Food & Nutrition

Holiday Feasts, Global Style

Liven up your holiday table with these internationally inspired menu ideas.
Published December 10, 2015

Every family looks forward to its delicious holiday traditions—from Aunt Mabel's cornbread dressing to Bubbe's brisket. But even the most set-in-stone menu can be spiced up with treats from around the world. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, here are suggestions to give your holiday table international flair. 


  • Polish families often begin Wigilia, Christmas Eve dinner, with borscht, a beautiful and filling beet soup. Swirl in a little low-fat sour cream and watch it go from ruby-red to shocking pink—as lovely to look at as it is to eat.
  • In Italy, Christmas Eve might be celebrated with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, representing the seven sacraments—though you'll sometimes see twenty or more different fish courses on the table! Add a little pesce to your menu for a light alternative to more full-bodied fare.
  • The centerpiece of many Spanish dinners is Pavo Trufado de Navidad, Christmas turkey stuffed with a luscious mixture of minced lean pork, minced veal and pungent truffles, and simmered in sherry.
  • Russia's Christmas celebration falls on Jan. 7, but don't let that stop you from trying their traditional treat, kutya, a dish made from grains like wheat berries (which symbolize hope) plus honey and poppy seeds (which promise success and happiness).
  • Christopsomo, or Christ's Bread, is baked in Greek kitchens on Christmas Eve. A sweet, eggy loaf studded with raisins and nuts, it's often decorated with shapes formed from dough to represent the family's life.
  • It wouldn't be Christmas without dessert! This year, why not add lebkuchen, a German spice cookie made with nuts and candied fruit, to your repertoire? Or for the truly ambitious, a French bûche de noel—a cake decorated to look like a Yule log—will impress family and friends.


Because Hanukkah commemorates the miracle of the oil—temple light fuel that was only enough for one day, lasted for eight—most traditional foods are fried, which can make it difficult to prepare festive fare that's also healthy. So rather than celebrating with food all eight nights, play dreidel and light candles throughout, but have just one festive meal with your family, using your weekly SmartPoints™ accordingly.

  • Jews of Eastern European descent feast on latkes, fried potato pancakes—but since it's the oil that's significant, try adding vegetables like carrots, zucchini, spinach or beets. You'll boost the nutritional value and the flavor. (Hint: you can also "oven-fry" latkes by baking them with just a spritz of oil, saving considerable fat and calories.)
  • In Israel, sufganiyot, small jelly doughnuts rolled in granulated sugar, are even more popular than latkes. Luckily, the key word here is "small," they should be somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball.
  • Many Sephardic Jews (whose ancestors came from Spain and North Africa) celebrate with bimuelos: small fritters made of sweet dough, dipped in aromatic honey syrup.
  • To balance all that greasy goodness, add an Israeli salad, which features finely diced cucumber, tomatoes, red peppers and scallions in a light, lemony dressing.

RELATED: Recipe roundup: Hanukkah


This week-long African-American celebration ends on Dec. 31 with a Karamu, or feast, featuring traditional foods from the African diaspora.

  • African delicacies include a sumptuous, spicy peanut soup and benne cakes—cookies made with sesame seeds, which are considered good luck.
  • From the Caribbean, try some rice and peas, usually made with pigeon peas and coconut milk, or spicy—and low-fat—Jamaican jerk chicken.
  • While the American South is hardly a separate country, soul food makes a welcome addition to any holiday table. Healthier options include gumbo and stewed collard greens laced with tangy vinegar.

RELATED: Recipe roundup: Kwanzaa