10 Healthy Holiday Dishes from around the World

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The holidays are approaching, and fitness fans all around the world are prepping for the season ahead. We know that even though many of you manage to get in a few workouts over the holidays, you’re probably thinking more of feasting than of fitness these days.

And why not? The holidays were made for good food shared with good friends and family. Still, noshing on empty calories won’t help your performance when it comes time to start tracking again.

We want to do our part to help you stay on track this holiday season, so we’ve rounded up some of the healthiest holiday favorites from around the world. These twists on traditional recipes are sure to be a hit without making a major dent in your diet and are packed with plenty of nutrients to fuel your winter workouts. Don’t forget to log your holiday meals with MyFitnessPal to keep track of your calorie intake and calories burned. 

Our Top 10 Healthy Holiday Recipes

1. Brazil – Bacalhau (Baked Cod)

On many Brazilian holiday dinner tables, you’ll likely find a turkey as the focal point of the feast. In true Brazilian fashion, the traditional dish would be served with tropical fruits available throughout the year. But if you’re near the coast, the dish most likely to make an appearance is Bacalahau or Codfish. This lighter version from MyFitnessPal combines a tropical salsa with cod to create a light, protein-packed meal in less than 30 minutes!

Recipe: Baked Cod with Pineapple Avocado Salsa

Nutritional bonus: This dish is high in Vitamin A,  Vitamin C,  Calcium, Iron, and Potassium.

Holiday food fact: Rabanadas are the most traditional dessert you’ll find in Brazil over the holidays, though you might consider them a breakfast food, since in English, they’re more commonly known as French Toast. The main difference is that instead of maple syrup, they’re sprinkled with sugar and drizzled with spiced port syrup.

2. Denmark – Rødkålssalat (Red Cabbage Salad)

saladsmallDanes enjoy plenty of good food over the holiday season, and their most popular dishes include roast pork, duck or goose with boiled potatoes and gravy on the side. Red cabbage prepared following the traditional Danish recipe is also present at almost every occasion during this season. For a fresher take on this Danish favorite, try it in this Christmas salad together with oranges, pomegranate seeds and walnuts.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 red cabbage
  • 2 large oranges
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 100 g of walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Instructions: Thinly slice the cabbage, cut the oranges into even slices, and rough chop the walnuts.  Remove the seeds from the pomegranate and add them to a bowl together with the cabbage, orange slices and walnuts. Mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey for the dressing. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and enjoy – velbekomme!

Nutritional bonus: Red cabbage is high in antioxidants, vitamin A and vitamin C.

Holiday food fact: Denmark’s favorite holiday dessert is Risalamande, or rice pudding, and that might just be thanks to the game that goes along with it. There’s an almond hidden in the pudding, and the person who finds it keeps it and doesn’t reveal it until everyone else has finished the bowl – which usually proves a challenge after eating an entire dinner!

3. France – Oysters with White Wine

Though France is famous for many decadent dishes and the famed Buche de Noel is probably one of its best known holiday treats, we think that another French favorite, oysters, would make a perfect addition to any holiday menu (just watch out with the shucking!). Not only are they low in calories, but they are loaded with protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and minerals including iron and calcium to keep your heart healthy and your bones strong.

Ingredients: 

  • 10-15 unshucked oysters
  • Coarse salt
  • White wine

Instructions: Preheat oven to 250° C. Arrange oysters flat side up into a pan filled with coarse salt. Bake for about 5-10 minutes, until the shells open (and throw any oysters that don’t open away). Take the top shells off and and release flesh by cutting into the muscles. Spoon a bit of wine over each oyster and enjoy.

Nutritional bonus: Oysters are an excellent source of zinc, with approximately 78mg in 100g.

Holiday food fact: More than half of France’s annual oyster production is eaten during the week from Christmas to New Year’s!

4. Germany – Bratapfel (Baked Apples)

Homemade oven baked apples

Fruitcake is probably one of the most widely known German recipes for this festive season, but baked apples actually have a long tradition as a favorite way to enjoy fruit during the winter. Though usually made on Nikolaus Day (December 6th), these baked apples stuffed with walnuts and dried fruits can satisfy your sweet tooth throughout the entire holiday season.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium sized apples
  • 30 g chopped walnuts
  • 25 g raisins
  • 2 dessert spoons apricot jelly
  • 1 dessert spoon honey
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 dessert spoon butter

Instructions: Wash the apples and remove the core. Place the apples in a greased baking pan. Mix together the walnuts, raisins, jelly, honey and cinnamon and fill the apples. Scatter small pieces of butter over the apples and bake in a preheated oven at 200 C for about 30 minutes. Serve warm with either vanilla sauce or enjoy them on their own.

Nutritional bonus: Apples are high in fiber and vitamin C, and walnuts provide an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids.

Holiday food fact:  Today’s festive fruitcake actually comes from Stollen, which is a German fruit bread eaten during the holidays and its first recipe dates back to 1474. In Dresden, there is an annual festival in which bakers make a cake weighing over 3 tonnes to parade through town. Imagine the calories in that! 

