Alternatives To The Traditional Christmas Meal

A bulging festive table, heaving with turkey, cranberry sauce, sprouts, roasties, the Christmas cake, mince pies, a brandy covered pudding. A perfect and unchallenged Christmas day feast for most.

But if the taste of turkey with all the trimmings has become boring, or dietary requirements have left you and your family wanting, what other options are on the menu this Christmas?

International Variety

If you’re tired of dried up turkey, there are plenty of alternatives to be had! From different meats such as goose, or even an impressive fish dish like salmon, if you’re stuck for inspiration take a look at the foods other nationalities enjoy at Christmastime:

Czech Republic: Eaten as the first meal of Christmas Eve, the Czech Christmas dinner begins with a fish, mushroom, sauerkraut or pea soup. Instead of turkey, carp is the centerpiece main, and is served with potato salad. Dessert may be apple strudel, a Christmas bread known as váno?kaor gingerbreads or sweet biscuits.

Finland: In Finland, the Joulupöytä, or ‘Yule table’ heaves under the weight of the central baked ham, served with mustard, fish dishes such as lutefisk, gravlax (salmon), and pickled herring, beetroot salad, potato casserole, Christmas sweet breads, Karelian pasties, reindeer in further north locations, and a variety of other dishes. Christmas pudding in Finland may be gingerbread, fruit soup, rice pudding or chocolate.

Sweden: Similar to Finland, the Swedish Julbord smorgasbord holds a variety of foods, and is served in three courses. To start, fish dishes such as rollmops (pickled herring), smoked eel, lox (gravlax) and herring salad would be eaten with a range of sauces and dips, boiled potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. The main meal focuses on cold cuts: the Christmas ham, sausages and cheeses. Hot dishes like köttbullar (meatballs) and potato casserole follow, and the meal concludes with Julgröt (Christmas rice pudding) and Lussekatter (saffron buns).

France: An alternative noël, on Christmas eve in Provence, thirteen desserts are set on the festive table to remain until December 27th, and represent Jesus and the apostles. The Christmas lunch itself, often begins with oysters, fois gras and wine, smoked salmon and more. Roasted meats, chicken, lamb, turkey and goose are common, and towards the end of the meal a cheese board and bûche de Noël (Yule log) will be eaten.

Vegetarian and vegan

International alternatives provide great inspiration! But what if you follow a particular diet? Vegans and vegetarians may find choices slim on traditional menus.

Turkey substitutes, meat alternatives and Quorns often don’t meet the specialty of the festive occasion, so for a meat-free alternative meal, try a warming butternut or hearty winter root vegetable soup to start. Nut roasts, stuffed baked and roasted vegetables and mushrooms, halloumi dishes, and squash and gourd dishes are often the main alternatives, and offer as much variety as a carnivorous table. Deserts without milks, gelatin, and butter are possible to create too – try using dairy equivalents, or create a festive spiced fruit crumble!

Gluten free

When you need to avoid gluten, any party scenario is difficult and Christmas is no exception. With wheat and flour in the majority of foods and snacks, from pastries to biscuits, cakes, breads and even sausages and sauces, it may seem Christmas treats are completely off limits to those intolerant to gluten and celiacs. As such a common ingredient, wheat can crop up anywhere, even in the turkey if you’ve got a self-basting one and not farm fresh! If you’re after a regular Christmas table, gluten-free alternatives to stuffing, gravy, puddings and more are becoming much more common in supermarkets now.

Or why not swap your turkey for venison or beef? For a completely wheat free winter wonderland, substitute bread-based recipes (stuffing, bread sauce) with gluten free bread bases, search out gluten free sausages, serve up popcorn snacks, or cheese and non-breaded ham starters and vegetable crudités. For the dessert, try rice krispy cakes, flapjacks (with gluten free oats), chocolates, fruits, or bake your own festive treats using gluten free flours, pre-made or rice, rye, tapioca, or others.

Dairy free

Eggnog, brandy cream, chocolate, cheeses and mashed potatoes – those avoiding dairy or lactose intolerant have similar issues to celiacs when Christmas day comes around. Added to most things from cakes to custards, a dairy free Christmas may seem impossible!

Most Christmas meals (vegetable or meat roasts) are fine for dairy-free diets providing butter and cheese are avoided (beware of sauces!). Dessert however can be awkward, with butter, milk, cream and cheeses everywhere. Dairy alternatives like soya, oat milk, goats milk and others can be used to make any dessert you wish however, and shop-bought alternatives are increasingly common.

Alcohol avoidance

A trying time for teetotalers, a merry Christmas for most means becoming just that. Mulled wine, eggnog, brandy butter, well-fed Christmas puddings and the ever-present chocolate liquors make eating as well as drinking a risk. Red wine gravies and alcoholic puddings are the main concern, but can be made, and more frequently now, bought tipple-free. Searching out alcohol-free cocktails and other drinks can make joining in with the festivities more interesting and ensures your meal is still just as special.

Whatever your unique taste preferences and health needs, whether you’re just after a change of Christmas foods, want a healthier option due to salt, sugar or fat concerns, or simply need to change the ingredients of your festive meal (nut allergies beware!), the alternatives are endless. But with a little recipe research you can have a Christmas dinner which suits everyone’s tastes this year!

Suzanne Gibbard is looking forward to having a traditonal family Christmas this year. She runs a business called Bundles of Joy which sells personalised Christmas stockings.

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