg C for about 25 minutes. Serve it together with the turkey.


The original recipe uses 225g of pork sausage meat, which amounts to 1,352 kcal.

By replacing this with minced chicken, the calorie count of this dish is reduced to 740kcal, said Ms Sinaram.

This can serve 10 to 15 people with smaller appetites, making it 49kcal to 74kcal per serving.

3. Honey glazed ham

(Serves 12 to 15)


2-3kg cooked ham
¼ cup whole cloves
½ cup dark corn syrup
11/2 cups honey
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 tsp white pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 160 deg C.
  2. Remove the skin from the ham, if any, and place the ham in a foil-lined roasting pan.
  3. Using a sharp knife, score the surface of the ham in a diamond pattern. Poke whole cloves into the scored intersections.
  4. To make the glaze, boil the corn syrup, honey, orange juice and pepper until the mixture is smooth. Brush the glaze over the ham, then cover it with foil. Bake for 1hr 15min.
  5. Baste the ham every 10 to 15 minutes with the warm honey glaze.
  6. During the last five minutes of baking time, remove the foil and turn on the broiler to caramelise the glaze. Be careful not to let it burn.
  7. After baking, let the ham sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
  8. Serve with the pan juices on the side for your guests to drizzle over each slice of ham.


The original recipe uses butter and brown sugar, but these two ingredients are omitted here.

This way, the calorie count is reduced from 5,032kcal to 3,714kcal, said Ms Sarah Sinaram, a senior dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre. This makes it 274kcal to 310kcal per serving.

4. Mashed potatoes

(Serves four to six)


3 large potatoes, peeled
2 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic
½ yellow onion, diced
¼ cup low-fat cheddar cheese
2 pinches of salt
2 pinches of ground black pepper


  1. Boil the potatoes and garlic in a pot of water until they are soft and slightly breaking apart.
  2. In a pan, lightly fry the onion in olive oil until it turns soft.
  3. Mash them all together with the cheddar cheese while the potatoes are still hot.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.


Olive oil, instead of butter, is used. This healthier version contains 1,432kcal, said Ms Sinaram.

If it serves six, each serving would contain 239kcal.

5. Brussels sprouts

(Serves 10 to 12)


About 680g of brussels sprouts
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.
  2. In a pot of water, parboil the brussels sprouts for one minute. Discard the water and toss the sprouts in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Transfer to a baking pan and roast the sprouts in the oven for about 30 minutes, until they are slightly crisp on the outside but tender inside.
  4. Sprinkle with more sea salt to taste, if desired. Serve hot.


Baking is a healthier cooking method that uses less oil.

This recipe has 728kcal, said Ms Sinaram. There are 107kcal in a 100g serving.

6. Fennel salad

(Serves 10 to 12)


A small packet of salad, rocket or arugula
Two medium-sized oranges
Two medium-sized fennel bulbs
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp hone


  1. Slice the fennel bulbs thinly using a mandoline. Spread the slices evenly on a plate.
  2. Using a grater, zest the oranges, taking care to avoid the white part of the peel, or the pith. Put the zest aside for the dressing.
  3. Reserve half an orange for the dressing. Peel the rest of the oranges and cut them into slices and spread them on top of the fennel. Scatter the arugula all over it.


Squeeze the juice out of the half an orange. Add the zest, olive oil, lemon, honey, salt and pepper. Mix well. Pour over the salad and serve.


The original recipe called for half a cup of olive oil for the dressing. But this means the dressing alone would contain 1,069kcal.

Here, less olive oil is used, while lemon and honey are added instead. With these modifications, the calorie count drops to 64kcal per serving, said Ms Sinaram.

The salad alone has 191kcal per serving. When served with the healthier dressing, it is 255kcal for one serving of the salad.

7. Festive drink

There need not be alcohol for a party to be fun and festive.

One glass of Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) with strawberry juice has about 159kcal.

But if you substitute the sparkling wine with soda water, you would save 69kcal and still get the bubbly effect.

Squeeze some lemon juice and cut strawberries into fine slices. Add both to the soda water for another 40kcal, making the drink 109 kcal instead, said Ms Sinaram.

8. Basil seed pudding

Original recipe by Serene Tan and Chong Qian Yun from Singapore Polytechnic

(Serves one)


100ml hot unsweetened soya milk
10g basil seeds
20 blueberries
5 medium strawberries
¼ tsp vanilla essence
Water, as required


  1. Mix the hot soya milk, basil seeds and vanilla essence and leave to set for 15 minutes.
  2. While waiting, blend the blueberries and strawberries separately into a puree. You may reserve some berries as toppings.
  3. Stir the basil seed mixture and, if needed, add water for a thinner consistency.
  4. Then, layer the basil seed mixture and blueberry and strawberry purees in a cup.
  5. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for two hours. Top with a few berries before serving.

There are 93kcal in each serving.

If you are making more portions, multiply the ingredients accordingly.

This article was first published on Dec 11, 2014.
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