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12/21/2021
Seasonal

What You Need to Know About Popular Christmas Foods

Written by
Team Nutrisense
Reviewed by
Cheri Bantilan
MS, RD, CD
a family having Christmas dinner and laughing

With Christmas just around the corner, we're all thinking of the same things, right? Gifts, drinks, food, celebration... One of the most widely celebrated holidays worldwide, Christmas is both a religious holiday and a secular commercial phenomenon celebrated on December 25 every year. Here's a little more about the traditions, food, and some tips for a healthier celebration this year.

Traditions and More

a family having Christmas dinner

The holiday traditionally honors the birth of Jesus Christ but has evolved to become a secular celebration, incorporating many cultural traditions globally. There are Christmas parades in Manila, Sweden's famous Gävle Goat, New Zealand's crimson-flowered Pohutuka trees, and so many, many more. And you can't forget Santa Claus! You know, the jolly, bearded man from the North Pole who delivers presents to good children around the world on Christmas Day? 

If Christmas is a religious holiday for you, you'll likely attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (or both!) no matter where you are in the world. But whether you're religious or not, Christmas is a time of hope, light, joy, goodness, and family. Christmas is a time to come together and "be merry." If you don't believe us, just check out all the songs, movies, poems, and stories about the holiday! 

We're all for Christmas traditions. Building snowmen, watching holiday films, kissing under the mistletoe, caroling, sledding in the snow... we can't wait! But there's also another thing we're looking forward to—the traditional food! Read on to learn more about some of our favorites later in this piece. 

Some Fun Christmas Facts 

  • Germany is credited with starting the tradition of having a Christmas tree in your home. 
  • The first Christmas card from the White House was sent by President Dwight E. Eisenhower in 1953.
  • Washington Irving [the author of the Headless Horseman] was the one who developed the first known image of Santa flying his sleigh across the sky.
  • The first batch of Christmas eggnog was made in Jamestown in 1607.
  • If you gave someone every gift mentioned in the famous Christmas song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," it would total 364 gifts.
  • King Henry VIII began the tradition of eating turkey on Christmas in the 16th century. 
  • Christmas turkey didn't become a tradition in America until the 19th century.
  • Sugar Plums are not actually plums. In the 1600s, "plum" meant any type of dried fruit. Traditional sugar plums are actually made of dried fruits and spices that are then coated with sugar.
  • A German choirmaster invented candy canes in 1670 to keep children quiet during church services. 
  • The average Christmas dinner contains 7,000 calories. 
  • Chocolate coins are consumed and gifted as a Christmas tradition thanks to Saint Nicholas, who was known to give out bags of coins to the poor.

Traditional Christmas Foods

a person roasting a chicken with veggies

Like most of our favorite holidays, Christmas is traditionally celebrated by ending the day with a table filled with rich, savory, and sweet foods. Christmas meals vary widely, depending on country, tradition, and family, so it's impossible to give you an extensive list of holiday foods. From German Stollen and Anglo-Indian Guava Cheese to Italian Panettone and American-favorite Roast Turkey, there are just so many! Still haven't figured out what you're serving this year? Here are just a few traditional foods that date far back in the past to give you some ideas—some of which are still wildly popular today. 

