Dietitians Favorite Family Traditions for the Holiday Season

Diana J. Smith

Be inspired to truly celebrate your holiday traditions with these tips from dietitians on how they honor family traditions during the holiday season, including Christmas traditions.

One of the best things about the holiday season is spending time with the people you love, enjoying delicious foods as part of your own family traditions. Food traditions are those practices surrounding foods that have been handed down over the generations, especially for holiday traditions. Perhaps your grandmother made tamales for the holidays with her secret family recipe, or your mother boiled up a pot of black-eyed peas for good luck (mine did, which inspired the Black-Eyed Pea Salad featured in my book Plant-Powered for Life). Or maybe you’ve started a new holiday tradition, such as making and decorating sugar cookies with your kids (that’s my tradition, featured above), or creating food gifts, such as home-made muffins or breads. No matter what those holiday traditions are, they deserve to be celebrated and handed down to the next generation.

The picture above shares some of my own holiday food traditions. For the past 25 years, we have hosted our annual Swedish Christmas holiday party with friends and family in our home. This started in our small house in Pasadena, California, followed us to our home in Bradbury, California (pictured above) where we dined by the vegetable garden, and now continues in our new home in Ojai, California. Each member of our party shares in the menu, thus creating a new holiday tradition.

Dietitians are especially plugged into cultural food traditions, so I couldn’t wait to talk to my fellow colleagues about how they celebrate holiday traditions. They shared some of their own precious family holiday traditions today. And don’t forget to check out my blog on how you can BYO Food Traditions for more holiday season inspiration.

Dietitians Favorite Family Traditions for the Holiday Season

Seasonal vegetables are center stage in this recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash with Quinoa and Cranberries.

1. Forage for the Foods of the Season

Whether you “forage” for seasonal plant foods in your supermarket, farmers market, or great outdoors, one things for sure—produce can be the star of your holiday table. “Foraging! A recent family tradition we have been enjoying, while living here in Spain, is foraging for the foods of fall. The tradition this time of year is to head to the mountains on the weekends for mushroom hunting, foraging for chestnuts, and picking apples. We love it as a way to escape the city, take in the fresh air and enjoy the local foods of the region. Here is a picture from this past weekend when we went mushroom hunting in Girona. When foraging, I do recommend going with a local or an expert since picking your own food can be dangerous if you don’t know the varieties,” says Denine Marie, MPH, RDN.

We serve this Swedish classic recipe for Vegan Jansson’s Temptation every Christmas in our home.

2. Classic Cultural Cuisine

Take a deeper look into your own cultural food traditions and include them in your holiday cooking. “My favorite family holiday tradition is eating Croatian sauerkraut at every holiday meal. What makes the sauerkraut different is it has tomato sauce in it. We always eat our meals family style. Lots of wine is involved. And the food is passed out in courses so the meal takes about 2 or more hours to eat,” says Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN.

3. It’s All About the Holiday Table

This holiday season, make sure to spend as much time as possible around the actual table (not in front of the TV or computer!) with your family and friends enjoying special food traditions and meals. “My favorite memories of all our holiday meals at my parent’s house revolve around the table. We have the same traditional foods each year that are wonderful, but the table is what stands out to me. You see, my mom goes through a lot of effort to make sure the table is big enough so we can share our holiday meals sitting together. As the family has grown though marriages and children, she continues to add on tables to make room. Years back we bought her a table cloth that is long enough to cover all the added on tables so its once again “one” table we are all sharing together in the house my siblings and I grew up in. It’s wonderful – I look forward to those meals every holiday!” says Jodi Danen, RDN, founder of Create Kids Club.

My Vegan Sugar Cookies

4. Cookies, Cookies Everywhere!

Take time to splurge in holiday baking, enjoying favorite cookie recipes handed down through the generations. “Every Christmas I would go over to my grandmother’s house and we would make dozens of Christmas cookies all day. She was Polish so there were many that were from when she was younger and that you don’t see in the stores. She had decorations for the cookies from silver dots, to several different decorating sugars in all the colors to pearls and tiny snowflakes. It was so much fun and I believe that’s where I learned to love baking,” says Kim Melton, RD of Nutrition Pro Consulting.

Try my favorite Vegan Baked Mediterranean Lasagna recipe for your holiday table.

5. Homemade Lasagna Joys

Lasagna belongs on lots of holiday tables, even if you’re not Italian! It’s the perfect celebratory, plant-based comfort food entree. “While we had a huge Italian Christmas celebration on the actual day with 50+ family members, I always enjoyed Christmas Eve growing up where it was just my grandparents at my house. We had lasagna every year and then attended midnight mass together. Now that my grandparents have passed and I obtained a dairy allergy later in life, I make her lasagna noodles from scratch with her old pasta machine and created a delicious tofu ricotta to replace the dairy. It’s a lot of work, but brings back great memories as we create new ones!” says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD

I get everyone in on my “lucky” holiday family recipe for Vegetarian Hoppin’ John with Okra.

6. Cultural Traditions Stand the Test of Time

Include your friends and family in your cultural food traditions by including them in the cooking—and eating—during the holidays. “For Thanksgiving and Christmas every year, my family would always make Spaetzle, a traditional German dish that we all learned to make from my grandma, who came from Germany. Growing up we looked forward to it every holiday and didn’t realize it wasn’t part of traditional meals at other people’s houses until my sisters and I got boyfriends that we invited over for dinner on holidays. I will proudly say though that all our husbands are big fans of spaetzle now,” says Brynn McDowell, RD and owner of The Domestic Dietitian.

Love this recipe for Pasta with Marinara and Roasted Vegetables.

7.  Spread the Love

Now it’s the time to just sit back, relax, and enjoy! “My favorite holiday tradition was gathering at my grandmother’s house for Christmas Eve every year. She is the one who taught me to love and appreciate food. Each year she would make an incredible spread, mostly the Italian tradition of no meat on Christmas Eve. It was the most magical day of the year for me. All of us together, mainly in the kitchen, surrounded by love and incredible food,” says Jenny S Manseau, RD, CC.

For more of my favorite traditional plant-based holiday recipes, check out the following:

Swedish Beet Potato Apple Salad
Grits Smothered with Mustard Greens
Oat Cranberry Pilaf with Pistachios
Broccoli Au Gratin
Swedish Saffron Rolls

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