Christmas and New Year - British Nutrition Foundation

Christmas and New Year

We aim to give people access to reliable science-based information to support anyone on their journey towards a healthy, sustainable diet. In this section you can read about food and nutrition during the festive season.

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Christmas and New Year

Christmas and New Year - tis' the season!

The festive season can help remind us about the joy of sharing food, spending time with friends and family, and the importance of including those who may otherwise be spending Christmas alone – but central to most of our Christmases is festive foods and drinks!

However, we also know that the indulgent foods we tend to eat between the office parties, through Christmas day, to the celebrations over New Year, that that the festive period can be somewhat of a challenging time to eat well.

Research shows that with the extra calories consumed across all the celebrations during the festive season, we can gain on average around 1kg (roughly 2lbs). But don't worry, it is possible to eat, drink and be merry without over doing it!

Party season - a time to have fun and enjoy! 

Indulge but not overindulge?

Whether it is a work function, an evening with friends, or catching up with family members, we often do a lot of celebrating over the festive season. The work Christmas ‘do’, for example, is often one of the highlights of the work calendar. However with alcohol and canapés a-plenty, many additional calories may be consumed – as you can see from the calories of the nibbles below, it can be easy to eat the equivalent calories of a full meal just from all the party food and drinks available!

So, a little forward planning and making some good food choices can help to make your party season that little bit healthier.

A family having a meal together at Christmas

Below we suggest some lower calorie swaps for party nibbles:

Nibble Portion size Energy (kcal) Saturated fat (g) Lower calorie alternative Portion size Energy (kcal) Saturated fat (g)
Mini sausage roll


53 1.6 Sushi (salmon) 20g 30  0.1
Breaded chicken 20g  51 0.4 Chicken skewer 15g 26 0.3
Two cheese straws 16g 82 2.8 Two bread sticks 11g 43 0.7
Handful of tortilla crisps 20g 101 0.6 Seven olives 21g 22 0.4
Soured cream dip (around 3tbsp) 45g 123 3.3 Tzatziki 45g 57 2.1
Single rum (25ml) and cola 175ml 119 0.0 Single rum and diet cola 175ml 57 0.0
Orange cream chocolate 12g 52 1.2 Satsuma 50g 21 0.0
Handful of salted peanuts 30g 181 2.9 Handful of plain popcorn 15g 78 0.3

Mince pie

67g 253 4.0 Mini mince pie 22g 87 1.9

Source: McCance and Widdowson's The Composition of Foods 2015 and retail data


Below we have suggested some tips for before, during and after the party!

  Before the party:

  • Going to a party straight after work? Try having a small healthy snack, like a bowl of low-sugar wholegrain cereal, oatcakes with peanut butter, or a plain yogurt before you go, so you do not arrive hungry and dive straight into the high-calorie nibbles.
  • If you have to pre-order for a sit down meal (particularly if you are going for lots of festive meals) – instead of ordering a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings, why not save that for Christmas day, and opt for a healthier option like grilled fish or a vegetable based dish, and have a soup or salad to start instead of a sweet dessert.


  During the party:

  • Studies show that the greater the choice of food on offer, the more calories we tend to consume. So rather than trying a little of everything at a buffet, stick to a few smart choices – selecting the healthier items first can make it easier to say no to higher calorie options later. Go for things like vegetable sticks, breadsticks and dip/houmous, and avoid too many choices with pastry or breadcrumbs.
  • When it comes to festive drinks, choose sugar-free mixers, go for smaller glasses of wine and beer where possible and try including non-alcoholic drinks like sparkling water too.
  • Keep drinking lots of water alongside your festive tipples – you can always alternative alcoholic drinks with water to reduce your alcohol intake!


  After the party:

 If you do not have time to follow your usual exercise pattern during the festive period, why not build activity into your daily routine.

