7 tips for a healthy roast

Roast dinners make great comfort food, but they aren't always that healthy. Our easy swaps mean they don’t have to be bad news for your waistline or cholesterol levels, as Hannah Forster explains.

Whether it's a quiet Sunday or a big get-together with family and friends, we all love a traditional roast dinner. Unfortunately, it can be easy to forget about making healthy choices. But ensuring your roast dinner is healthy yet tasty doesn’t have to be hard - a few simple swaps can have a big impact.

1. Get your greens

Boiled vegetables in a bowl

At least a third of your meal should be fruit and vegetables. Spring cabbage, leeks, carrots, sprouting broccoli and peas are readily available now and will give a springlike feel to your meal.

Avoid cooking or serving vegetables with butter. The lowest-fat cooking options are steaming or boiling (without salt), but if you want to roast, use just a little olive oil and season with rosemary, garlic or mixed spices instead of salt.

2. Meat matters

Roast chicken with vegetables 

Meat is a good source of protein, but some types are high in saturated fat. Watch how much you eat – one portion is roughly as big as the palm of your hand.

Lean meats like chicken or turkey contain less saturated fat than beef or lamb. Swap lamb for roast chicken to save up to 241kcal, 30g of fat and 15.5g saturated fat. Chicken breast is often the most popular cut and it’s lower in fat than dark meat like drumsticks and thighs.

If you’re having beef, choose leaner cuts such as silverside or topside. Instead of roasting meat with butter or lard, drizzle with unsaturated fat like vegetable or olive oil. Cut any visible fat from cooked meat and avoid eating the skin.

3. Good gravy

Gravy

Use reduced-salt versions of instant gravy granules, or homemade or reduced-salt stock cubes. Compare labels when buying stock cubes or granules, as they vary widely. Homemade is usually best.

If you are adding meat juices to gravy, drain into a jug and leave for a few minutes to allow the fat to rise to the surface, then skim it off before adding the rest to the gravy.

4. Tasty tatties

Boiled potatoes

Roast potatoes are a popular part of a roast dinner. Cut potatoes into big chunks and parboil before roasting so they absorb less fat. Instead of cooking with lard, which is high in saturated fat, lightly brush potatoes with an unsaturated fat like rapeseed or olive oil.

Flavour spuds with herbs or spices – try paprika if you’re having beef, rosemary with lamb, and sage or cumin with chicken.

To cut calories further, serve boiled potatoes or a mix of roast and boiled. Many people like mashed potato, too. Keep the skins on for extra fibre and use low-fat milk instead of butter to cut total fat by 7.1g and saturated fat by 4.7g per 175g portion.

In general, a third of your food should be starchy carbohydrates like potatoes or wholegrain varieties of rice, pasta or bread.

5. Beyond the nut roast

Peppers filled with a stuffing based on pulses and vegetables

Nut roasts are a popular vegetarian option. They’re high in calories because of the fats in nuts, although these are generally the healthier unsaturated kind. A 120g portion of nut roast contains an extra 10g of fat and 72kcal more than an average portion of roast chicken.

If you’re having a vegetarian option regularly, ring the changes to reduce fat – try peppers, aubergines or squash filled with a stuffing based on pulses and vegetables (for example, cannellini beans flavoured with chopped tomatoes, onions and herbs).

6. Trim down your trimmings

Yorkshire puddings

Traditional trimmings like Yorkshire puddings, bread sauce and stuffing add to the salt, fat and calories in your meal, so go easy on these or skip them altogether.

Making your own helps reduce fat and salt. Make meat-free stuffing (try breadcrumbs, chestnuts and onions as the basis) or use lean mince instead of sausage to keep saturated fat and salt down. Add thyme or sage and lemon juice for extra flavour without salt.

Make your own Yorkshire puddings with eggs, flour and skimmed milk to save at least 1g of saturated fat per 20g of Yorkshire pudding versus buying them ready-made.

Bread sauce can be high in fat and salt. Make it yourself using semi-skimmed instead of whole milk, skip the butter and use bay leaves and nutmeg for flavour instead of salt.

7. Get fruity for pudding

Fruit crumble

As puddings go, homemade fruit pies and crumbles are better choices, especially if you make a few healthy tweaks. Use unsaturated spread instead of butter for a crumble topping, or filo pastry (much lower in fat than other pastry) for pies.

Get our heart-healthy recipe for apple and raspberry oatmeal crumble. An even healthier option is stewed fruit (or tinned fruit in natural juice) served with custard made with semi-skimmed milk.

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