It’s almost that time of year again. The holiday season brings out the giving and festive spirit in all of us. Depending on what holidays you celebrate, you and your family might observe certain traditions like exchanging gifts or gathering for a holiday meal. And let’s be honest, the meal is really one of the most essential parts. Food has a way of bringing people together through the act of cooking and sharing a meal.

But sometimes, you get tired of making the same thing every year. So why not make a global holiday feast this year? You and your family can explore international flavors by traveling worldwide with your main courses, sides, desserts, and even drinks. Don’t be afraid to try new things and make your holiday meal a little different this year.

But let’s not forget the overall mission: To celebrate the holidays without overspending! It’s easy to go overboard and spend way too much on fancy ingredients. So, let’s look at some exciting and budget-friendly recipes from around the world. 

a family around a food-covered table

The Allure of International Cuisine

There’s a certain allure to trying something new. Different cultures around the world not only use different ingredients in their traditional dishes but may use spices you’ve never even heard of before. There’s such a vast diversity of flavors and traditions from all over the world.

As you search for international dishes, many have stories and traditions surrounding the dish and why it’s made the way it is. As you cook, it’s fun to learn about other cultures. This is a great way to connect with people and cultures worldwide. It will also expand your cooking skills.

It’s easy to go overboard, so make sure you plan ahead to make your feast budget-friendly.

Planning Your Global Holiday Menu

When planning your menu, don’t opt for recipes with crazy expensive ingredients. Not only will that break the bank, but it’s likely not an everyday meal in other countries. There’s something special about making a meal that’s unique for you but a staple somewhere else. Cooking creates connections between cultures and brings us together.

So remember when you’re planning to look at what everyday or holiday meals look like around the world. It will create a connection and keep you within your budget. 

And remember to be flexible. Planning is critical here because you may not be able to get all the ingredients you need for some of the dishes you pick. So stay open to changes and substitutions when needed. You can focus on one region or try out a few things from several different regions.

Starters and Appetizers

To get any meal started, you want appetizers! And there are plenty of easy starters from around the world to explore. Check out these Cha Gio (Vietnamese Fried Spring Rolls), or this Torta Frita (Uruguayan Fried Sweet Bread). It’s easy to look through travel and cooking blogs and find something that sounds great and won’t cost an arm and a leg. Many recipes have presentation tips or explain how each dish is traditionally eaten.

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Main Courses that Won’t Break the Bank

When you’re looking at main dishes from around the world, there are so many options. Köttbullar (Swedish meatballs) are an incredibly popular dish in Sweden, or you could try Lablabi (Tunisian Chickpea Soup). You could also try the Costa Rican favorite Gallo Pinto (Rice and Beans).  

Depending on what kinds of flavors and spices you like and what new flavors you want to try, there are some amazing dishes from all over the world that would make your holiday one to remember.

Sides and Accompaniments

When cooking your international dishes, don’t forget some delicious sides to go with the meal. Pan de Coco (Honduran Coconut Bread) are fantastic dairy-free rolls made with fresh coconut milk. Of course, if you don’t have access to fresh coconut, canned coconut milk is a budget friendly substitution. Another great side is Lavash (Middle Eastern Flatbread), which can complement another dish as a sandwich or wrap. 

Sweet Endings: Global Desserts on a Budget

Of course, you can’t forget about dessert. The Chocolate Slice and the Christmas Pavlova Wreath are two amazing-looking desserts from Australia. The wreath is a traditional Christmas dessert, so it should fit into your holiday feast perfectly. You could also try Tembleque (Puerto Rican Coconut Pudding), another traditional Christmas dessert. 

Always remember that presentation is just as important as taste. Have some fun with the presentation and try to match it to the traditional look. Putting some effort into each dish’s look will surely impress your guests.

Creative Beverage Choices

There are so many unique drink options to pair with your global dishes. Guatemalan Atolillo (Hot Rice Atole) is a creamy and hot rice and cinnamon drink that is perfect for chilly nights. If you want something cold and refreshing, try this Brazilian Limeade or Mango Lassi. Lassi are traditional yogurt drinks from India that pair well with spicy meals.

If you want some ideas for alcoholic drinks, try making an Orange Spritz Aperitivo, a classic cocktail from Italy or a frozen pineapple margarita for a delicious cold drink. 

Decor and Ambiance

When you’re making dishes from around the world, it only makes sense to decorate with ideas inspired by those same cultures. Set the stage for your global holiday celebration with unique decor ideas to match your dishes. 

Many aspects could even be DIY projects. This will keep you within your budget and could be a fun project for friends or family to do with you.

Practical Budgeting Tips

There are a few easy ways to keep your menu within your budget: 

  1. Only buy what you need or buy ingredients you can use for other recipes.
  2. Shop at international markets to get the best prices and quality ingredients.
  3. If you can’t find what you need, don’t be afraid of substitutions. 
  4. If you need to buy produce, make sure it’s in season. It will taste better and will cost less.
  5. Make the most of leftovers. Eat your holiday feast for the rest of the week, and send leftovers home with family and friends if necessary. 

a family enjoying a meal together

Sharing the Joy of Global Cuisine

And remember to invite friends and family to share in your culinary adventure! Good food brings people together. So don’t be afraid to share. Inviting others over will help them explore new flavors and cultures as well. And while not everyone will like every dish (You might even decide not to make one or two again!) there is no harm in trying something new. Just make sure you respect everyone’s dietary restrictions and allergies.

If you have a great time cooking food from around the world, make it a tradition and try some new flavors next year too!

Meals on Wheels of Contra Costa

When planning your global holiday feast, try out flavors you know you love, but don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. With careful planning, strategic shopping, and a sense of adventure, you’ll be making international cuisine in no time. And if you and your guests have a great time, you can make this a yearly tradition.

Meals on Wheels Of Contra Costa is a community-driven organization that delivers healthy and balanced meals to homebound seniors who cannot prepare meals for themselves. Check out the program today to see if it’s right for you or a loved one, or look at donation and volunteer options. With your help, we can make a difference in the lives of seniors in your community today.

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