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Surviving Christmas

Christmas - a time for getting together with family and friends, eating, drinking, and generally enjoying yourself. But it can also be a stressful and tiring time, because extra people in the house means extra work and extra cooking. If you have MS, it can feel as if all your normal problems are multiplied tenfold. Cooking a more complicated meal – whether it’s for two people or a whole family - can seem daunting. Here’s what works for me - my top six tips for serving up a Christmas meal to be proud of, without harming your health.

  1. Start planning well in advance. Agree the menu with the rest of the family, and write a shopping list of all the food you will need over the holiday period.
  2. Unless you have a very large family and a very large oven, forget about buying a turkey. The effort required to defrost it, cook it and then use up the leftovers afterwards is just not worth the trouble. A 6lb chicken will feed four people, with enough meat left over for one more meal and will fit nicely in a normal-sized oven.
  3. Draw up a time plan for cooking Christmas dinner. Decide when you want to eat dinner, and work back from that. The pudding will probably be the first thing to go on the stove if it is being steamed, as it takes three hours to cook.
  4. Build a team of helpers. Who’s good at doing roast potatoes? Who will make the stuffing? Who can peel and chop vegetables? Who will lay the table?  Make it plain this meal is going to be a team effort, with you as chief co-ordinator. It’s more fun that way, anyway.
  5. Your kitchen is likely to get very hot with the oven on and a lot of pans on the stove. If you don’t have an efficient extractor hood, either open a window or use a portable electric fan. A hot, steamy kitchen is the enemy of anyone with MS.
  6. To save arguments later, before you sit down to eat, agree who is going to do the washing up/or load the dishwasher afterwards.

Traditional Christmas food is often high in sugar and fat, and not a healthy option if you have MS. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a prize-winning recipe for Christmas pudding that tastes just as good - if not better - than the standard recipe. I’ve been making this every Christmas for years, and my family love it. The sweetness comes entirely from fresh and dried fruit, and flour is replaced with breadcrumbs, which makes it much lighter than the normal pudding. If you are on a gluten-free diet, gluten-free bread works just as well as normal bread, and you can use dairy-free margarine, such as PURE. If you prefer. To save time, you can even cook it in the microwave instead of steaming it. What’s not to like?

As there is no sugar in the recipe and only a small amount of alcohol, you can’t make this pudding too far in advance, because it won’t keep that long. I usually make it on Christmas Eve, with help from any family members who are around, and then steam it on Christmas day whilst the main course is in the oven.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Christmas Pudding (enough for 6-8 servings)

80g (3oz) unhydrogenated margarine

120g (4oz)  dried figs, with stalks removed

120g (4oz) stoned prunes

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped into 4 or 5 pieces

1 dessert apple, peeled, cored and quartered

230g (8oz)  breadcrumbs

120g (4oz) raisins

Juice and grated rind of 1 orange

1 beaten egg

1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon and ground ginger

2 1/2 fl.oz (75ml) rum or brandy  (You can use fruit juice if you prefer).

Put margarine in a microwave bowl and cook on 80 for 1 minute until melted. Put figs, prunes, carrot and apple into bowl of food processor and process until chopped up finely. 

In a large mixing bowl, mix margarine, fruit and all other ingredients.  Transfer mixture to a greased 2 pint (1.5 litre) pudding basin.

To Steam

Cut a sheet of greaseproof paper approximately 40cm (15 inches) square. Form a 'pleat' in the centre of the paper and place over basin.  Tie securely in place with string, forming a handle with another length of string.

Put an upturned plate in the bottom of a large saucepan or stockpot and place bowl on plate. Pour in boiling water to halfway up sides of bowl.  Bring water tp boiling point, turn down heat, cover pan and simmer for three hours, Top up with more boiling water once an hour if required.

When cooked, lift bowl out of pan using string handle and remove paper 'lid'.  Using oven gloves, turn pudding out onto serving plate.

To Microwave

Pour mixture into a 1.5 litre glass bowl and cover tightly with clingfilm. Heat on 100 for 8 minutes (800W) or 7 minutes (900W). Pierce clingfilm with a sharp knife, cover with a plate, and leave to stand for 12 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate.

BLOG - November, 2019