  • Walk up the stairs rather than taking the lift or get off the bus a few stops early and walk the rest of your journey.
  • Rather than lots of screen time, why not wrap up and go for a brisk walk in 30 minutes at (4 miles/hour) can use up 150 calories.
  • Why not get family and friends together for some sport or activity – you could go outside and play football or go ice skating or stay indoors and play some active games like charades, twister, musical statues or even interactive tennis on the games console!


Christmas Day

Christmas Day can be about fun, family and festive cheer – and more often than not, lots of indulgent food and drinks!

Media reports suggest we can eat a staggering 6,000kcal (25,104kJ) on Christmas day, that’s three times the recommended daily intake for women and over two times for men. Surprised?

Here is an example of what this can look like:

  Breakfast: Two scrambled eggs on buttered, wholemeal toast with a glass of orange juice and a glass of champagne

  Mid-morning: Two satsumas and six fancy chocolates

  Christmas dinner: Prawn cocktail to start, followed by roast turkey and all the trimmings and two glasses of red wine. For dessert, Christmas pudding and cream and a coffee, all finished up with a cheese board, glass of port and a couple of chocolates

  Afternoon tea: Mince pie with a dollop of double cream and a glass of sherry

  Supper: Turkey sandwich with coleslaw, crisps and a slice of Christmas cake

  Evening: Eight fancy chocolates and two glasses of wine


Scrambled eggs and toast next to a glass of orange juice and a hot drink

We recognise that Christmas day is one for us all to enjoy, without worrying too much about indulging. But if you did want to try and make Christmas day little bit healthier, here are a few things you could try. Do not forget you can use these tips too on Boxing Day, New Year and all the days in between…

Christmas day breakfast

Breakfast can help to get the day off to a good start. It a good source of energy and essential nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals.

So, whether the family are ripping open presents or prepping vegetables in the kitchen, remember to take a little time to tuck into a healthy breakfast too. Do not forget it could be a long time before the main meal is served, so a healthy festive breakfast may help to reduce the tendency to snack until then.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Add fresh fruit such as grated apple or pear, segments of satsuma or sliced banana to your favourite wholegrain cereal or porridge. To make breakfast a little bit festive, why not sprinkle on some cinnamon, a handful of nuts or dried traditional fruit such as cranberries, dates or figs. Both fresh and dried fruit count towards your 5 A DAY!
  • You could cook scrambled or poached eggs or even an omelette, and for a bit of luxury, add trimmings of smoked salmon with chopped chives and serve on wholemeal toast. Add tomato, avocado and/or mushrooms on the side for a bit of veg!
  • Try a festive mix of fresh orange juice and sparkling water. Cheers!

Christmas snacks

We are surrounded by tasty snacks at Christmas that can tempt us to eat when we are not really hungry. To help with making snacking that bit healthier:

  • Have lots of healthier snacks like fruit, unsalted nuts, vegetable sticks with plain yogurt and herbs, and other dips (try to choose those lower in fat, salt and sugar) to hand.
  • You could choose to keep the chocolates and candy canes off the tree this year – instead have smaller portions of chocolate and sweet treats and serve them only occasionally. 
  • As an alternative snack, try small slices of fruity breads (like malt loaf) and some dried fruit (such as figs) or seasonal fresh fruits (like pears, clementines).

The main event

Whether you call it Christmas dinner or Christmas lunch, here are some top tips to make it a little bit healthier, but still delicious of course! 

The meat:

  • Before cooking the turkey, prick the skin to allow the fat to run out and cook the bird on a wire rack or an upturned ovenproof plate so it is not sitting in fat all the time.
  • The skin on turkey or goose is where most of the fat is so remove before eating to reduce saturated fat and calories from your meat. Light meat has fewer calories than dark meat.

The stuffing:

  • Instead of using sausage meat stuffing, why not replace with a chestnut, nut or fruit-based version (dried fruit works well and there are plenty of recipes online).

