I unapologetically love everything about the holiday season. I deck my halls like Buddy the Elf, watch the same 10 Christmas movies every year and load up my plate (repeatedly) with traditional Christmas foods like it’s the last meal I’ll ever eat. As soon as my local grocery store sets out their annual stock of Christmas goodies, you can find me filling my cart like I’m competing on Supermarket Sweep. And just like every other American, I have my favorites.
According to a 2020 survey, turkey’s the star for 73% of Americans, with prime rib (69%), roast beef (66%), steak (65%), chicken (64%), roast pork (64%) and ham (62%) also being popular contenders. To go along with it, many of us serve sweet potatoes (61%), macaroni and cheese (61%), scalloped potatoes (61%), green beans (58%) and of course, some variety of cheese (57%).
Christmas dinner traditions around the world often look a little different, in accordance with a wide variety of cultures. In Italy, seven fishes often grace the table and Puerto Rican and Filipino nochebuena celebrations often gather around a roast suckling pig called lechon. Swedish revelers may enjoy a spread called the julbord that includes pickled herring, cured salmon, meatballs, paté and other tasty dishes. And in Japan, the colonel comes to dinner with KFC fried chicken as a traditional merry meal. Venezuelans often wrap up hallecas, a cousin to the tamale nestled in banana leaves, which doubles as a fun bonding activity. And because Christmas arrives during the summer in Australia, they’ll often throw some shrimp or other seafood on the barbie.
Need some inspiration for the holiday spread? Allow me to share my incredibly opinionated, completely unscientific Christmas food list, in order from the treats I’m planning to pile high at the buffet table to those you can keep for yourself.
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Chocolate and Peppermint
Peppermint bark. Peppermint hot cocoa. Mint chocolate chip ice cream. If there’s a better combination than chocolate and peppermint, it’s never tickled my tastebuds. When you use this mint chocolate cookie dough recipe as the base for this year’s gingerbread house, you’ll finally understand the whole Hansel and Gretel situation.
Get the Mint Chocolate Cookie Dough recipe.
At my house, it just isn’t Christmas until we roll out my great grandma’s cut-out cookies. The recipe famously calls for “between 2 and 12 cups of flour, or until the dough looks right,” and I almost broke my stand mixer trying to recreate it one year. Don’t be like me: Use this Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen-approved recipe for almost guaranteed success.
Get the Magical Sugar Cookies recipe.
Don’t bring me the figgy pudding — sticky toffee is the real star at my table. This British export consists of a warm, moist date cake drizzled with a decadent toffee-pecan sauce and topped with a big dollop of fresh whipped cream. Take a page out of Charles Dickens and add this to your dessert table.
Get the Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe.
Baked brie is creamy, gooey, a little funky and tastes great with apples, pomegranates and spread on tiny toasts. At my house, I have to beat my not-so-little-anymore brother to the brie wheel or I won’t get any for myself. This simple, festive tart made with the star of the cheese tray at least gestures toward portion control.
Get the Brie and Apple Tart recipe.
The slightly sweet, spice-studded flavor of gingerbread tastes like the embodiment of the holiday season. But to me, biting the head off a man-shaped cookie is a little macabre for the most wonderful time of the year. These gingerbread wands are both easier than rolling and cutting and less cannibalistic. You can also use this recipe for the classic shape cookie, for the traditionalists in the crowd.
Get the Gingerbread Wands recipe.
At the end of The Grinch, the title character carves a many-limbed “roast beast” as the guest of honor. My mouth starts to salivate every time I watch him passing that platter. If you’re a meat-eater, there’s just no more appropriate dish for a big holiday feast than a showstopper of a roast.
Get the Peppercorn Beef Tenderloin recipe.
Chocolate bark looks fancy but couldn’t be easier. That’s my kind of treat: Maximum reward, minimal effort. You can’t go wrong with the peppermint classic (see above), but switching it up with different chocolate flavors and mix-ins gives it a fun personalized element. It also makes a great, affordable gift.
Get the Aztec Chocolate Granola Bark recipe.
Mashed potatoes are tasty and all, but mashed sweet potatoes? That’s my carb choice, every time. They’ve got the creamy goodness of the traditional mash, with about a hundred times more flavor and nutrition. Add a little rosemary and sprinkle the whole shebang with roasted pecans and watch your guests scrape the bowl clean.
Get the Rosemary-Pecan Mashed Sweet Potatoes recipe.
I love a gingerbread cookie, and we already know chocolate wins my heart every time. What I do not love is fiddly decoration. These mocha men solve that problem because they need nary a sprinkle; just a quick dunk in melted chocolate makes them ready for the ‘gram (not to mention your belly).
Get the Mocha Men and Star Cookies recipe.
We love the way this glazed ham looks and the fun ingredients it takes to cook. Glaze your ham with (yes!) root beer and serve this main with zero fear. I really like this Christmas ham, but not as much as I like yams.
Get the Baked Ham with Root Beer Glaze recipe.
I wait all year for stuffing season, but it wasn’t until I began making my own that I really fell in love with it. Ditch the box and tear your own bread, chop some veggies, toss some fresh herbs in there and you’ll see what I mean. Mine’s cornbread-based, but your mileage may vary according to your whims. Some years, I’m tempted to skip the turkey altogether and fill up on this classic side.
Get the Easy Herbed Stuffing recipe.
