(CNN)Crown roast of pork? Pass. Beef Wellington? Boring. Clam dip? Well … maybe we’ll keep the clam dip on the menu.
In a year that’s been upside down and inside out, why stick with the same old dishes for Christmas dinner? This season, it’s time to lighten up a bit and bend the rules on what’s appropriate for a holiday feast.Socially distanced Santa is the best thing to happen to ChristmasDon’t worry, you can still dust off the good china, but making a meal out of some of your favorite snack foods is a way to bring a little more fun and excitement to your Christmas day, especially if you’re celebrating with a smaller-than-usual group this year.Whether you are looking for holiday nostalgia, feel too tired to cook or just want to break out of the usual holiday rut, let one of these themed snack menu ideas lead the way. Build a boardRead MoreOverflowing, perfectly styled grazing boards and charcuterie boards are the supermodels of social media these days. But they’re not just photogenic — these snack platters are fantastic for holiday meals because they’re easily customizable to each member of your family’s tastes.While the typical grazing board includes cured meats, a variety of cheeses, sliced fruits and vegetables, nuts, and crackers or toasted bread for topping, you can build yours with anything you crave.Make a Mediterranean board with herb salami, baked feta or goat cheese, hummus or roasted red pepper dip, artichoke hearts, olives and figs to feel like you’re on vacation.Vibrant foods like roasted red pepper dip and pomegranate make for an eye-catching Mediterranean spread.For dessert, go supertrendy with a hot chocolate board. Pile it high with marshmallows, chocolate chips, mini candy canes or crushed peppermint, whipped cream and caramel sauce. Carb comfortIt's vegan comfort food. Really.Nothing beats the pillowy, sink-your-teeth-in chewiness of a fresh soft pretzel, and nothing gets fresher than homemade. If you haven’t felt brave enough to try your hand at sourdough over the past nine months, this simple yeast dough is a gateway to the wider world of bread making.It’s also fun for kids to play around at shaping their own pretzels. If smaller hands can’t master the pretzel twist, just shape them into hearts or doughnut circles. You can also make pretzel bites by snipping the dough with kitchen scissors. And don’t forget the cheese sauce!Not ready to take on homemade dough? Grab refrigerated pizza dough from the store or your local pizza shop and turn out a few mini pizzas. Mini pizzas are always a welcome addition.Don’t feel restricted to pepperoni and sausage, either. It’s Christmas, so get fancy with combinations like gorgonzola, walnuts and pears or prosciutto, ricotta and sun-dried tomato pesto.Movie-watching munchiesFitness video games can break your Covid pandemic exercise slumpBecause the best part of the holidays is rewatching a favorite film for the millionth time, why not go all out with a smorgasbord of homemade snacks by the handful? Take inspiration from “Home Alone”‘s Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin won’t mind) and indulge yourself in “eating junk and watching rubbish” — only you’ll be upgrading both your movies and food. The salty-sweet pairing of caramel and cheese popcorn is even more satisfying when you make both from scratch. Make or buy plain popcorn, then toss half the batch with stovetop caramel sauce and the other half with cheese powder (widely available online).Christmas movie watching is incomplete without hot caramel popcorn for snacking. For true cheese fans, treat yourself by making your own Cheez-Its, just as crunchy and perfectly greasy as the boxed version but made with real cheddar and butter. Toss with Chex cereal, nuts and pretzels for a homemade snack mix that can’t be beat.And yes, baby, it’s cold outside, but is there ever a bad time for an ice cream sandwich? Make your homemade version with store-bought peppermint or mint chip ice cream instead of plain vanilla. Give homemade ice cream sandwiches the holiday treatment by using peppermint ice cream instead of vanilla.Retro classicsIf the “Mad Men” aesthetic never goes out of style in your house, lean into it with a retro-inspired holiday buffet spread. Shake up ice-cold martinis or Manhattans and set out a spread of classy finger foods that will make you want to break out the cocktail plates and napkins. Cocktail rings and Santa bow ties will also be appreciated!Stir up some classic Manhattan cocktails: whiskey, sweet vermouth and a dash of Angostura bitters.A trio of timeless dips — French onion dip and chips, baked clam dip and creamy shrimp dip — might be enough to sustain you for the entire evening. Add a finishing touch to deviled eggs with a sprinkle of smoked Spanish paprika.But if you add a few platters of deviled eggs, puff pastry-wrapped cocktail weenies and brie-stuffed dates, you’ll really have a throwback menu that still satisfies today.For ’60s cocktail-party flare, bite-size pigs in a blanket deliver.Sheet pan snackingFor the easiest snack meal of all time, the sheet pan comes through once again — just as it does for so many weeknight dinners. Load it up with tortillas and cheese to broil up a family-size serving of sheet pan nachos. (Family size can be one or two people, in case you’re wondering.)For sheet pan tacos, add fresh cilantro, avocado and dollops of sour cream just before serving.This method works for Irish nachos made with thick and crunchy kettle chips, or totchos made with tater tots. With these options, you can expand your world of toppings to include crispy bacon, a drizzle of barbecue sauce or ranch dressing, or other melty cheeses like Gruyere or Fontina.Get CNN Health's weekly newsletter
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Once you’ve tried freestyling festivities this year, who knows? It might be such a hit that you’ll want to make it a tradition for next Christmas.