5. Italy – New Year’s Lentil Soup

Italy may be most renown for its delicious cuisine filled with pasta dishes, but most Italians will tell you that when New Year’s rolls around, the dish that is on everyone’s table is a traditional lentil soup. Rich in iron and Vitamin C, they are nutritional powerhouse that are still light enough to leave room for dessert.

Ingredients:

  • 500 g lentils
  • 1.5 liters of water
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 4 or 5 cherry tomatoes
  • ½ an onion
  • 1 carrot
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Croutons (optional)

Instructions: Rinse the lentils, then soak them in a bowl full of cold water for 12 hours. Dice the tomatoes, celery, onion and carrots and finely chop the garlic and place them in a large soup pan with the lentils, parsley and water. Bring to a boil, then cook for 30 minutes or until the lentils are soft, but still al dente. Remove from the heat and serve. Lastly, season with salt and pepper, and add croutons if desired.

Nutritional bonus: Lentils are are a great source of iron and are high in protein.

Holiday food fact: In Italy, lentils are not only rich in iron; they’re believed to bring good fortune too. On New Year’s, the more lentils you eat, the better your luck will be and the more money you’ll make in the New Year!

6. Philippines – Bibingka (Coconut Cakes)

If you want to bring a bit of tropical flair to the dinner table, get inspired by this Filipino favorite. Bibingka, or Coconut cakes, are a holiday staple in the Philippines which are a bit lighter than most desserts you’ll usually think of during this season, but still decadent and rich in flavor.

Recipe: Rice and coconut cakes (bibingka)

Nutritional bonus: This dessert is lactose-diet friendly, and coconut is rich in fibre, vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6

Holiday food fact:
Besides the coconut cakes, there are quite a few popular foods gracing the tables of Filipino families during the holidays, including tsokolate (hot chocolate), puto bumbong (purple rice sweets), and spaghetti, which has been catching on as a festive food in recent years.

7. Poland – Sledzie (Pickled Herring)

Poland has many traditional dishes eaten during the holiday season. Beetroot soup, Pierogi, mushroom soup, cabbage rolls, and poppy seed cake are just a few of the treats you’d dine on if you were celebrating your holidays in Poland. Eaten as part of a twelve course meal called Wigilia or served on their own as a great appetizer, Polish sledzie, or pickled herring are one of the healthiest dishes on the menu during the holidays.

Recipe: Sledzie

Nutritional bonus: Herring contains a high amount of heart healthy omega-3 fats.

Holiday food fact: In Poland, the traditional 12 course meal known as Wigilia is eaten after sundown on Christmas Eve. 

8. Spain – Grilled King Prawns

Spanish fried chilli shrimp tapas

Although Spain has many delicious traditional holiday dishes, they tend to vary a lot from region to region, making it hard to pick a healthy representative on the list. One thing that you’ll probably find on almost any menu in Spain is seafood, and here, the king prawn reigns supreme. That’s why these quick, no fuss grilled prawns are not only a tasty option, but also a great source of vitamins B-12, B-6, niacin, omega 3 fatty acids and protein.

Ingredients:

  • 500 g of king prawns
  • Sea salt
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil

Instructions: Heat a grill pan or griddle until its hot. Cover it with a bed of coarse salt and then arrange the prawns over the salt. Sprinkle some salt over the prawns and when they start to turn red, turn the prawns over. When they have cooked on both sides, remove from heat, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and enjoy.

Nutritional bonus: A 90 g serving of boiled or steamed prawns contains about 100 calories and more than 22 g of protein!

Holiday food fact: Want to ring in the new year with Spanish flair? Then gather up 12 grapes and start the countdown by eating one for each bell that rings until midnight. It’s said that if you eat all 12 on time, you’ll be lucky for all 12 months of the coming year.

9. UK – Mince Pies

In UK, there are few things that evoke the holidays as perfectly as mince pies. They tend to be a bit on the heavy side though, so these lighter, fruity versions from BBC Food are a great substitute that still deliver the festive feeling with less calories and some more fruit flavor.

Recipe: Light and fruity mince pies

Nutritional bonus:  Pears are a good source of vitamin B2 and fiber and satsumas (or mandarins) are rich in vitamin C.

Holiday food fact: The UK is tied with Ireland for the most calories eaten on Christmas day in Europe, following US in a close second on the list of countries with the most calories consumed during the holidays. Maybe it has something to do with those delicious Christmas puddings?

10. USA – Roasted Turkey

For a holiday recipe roundup, a traditional turkey could not be left out, and the USA is probably the most renown for its famous festive dinner tables with a turkey as the centerpiece of the feast. This version from Cooking Light delivers all the flavor of a classic roast turkey with less calories per serving than your average roast.

Recipe: Ultimate Roasted Turkey

Nutritional bonus: Per serving, this turkey provides 62g of lean protein.

Holiday food fact: In the US, 22 million turkeys are eaten on average on Christmas Day!

Do you have any favorite holiday recipes that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!

Happy Holidays,

The Endomondo Team

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