  • Roast Goose: Geese were the first roasted bird to grace traditional tables because they only laid eggs seasonally. If you're feeling a little experimental, consider a tradition that dates back to ancient Greece, with a classic Roast Goose. It has a more robust flavor than chicken or turkey, but its meat is rich and flavorful—we're big fans!  
  • Turkey: Thanksgiving, Christmas... we love a good Roast Turkey, don't we? The famous bird became a staple on American and English tables in the 19th century.
  • Glazed Christmas Ham: Slow-cooked and basking in its warm brown sugar or honey glaze, a Christmas Ham is the most well-recognized holiday meal this season. It's a classic Northern European dish, so try this one if you're looking for a delicious old-school dish for your table this year.
  • Gingerbread Houses: Gingerbread decorated with icing and candy; what's not to love here? This one's a fun kids activity that we're not anywhere near getting tired of as adults. If you don't already have some Gingerbread Houses up, consider spending the weekend building one! 
  • Eggnog: We're big fans of holiday drinks, and Eggnog is pretty high up on our list. It's made from eggs, milk, sugar, and spices. Adults will often add rum or bourbon to the mix. 
  • Chestnuts: Yes, we're thinking of the song too! Whether you're roasting them over an open fire or not, Chestnuts are a lovely treat this season. They first became popular because they were easily gathered from the woods, so you didn't need to be rich to afford to have them at your Christmas table. 
  • Brussels Sprouts: We love these every day of the year, but they're particularly popular over the Christmas holidays. A traditional Brussel Sprouts dish for the season is often glazed, with a pomegranate seed or cranberry garnish. 
  • Roasted Potatoes: Could any meal be complete without potatoes? If you're not already eating Roasted Potatoes for Christmas, you may want to add this delicious dish to your meal!  
  • Glazed Carrots: Carrots are in season during the winter and have always been accessible, easy to grow, and (usually) even easier to prepare. So it's no surprise that Glazed Carrots have become such a popular dish on Christmas tables. In fact, children leave carrots out for Santa's reindeer in certain countries in Europe and the US! 
  • Gravy: Love it or hate it, no Christmas table is complete without a traditional Gravy to top the potatoes, mains, and stuffing. 
  • Stuffing: Stuffing is made in various ways around the world. You're likely most familiar with the bread, broth, and herbs version in the US. There are meat and herb options, vegetables with meat and herbs, and sometimes even potato and spices stuffing. It's sometimes cooked inside the roasting turkey, chicken, suckling pig, or goose. 
  • Yorkshire Pudding: Who hasn't heard of and wondered what a Yorkshire Pudding was? It's not really complicated; it's a fluffy pastry, a 'pudding' made with eggs, flour, and milk or water. The classic English dish is another one that's been around since the 19th century, cooked underneath a roast to catch its drippings!  
  • Cranberry Sauce: Like the gravy, most people have a love-hate relationship with Cranberry Sauce. But it prevails year after year, for Thanksgiving and Christmas, this sweet, tart, jam-like concoction. We couldn't leave it off the list! 

The Nutritional Content of Some Traditional Christmas Foods

Are you wondering about the calories, carbohydrates, fats, and more in these foods? Here’s a visual rundown of the nutritional content of each one, from our dietitian at Nutrisense, Kasey Brixius:

Chart of The Nutritional Content of Some Traditional Christmas Foods

In addition to these popular dishes, consider charcuterie boards, a dessert table with cookies and pies for your holiday table. With the average Christmas meal clocking in somewhere around 7,000 calories, it can be easy to ignore your health over the holiday, but remember, you can indulge without ruining your health with moderation and mindfulness. 

Tips For a Healthier Christmas

a person serving veggies during Christmas dinner

Indulging in traditions with family is important. But, if you're health-conscious, trying to lose weight, have a chronic condition, or struggle with blood glucose issues, the season can seem a little overwhelming. Here's a little refresher to help you stay healthy and control your blood sugar over the holidays:

  1. Keep your exercise routine as steady as possible while visiting family, and take short walks before and after meals. This will help digest your food and prevent blood sugar spikes from happening. 
  2. Don't feel forced by peer pressure to overeat. It's okay to say no to seconds if you're full.
  3. Eat protein and fiber-filled foods before heaping carbohydrates onto your plate. Prioritizing your food order will prevent blood sugar spikes and help aid digestion. 
  4. Bring a fresh vegetable or green-filled dish to add to the table. Not only will your loved ones be grateful for your contribution, but you will be providing yourself with a healthy start to your meal. 
  5. Try not to overindulge in alcoholic beverages. If you're going to have some, opt for liquors or dry wines. Mixed cocktails, beer, and sweet wines are packed with sugar.
  6. Hydration is always crucial. Staying hydrated will help you determine when you are full. It will also fend off sugar cravings and aid your digestive process. 
  7. Remember to prioritize your indulgences. Pick the foods you are most excited about and have a serving of those. You don't have to take one of everything. 
  8. Engage in conversation, enjoy your family, and eat slowly. The more time that you take to eat, the more time your brain has to register if your body is actually full and fueled or not. This will help you avoid overeating or overindulging when it's time for dessert.
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