The potatoes:

  • Try cutting your potatoes bigger for roasting - larger pieces absorb less fat during roasting (this also applies to parsnips). Parboil them first and then finish off in the oven!
  • Traditionally, animal fats like lard or goose fat are used on roast potatoes – for a healthier alternative, why not try vegetable oils like olive or rapeseed, as they are lower in saturated fats and higher in unsaturated fats. They still go crispy!
  • Swap half of your regular potatoes for sweet potatoes, as an alternative that can contribute towards your 5 A DAY.
  • If you leave the skins on your potatoes, you can up your fibre intake for the day.

The veg:

  • Serve a variety of vegetables, as different types provide different essential nutrients!
  • Vegetables are what we call low-energy density foods – so you can eat lots for relatively few calories (provided they are not covered in fats like butter). Use chopped fresh herbs or lemon zest instead to add flavour. Try caraway with your carrots, or nutmeg with your Brussels sprouts for a deliciously Christmassy taste!
  • Try steaming vegetables rather than boiling, as steaming retains more of the vitamins.
  • Use the cooking water from the vegetables to make the gravy, as this will contain some of the vitamins from the vegetables.

The gravy and sauces:

  • To make low-fat gravy, pour the turkey juices into a jug, wait for the fat to rise to the surface and carefully pour or spoon off the fat. You can then use the remaining juices to make gravy!
  • Use low-salt stock cubes for gravy and try to limit salt added at the table – your food will still taste delicious without it!
  • Make bread sauce with skimmed milk, and add garlic, nutmeg, cloves and a bay leaf to the milk for extra flavour – you do not need any salt to make it tasty!

The dessert:

  • Christmas pudding and other festive desserts can be delicious, but also very rich – why not opt for a small portion and add additional fruit for a 5 A DAY contribution.

After dinner: Do go for a walk afterwards for a breath of fresh air and some exercise! 

 Love your leftovers: On Christmas day we tend to prepare and cook a lot more food than we actually eat! Instead of wasting all your leftovers, why not use them to make some delicious next day meals or snacks? Find plenty of recipes on the Love Food Hate Waste website.


Bringing the flavour of Christmas to work!

 Are you one of the people who must work over the Christmas period? For those of you like our NHS heroes, here is an idea for the ultimate turkey sandwich, to bring a bit of Christmas into your workplace!

  • Good quality wholegrain bread
  • Thick slices of turkey
  • Stuffing
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Avocado
  • Tomato
  • Spinach
  • Red onion
  • Reduced fat mayonnaise (with a little pesto or mustard for an extra kick – up to you!)

 Top tip – to stop bread going soggy!

  1. Consider toasting bread slices first to keep the moisture out.
  2. Put slices of turkey on each side of the bread first, mayo on top of the meat, and add other ingredients in the middle.
  3. Make sure your spinach is nice and dry!

Our top 10 nutritious Christmas foods

Christmas food can often be thought of as quite unhealthy and indulgent, particularly on Christmas day! But in fact, some of the foods traditionally eaten around the festive season can be very nutritious!

Below we give you 10 top Christmas foods that fit well into a healthy, balanced diet!

1. Brussels sprouts

Love them or hate them, Brussel sprouts are are a good source of vitamin C and folate. They also provide fibre, which is needed to keep the gut healthy. Having a portion (80g) of these vegetables with your Christmas dinner will count as one of your 5 A DAY! Why not have two portions!

How to make Brussel sprouts delicious!

Some of us really do not like sprouts - but this is maybe because we are used to eating them over-boiled. But there are loads of tasty recipes you could try to make them more enjoyable! Why not cut them in half, par boil, and roast with some flavour sensations…

  • Chestnuts and nutmeg spice
  • Pecan and dried cranberries
  • Pistachios and pomegranate seeds
  • Hazelnuts and orange zest
  • Garlic, chilli and lemon zest and juice

2. Carrots

Carrots are a good source of beta carotene which our bodies make into vitamin A - important for normal vision and a healthy immune system. They also provide fibre like Brussel sprouts and 80g can count as one of your 5 A DAY! Put plenty on your plate or maybe try serving carrots two different ways, instead of just one!