Many households swear by ham, lamb or another protein for Christmas dinner since it follows Thanksgiving so closely. But I still love a turkey centerpiece. Others (like my husband) consider the majestic bird too boring. If your turkey is bland too, you clearly haven’t tried this one that will make your kitchen smell amazing.
Get the Thyme-Roasted Turkey and Gravy recipe.
Sticky, tooth-achingly sweet and chock full o’ nuts, pecan pie is too rich to enjoy more than a few times a year. But when it rolls around, you bet I’m eating a big ol’ slice. This one combines the classic pecans with hazelnuts and walnuts for an even tastier twist. Serve it a la mode; you deserve it.
Get the Salted Caramel Mixed Nut Pie recipe.
As a kid, I couldn’t understand why my mom always resisted making thumbprint cookies. Rolling dough between your hands, sticking your thumb right in the center, dusting with powdered sugar – it made the best mess. Now that I have to clean my own kitchen, I understand why she didn’t want to still keep digging sugar out of the countertop grout a week later. They’re not in my top five cookie choices, but still worth the effort.
Get the Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies recipe.
In the cranberry category, nothing beats homemade. If your family serves cranberry sauce at Christmas as well as Thanksgiving, level up for the second round with this zippy orange-apricot cranberry compote. Or just go for the homemade version both times. It’s that much better and it doubles as a glorious kitchen aromatic.
Get the Orange-Apricot Cranberry Sauce recipe.
Even during the holiday season, you really shouldn’t eat candy all day long. That’s where these slightly spicy, slightly sweet roasted carrots come in. They pair perfectly with your holiday main and even the kids won’t be grinches about eating their veggies.
Get the Spice Roasted Carrots recipe.
The holiday season is a marathon, not a sprint, so you’re going to need some nutrition in your diet. Adding browned butter to Brussels sprouts brings out their naturally nutty sweetness. Toss in some sliced almonds and golden raisins and it’s practically a dessert. Your body will thank you.
Get the Brown-Butter Brussels Sprouts recipe.
For me, green bean casserole is like that one ornament that you made as a kid. It’s not good exactly, but because it’s my grandma’s favorite, Christmas wouldn’t taste right without it. Our version adds cheddar and parmesan for a more modern (and in my opinion, way tastier) twist on a reliable standby.
Get the Green Bean Cheddar Casserole recipe.
You’ll rarely find me bad-mouthing potatoes, but like I said before, there’s a strategy to stomach real estate. That said, it’s not every day you get to create a little crater in a mound of spuds and fill it with gravy like your own personal volcano. Really go all out with these easy, garlicky taters that will repel vampires while you’re at it.
Get the Creamy One-Pot Garlic Mashed Potatoes recipe.
The charcuterie platter makes an appearance at many holiday gatherings, and here’s where you’ll find my one appeal to moderation. I love a snack dinner as much as the next person, but you’ve got to pace yourself. All those delectably salty meats and velvety cheeses will fill you up faster than you can say “Eat, papa! Eat!” Pace yourselves, revelers.
As far as I’m concerned, dinner rolls serve one purpose: soaking up extra gravy. While that’s still an important roll (sorry, had to do it), there are more important items on the table. But if you can’t skip the bread basket entirely, go for these buttery rosemary rolls that blow the canned kind right out of the running.
Get the Buttery Rosemary Rolls recipe.
My family’s Christmas appetizer station has featured a wooden bowl of mixed nuts every holiday since time began, and I’m of two minds. Point: Cracking each one creates automatic portion control and it’s a great stress-reliever if that one family member has gotten on your last nerve. Counterpoint: Who wants to waste time on plain nuts when there’s something much more exciting right over there? Adding a little spice solves that problem.
Get the Spicy Deviled Walnuts recipe.
I love the festive, nutmeg-forward scent of eggnog. Splash a little rum or bourbon in there and we can all see how it became a classic. But a mug of eggs, cream, milk and sugar makes me feel like a long winter’s nap after just a couple sips. Every year, I end up tossing most of the carton. If your stomach has more stamina than mine, here’s a virtually foolproof method to make your own.
Why the traditionally dense, brick-like fruitcake even still exists is totally beyond me. It requires superhuman strength to chew through, requires at least three cups of wassail to wash down and at this point, makes a better punchline than dessert. Instead, take the dried fruit you would use for baking that bludgeoning weapon and use it in these tasty slice-and-bake cookies instead.
Get the Fruitcake Cookies recipe.
Assorted Box of Chocolates
Forrest Gump was right: Boxes of assorted chocolates aren’t for the faint of heart. Only some of them come with an answer key, and even those are a bit of a gamble. You could get a delicious peanut butter truffle, or end up with the ever-polarizing coconut creme. At least with the cookie tray, I know what I’m getting into.
Look, I love a salad for lunch during the work-week. I even toss one together when I’ve had a particularly gut-busting eating schedule lately. The day after Christmas, this vegan Caesar salad will be precisely what the doctor ordered. But on the day itself? I’m filling my platter with all of the decadent goodies.
Get the Vegan Caesar Salad recipe.
Candy canes make great ornaments for your tree. They look cute as a garnish for your drink. And the red-and-white stripes even work as a makeup trend or attire. But to me, they’re just not worth my time. If it isn’t dipped in chocolate, I’m using it as a decoration instead.
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