Ukrainian Christmas Eve on a Renal Diet

Bowl with kutia - traditional Christmas sweet meal in Ukraine, Belarus and Poland, on wooden table, on bright background

Submitted by Deirdre Neumann, BSc. Food, Nutrition, and Health (c)

Христос Рождається! Ukrainian Christmas celebrations begin on January 7th and end on Epiphany (January 19th). Sviata Vecheria- or “Holy Evening”, is an Eastern Christian nativity celebration that involves a light meal including various grains, fish, and mushrooms. Traditionally no eggs, dairy, or meat was served at this meal in honor of Mother Mary. Today, most modern families have become flexible with the ingredients and usually only avoid meat. Twelve dishes, representing the twelve Apostles at the last supper, are prepared for Sviata Vecheria. While the meal is being made, children are tasked with decorating the Christmas tree and looking for the first evening star to appear. When the star appears, in recognition of the Bethlehem star, dinner begins.

Eating traditional foods preserves Ukrainian cultural identity and cultivates a sense of community. Like with all holiday traditions, it is important to remember everyday healthy eating habits and making adjustments when necessary. Be mindful of potassium and phosphorus additives, and use herbs and spices rather than salt to flavour foods. Choose whole grain instead of white flour when preparing breads, and prepare as much food at home as possible. Don’t forget to read labels.

Thankfully, family members on dialysis are in luck! Many Ukrainian dishes are CKD-friendly and can be enjoyed, or replaced with other culturally appropriate dishes. Speak with a dietitian to help modify food choices and plan meals as needed.

Traditional foods that don’t require modification:

  • Kutia (sweet buckwheat and poppy seed pudding),
  • Holopchi (cabbage rolls; cabbage, rice),
  • Pyrishky (cabbage bun),
  • Pampushki (garlic bread),
  • Nalysnyky (cottage cheese crepes; low sodium),
  • Baked fatty fish,
  • Kolach (braided bread).

Traditional foods that require modification or smaller portions include:  

  • Pickled fish,
  • Perogies (“dumplings” – limit potatoes, as these are high in potassium, or use this leaching method in the preparation),
  • Borscht (“beet soup” – have a smaller serving or replace with cabbage soup, and omit potatoes & carrots),
  • Pidpenky (mushroom gravy – choose a smaller portion or replace with canned cranberries),
  • Vushka (“mushroom dumplings” – reduce the portion or try blueberry dumplings instead),
  • Dried fruit compote (fruits like apricots, cranberries, and raisins are okay, but limit currants and dates).

The evening celebration usually starts with a ritual involving the first dish called kutia. The elder of a family throws a tablespoon of kutia onto the ceiling. According to the tradition, the more kernels that stick to the ceiling, the greater the luck the family would have in the coming year.

Kutia Recipe for 4 people (from

2 cups wheat berries (wash well and soaked overnight)

1/2 cup honey (liquid or creamed)

1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts)

1/2 cup poppy seed

1/2 – 1 cup of water (boiled and hot, to be added before serving)

Whether you are getting your wheat from a health food store or the local farmer down the road, be sure to clean your wheat well. Pick out any foreign grains or chaff.

The wheat may have an outer layer of bran. Rinse well and then spread the wheat berries in a shallow baking pan for 1 hour at 225F.  Using your rolling pin, gently crush the wheat to loosen this layer. Rinse again. The bran will rise to the top of the water, discard. Rinse the wheat again.

Soak the wheat in 7 cups of water, overnight.

Cook the wheat in the same water in which it was soaked. Bring it to a boil and then lower the temperature to simmer for about 6 hours. It will thicken, so ensure that you stir frequently. Check it often and add more water. It will be necessary to continue to add water as it cooks.

Wash the poppy seeds by pouring boiling water over them.  Bring the poppy seeds and water to a boil on the stove top for about 10 minutes. Strain through a sieve. Using your grinder, blender or food processor, grind for 1 minute. You many need to process the poppy seeds in batches of about 3 tablespoons at a time. Add 1-2 tbsp. of water to the poppy seeds while grinding.  You may also leave the seeds whole.

Mix the cooked wheat, poppy seeds, nuts, and honey together.  Add the hot water and stir all the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust with more water if it’s too thick or add more honey, if necessary.