3. Chestnuts 

Chestnuts are in season over the winter months and are perfect added to stuffing, soups and sauces, and always sit well with Brussel sprouts! They are also a source of fibre and naturally low in saturated fat, as well as provide potassium which can contribute to the maintenance of normal blood pressure.

4. Clementines, satsumas and tangerines

Clementines, satsumas and tangerines are all a great source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is important for our immune system so having enough in our diet is important to help keep us well for the big day and over the winter period!

5. Cranberries

Fresh or frozen cranberries are packed with vitamin C! But because they are tart, cranberry products often have added sugar. So why not make your own cranberry sauce? This way you can control how much sugar you add.

For another festive cranberry idea, why not combine freshly squeezed orange juice with no added sugar cranberry juice!

6. Dates and figs

We typically associate dried fruits with Christmas. Dried figs and dates are good sources of fibre and are great chopped and added to cereal or porridge. Dried figs provide potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium and do not forget dried fruit can count towards your 5 A DAY – three dried dates or two dried figs count as one portion!

7. Nuts and nut roast

There are so many delicious types of nuts! They can be eaten as a snack on Christmas day, or added to your breakfast, desserts or even the vegetables! Nuts can also be used in a nut roast for vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike!

Nut roasts provide a rich variety of nutrients, including potassium, iron, zinc, B vitamins and folate, and vitamin E. They are also a good source of monounsaturated fats, which can be good for our heart health when they replace saturated fats in the diet.

If you are trying to manage your weight, remember nuts can be high in calories, so try to eat in moderation and avoid those with added salt or sugar.

8. Roast potatoes & parsnips

There is no way it could be Christmas without some roasties!

In the UK, potatoes make a good contribution to our potassium and vitamin C intakes. Leave the skins on for more fibre, and roast using an unsaturated fat!

Parsnips are also a good source of fibre, manganese and folic acid – and are a great addition to roast potatoes!

9. Salmon

Salmon provides long-chain omega-3 fats which are important for heart health. If you are having smoked salmon, it is high in salt, so try to eat in moderation.

10. Turkey

Turkey is a good source of protein, and without the skin, it is low in fat. It is also a source of B vitamins (vitamins B6 and B12) which helps to support a healthy immune system.

Did you know?

Some people believe that it’s the tryptophan in turkey that makes us feel so sleepy after Christmas dinner, but does the tryptophan in turkey have sleep-inducing effects?

Tryptophan is an amino acid (the building blocks of proteins) that can be converted in the body to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates sleep. But evidence that tryptophan from food can induce sleep is lacking. Tryptophan is also found in many other protein-rich foods like milk, dairy products, fish and nuts. And at Christmas many other factors contribute to feelings of tiredness, such as drinking alcohol and overeating!


Brussels sprouts

Christmas drinks - our top tips!

Over the festivities, some of us will have quite a few alcoholic drinks with friends, family and work colleagues!

So it is good to remind ourselves of the government recommendations!

What are the guidelines?

In 2016, the Department of Health updated the guidelines for alcohol consumption and now recommends no more than 14 units of alcohol per week for both men and women. If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over three days or more (rather than having one or two heavy drinking sessions).

 What is ABV?

 Alcohol by volume (ABV) represents the percentage of alcohol (ethanol) contained in a given volume of an alcoholic drink. In other words, the strength of the alcohol in the drink.

Alcohol may not only stimulate your appetite, but also may weaken the resolve not to over-indulge, so any good intentions you might have about eating sensibly may be lost once you have had a few glasses!

 DID YOU KNOW: alcohol provides 7kcal per gram – that’s more than carbs and protein (providing 4kcal per gram)!


Holding back the hangover

Many cures for hangovers have been suggested, but there is little scientific evidence to support them.

The best piece of advice to avoid a hangover is of course not to drink too much alcohol or get drunk, but this this can be difficult over the festivities!

A mulled alcoholic drink

If you do think you might over-indulge, try the following tips to limit your intake and reduce the effects of a hangover, whether you are at home or when you are out.

