Staying healthy over the festive season

30 Nov 2016
Staying healthy over the festive season
Photo Credit: Recipe photo: Greg Teschner | Food stylist: Abi Ulgiati

Most people don’t want to give up their favourite foods during the Christmas season. But there are things you can do to avoid gaining weight.

Set realistic goals

If you’ve been on a mission to lose weight prior to the festive season, plan to simply focus on maintaining your new weight. That will be challenging enough, and it’s achievable. If your weight has been stable but your experience tells you that unrestricted holiday eating will result in weight gain, take action this year. Here are some tips to enjoy yourself while paying attention to your lifestyle.

Six tips to survive

  1. Don’t skip meals in order to save up calories for parties. This mistake is made by many people who find that they lose control when they’re faced with delicious looking party food.
  2. Offer to bring healthy foods, and be an ambassador for “something that tastes good can also be good for you.” This will also ensure that you have a good choice when the spread is not to your liking.
  3. Portion size is key. Stick to the “three bites” rule for dessert to get the full experience. Research shows that the pleasure diminishes after that.
  4. Choose only what you love, not what you like. Don’t eat something just because it’s a holiday food, such as fruit cake or eggnog, if it isn’t a favourite.
  5. Don’t be afraid to politely decline if you’re full and ask for a doggy bag. Say “No, thanks” to food pushers.
  6. Move your body. Plan to catch up with friends during a walk, a swim or a game of tennis. Food isn’t the only way to have fun with friends over the Christmas season. 

Nutty Caramel Squares

Nutty caramel squares

Raw cacao powder is full of flavonoids, which act as antioxidants protecting the body from ageing. 

Preparation time: 40 min (+ 2 hrs) | Freezing: 30 min | Cooking time: 2 min | Serves: 36

Note: this recipe is made in stages.


Base layer:

  • 2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water for 30 minutes
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup

Second layer (caramel):

  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 6 soft medjool dates, pitted
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup 
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • ½ cup roughly chopped peanuts

Chocolate topping:

  • ½ cup melted coconut oil
  • ½ cup raw cacao powder
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup


  1. To make the base layer, pat dry the soaked cashews and blend in a food processor with the coconut oil and maple syrup until a paste is formed. Press down with a spatula into a 20 x 20 cm square tray lined with freezer film. Place into freezer while working on the second (caramel) layer.
  2. To make the second layer, place almonds in the processor and blend until a flour is formed. Add dates, maple syrup, vanilla and melted coconut oil and process until well combined, scraping down sides half way.
  3. Remove the base layer from the freezer and spread the second layer over the top, then sprinkle and press in the chopped peanuts (using clean hands). Return to the freezer for 2 hours.
  4. To make chocolate topping, melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan then allow to cool for a few minutes before whisking in cacao powder and maple syrup.
  5. Remove the cashew-caramel block from the freezer and lift onto a wooden board, then peel off film. Cut while frozen into 36 even squares (6 x 6) with a long-bladed knife. 
  6. Dip each square into the topping then place briefly on a wire rack to capture any chocolate drips. Transfer back onto freezer film and freeze for at least 10 minutes to firm up. Enjoy as a treat. (Squares are best stored frozen but can also be kept in the fridge for two weeks for a more gooey centre.)

Tips: Oil the tin prior to lining with freezer film to help hold the film in place. Use almonds or cashews instead of peanuts. Add some pepitas, sunflower or sesame seeds on top of second layer for a variation.

PER SERVE: Energy 673 kJ (161 cal). Protein 3 g. Fat 12 g. Saturated fat 6 g. Cholesterol 0 mg. Carbohydrate 10 g. Fibre 2 g. Calcium 26 mg. Iron 0.8 mg. Sodium 2 mg.