Written by Lauren Ranley.
As we enter the holiday season, family recipes and traditions can present challenges to following a plant-based diet. The good news is, I have years of experience navigating these traditionally meat-centered meals. With a little bit of planning, we can take the stress out of plant-based eating during the holidays.
I’m Lauren and I started my journey towards being plant-based nearly 15 years ago. Initially, I started with vegetarianism and eventually transitioned to being completely plant-based. My initial reason for becoming vegetarian was related to animal welfare, but I learned more about the health benefits of plant-based eating and eliminated all animal products from my diet. I discovered that plant-based eating can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. This led me to complete an internship with Reversing T2D. Their program combines the two things I’m most passionate about—plant-based eating and utilizing it for the betterment of our health.
That being said, I have spent many holidays with family and friends who don’t follow the same diet as me. Whether you're new to plant-based or have several years under your belt, these tips will help keep the joy in the holiday season.
I'm Plant-Based In a Family of Meat-Eaters
Personally, I come from a family made up entirely of meat-eaters. I even married one. The one thing this has taught me – patience. If your holidays consist of small gatherings or large groups, be prepared for questions (Why? When? For how long? What about bacon?). Some people may not understand what a plant-based diet fully entails and they want to learn more. If you usually call dibs on the turkey leg and this time, you pass it up altogether, people may wonder why. Also, a lot of the inquiry comes from family and friends wanting to make sure they respect your diet. My mom still asks me if she can use chicken broth to make the stuffing. The point is, take it in stride and remember why you chose to go plant-based.
Tips for Navigating Plant-Based Holidays
1. If you have a favorite side dish, offer to make it with plant-based ingredients and bring it.
This is a great way to contribute to the meal and guarantee you will have something to enjoy. I like to bring both a side dish and dessert. People may not even notice the difference! My dad regularly requests my plant-based chili.
2. Request the host to set aside portions of certain foods before they add animal products to them.
A great option, if you feel comfortable asking. Offer to help the host cook so you can do it yourself. My family has done this for me with almost every family meal. I am grateful to have their support and consideration.
3. Make your own plant-based holiday meal, sides and all, and bring it with you.
When going to my in-laws, I typically opt for this. Over the years, they have learned what it means to be plant-based and have become very accommodating. They even started using vegan butter in the side dishes. Every effort, big or small, makes the holiday meal feel even more special.
4. Offer to host. This will give you more control over what ingredients get used in the meal.
You don’t have to make every dish plant-based unless you want to! Instead of preparing everything yourself, make your favorite sides, and have others bring the rest.
5. Be kind to yourself.
Don’t expect yourself to be a perfect plant-based eater. If you find out your mom did use chicken broth to make the stuffing and you already took a couple of bites, don’t stress out.
My Favorite Plant-Based Alternatives
Depending on the holidays you celebrate, your family’s traditional dishes may easily be made plant-based. One of my favorite things to make is onion gravy, and it often gets chosen over the turkey gravy.
- Using this cream of mushroom soup recipe, you can make a plant-based version of green bean casserole – just swap the oil for vegetable broth to sauté.
- My personal favorite, mashed potatoes, are always a go-to side dish
- This plant-based stuffing recipe might become the new holiday tradition. Again, instead of oil, use vegetable broth for sautéing
- Roasted vegetables are an already plant-based flavorful dish.
- Leaving the turkey off your plate is easier when you have this seitan recipe
- If you want to use store-bought turkey/roast alternatives, there are a variety of brands to choose from - check with your local grocery store
- Use the internet to find plant-based versions of your traditional meals
Take Pride in Your Decision
It doesn’t matter if your reasons for being plant-based include your health, the environment, or animal welfare; be confident in your choice. Have open conversations with your family and friends about your motivations. It may give them the assurance that you aren’t skipping the buttered mashed potatoes because of their cooking. I find the holidays more enjoyable when I communicate with my friends and family so we both know what to expect. The person hosting will appreciate the heads up, too.