  Before...                                                                                                 Eat something before you go out and try not to drink on an empty stomach. The presence of food in the stomach will help delay the absorption of alcohol into the blood and stop you getting drunk so quickly. 
  At home...

Home measures are often much bigger than you’d get when you’re out. If you drink at home, you can watch your units by:

  • Opting for small amounts of wine or small 125ml glasses. If you fill glasses to the rim, you'll drink more than you realise. 
  • Measuring your spirits instead of free pouring them – 25ml is a normal bar measure!
  • It's hard to keep track if your half-filled glass is being topped up! Try waiting to finish a drink before it is topped up so you can keep an eye on how much you are drinking. 
  • Try replacing some alcohol in your fridge with a soft drink option – it does not have to be dull; you can even serve mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails) if you have guests! Try using low-calorie or diet drinks to keep your sugar intake lower. 
  • Keep hydrated with water!
  Out on the town...
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks or glasses of water to limit alcohol intake, and to help prevent dehydration – or order a glass of water each time you order a drink!
  • You do not have to drink all night! Take a break and switch to water or soft drinks.
  • Dilute your drink - try white wine and soda to make a spritzer or a shandy (half lager: half lemonade – ask for a low calorie or diet version). You'll still get a large drink, but one that contains less alcohol.
  • Watch out for cocktails! As easy as they are to drink, they can contain more alcohol than you might think. Also try to avoid creamy cocktails with lots of sugary ingredients. 
  • Go for smaller measures - swap pints for half pints or bottled beers and opt for smaller glasses of wine.
  • Remember your ABVs - drinks with higher ABVs have more alcohol and count as more units.
  • Changing to, for example a beer with a lower ABV will mean you can make your evening’s units go further and you may not even notice the difference.

Drink plenty of water before you go to bed and keep more by your bedside, to rehydrate and help reduce the effects of a hangover.

  The morning after...

 If you overindulge and have woken up feeling hungover, what can you do?

  • Dehydration is one of the main causes of hangover symptoms like the headache. This is because alcohol acts as a diuretic which means that you may urinate more and become dehydrated.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate. As well as water, why not try some unsweetened fruit juice (dilute with sparkling or still water if you like) to give yourself a little vitamin boost, or a smoothie made with milk, fruit and ice.
  • Although you may have heard a ‘hair of the dog’ (drinking more alcohol) may help, it is likely only to delay the problem, so avoid alcohol and get plenty of sleep - and importantly keep drinking water.

For more information on alcohol and how to check your units see this NHS page.


For those not consuming any alcoholic drinks, there are still some tips that can be followed for healthier hydration:

  • Sugar-sweetened soft drinks can be damaging for teeth, for adults and children, and on average are high contributors of sugars in our diet. So try to limit the consumption of these.
  • Why not choose low calorie versions, alternative with water, or have something like soda water and lime instead!
  • If choosing to make ‘mocktails’ – try to opt for low-calorie soft drinks as the mixers or use sparkling water and 100% fruit juice!
  • It is still important for those not drinking alcohol to stay hydrated – we should be aiming for 6-8 glasses of fluid a day – so do not forget to drink water. Why not use a re-usable bottle and keep filling up!

For some more information on healthy hydration see our pages on this topic.


New Year, New You

Are you ready for a healthier you?

New Year’s resolutions can vary from trying something new, to swapping your old habits for better ones, to changing your lifestyle completely!

They can often start off well but end up a bit abandoned. Thinking about some realistic, long-term lifestyle changes may be a good option. Why not look at some of the suggestions below and pick some that you could fit into your lifestyle!

  • Be snack savvy – there’s no reason why snacks cannot be incorporated into a healthy diet! But it’s important to avoid having too many snacks that are low in essential nutrients and high in fat, salt and sugar. Try swapping fried crisps, chocolate and sweets for fruit, vegetable sticks, low-fat yogurts, unsalted nuts, wholegrain crispbreads, oatcakes or rice cakes with low-fat dips or houmous to keep you going between meals.
  • Eat more plants - incorporate some plant-based protein into your day (such as beans, peas, lentils, tofu, nuts or seeds). Why not try swapping some or all the meat for pulses in traditional dishes – for example, chickpeas in a curry, lentils in a bolognese or mixed beans in a chilli for a change!
  • Hooray to 5 A DAY! - try to get your 5 A DAY of a variety of different types and colours of fruit and vegetables. They contain different amounts and types of essential nutrients. Why not challenge yourself to aim for three different colours each day! 
  • Get some fibre – could you swap your usual breakfast for higher fibre versions? Or try a new wholegrain food? There are plenty to choose from like wholemeal pitta, wraps or bagels, brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, wholegrain spelt pasta, bulgur wheat or plain popcorn! Having more fibre in our diets can help to keep our digestive systems healthy and benefit our long-term health. We should be aiming for 30g a day!
  • If you are looking to lose some weight - keeping the energy density (calories per gram) of your diet low can be helpful. Eating low energy density foods like fruit, vegetables, soups and fibre-rich foods, means you can eat more and still lose weight. Try and bulk out your meals with vegetables and increase the fibre content by adding wholegrains, beans or pulses.
  • Just add water – good hydration is essential to keep your body and mind working their best. You should be drinking 6-8 (200ml) glasses of non-alcoholic fluids per day to stay hydrated. Water is a great choice, but other fluids like tea, coffee, unsweetened fruit juices and soft drinks also count. Sugar-sweetened beverages should be minimised, and fruit juices and smoothies should be limited to a total of 150ml per day. It’s best to avoid having too many sugary or alcoholic drinks. For more information see our hydration guide.
  • Screen breaks - Christmas time can involve lots of seated screen time and sitting down uses very little energy! Why not try and reduce this by setting yourself a challenge, for example, half the time you would usually spend in front of the screen each day and stick to it!
  • Move more and try something new - why not get moving and make activity social by going for a walk with friends or family. Or you could start a new hobby! Visit your local leisure centre to see if they have swimming clubs, or try a kayak, rowing or football club! Alternatively, find a climbing wall nearby, or start a yoga or dance class! You could even join a community garden or just offer to help your neighbour out with their shopping or dog walking. 
  • Step it up - did you know that 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on at least five days a week helps to prevent and manage over 20 health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, obesity and mental health problems. We all know we should be more active, but if you feel unfit and the thought of jogging around the park or joining the January masses in the gym is not for you, try building up your activity levels slowly with moderate exercise like brisk walking or cycling. As you start to feel fitter, increase the amount and level of the activity you do and try to build up to 30 minutes on most days of the week.


Calories used based on

30 minutes of activity*

Activity burns around the

equivalent of...

Ironing 69 Two vegetable spring rolls
Vacuuming 105 Two small sausage rolls
Wallpapering 99 Two pigs in blankets
Mowing the lawn 165 A large gin and tonic
Painting and decorating 90 A chocolate digestive biscuit
Walking, brisk (4mph)


Three mint chocolate thins
Golf 129 1/4 pot sour cream and chive dip
Cycling (12-14mph) 240 Six cheese straws
Aerobic dancing (such as Zumba) 195 Two glasses of champagne
Swimming (medium speed) 240 A luxury mince pie
Running (6mph/10kmph) 300 Portion of Christmas pudding

* Based on a person of 60kg. The number of calories burned doing a certain physical activity will vary depending on factors such as weight and age. 


New Year, New You – the British Nutrition Foundation can help!

In the New Year, why not have a look at our ‘Try, Swap, Change’ planner to help you TRY something new, SWAP your old habits for better ones and CHANGE your lifestyle!


Last reviewed December 2018. 

Useful resources

BNF 12 days of Christmas

A food and nutrition-themed take on the 12 Days of Christmas

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Christmas Survival Guide

An article looking at healthy eating at Christmas.

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Quick facts
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Health professional

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