STAYING PLANT-BASED OVER THE HOLIDAY SEASON
BY JAMES CARSEY
It is inevitable. The Holiday season derails a diet and destroys any commitments to healthy eating. This is especially true for those that follow a plant-based diet. Whether you are a disciplined vegan or an occasional practitioner, beef, poultry, fish, cheese, and other delicacies deck our tables during the holidays and make veganism or vegetarianism more challenging to practice.
The lack of plant-based food choices at holiday social functions can be daunting. Not to mention the social pressures that vegans feel from others at the dining table. The stress can cause some plant-based diet practitioners to lean towards being a gracious guest and eat food with animal products in the ingredients.
Like anything in life, formulating a good backup plan can get you through the holiday season and keep you on your plant-based diet despite the social challenges you may experience. If you plan to attend any small gatherings or events, try some of these suggestions to stay meatless and reduce holiday anxiety at the dinner (picnic?) table.
HOST YOUR OWN PLANT-BASED HOLIDAY HERBIVORE SOCIALLY-DISTANCED GATHERING
This holiday get-together is on your terms. You decide the menu and serve whatever plant-based dishes you would like. Thematic foods or events are always fun. Try serving plant-based Asian, Indian, or Mexican food dishes and wow your guests with international cuisines. If that is too ambitious for your culinary skill level, try throwing a plant-based potluck this holiday season. Instruct your guests to bring whatever they want as long as it is vegan. Remember to set the ground rules and remind everyone what kind of potluck it is. It is always fun to sample the variety of dishes and talk about recipes with friends and family.
It is not uncommon for vegetarians and vegans to feel a little awkward at the dinner table. The last thing they want to do is cause a fuss or burden the host with their meatless diet. Don’t fret, chances are you can find a vegetable platter at any party you go to this holiday season. If you graze on anything plant-based you will get through the event feeling satisfied and stress free. Stealing the grapes and crackers from the cheese board is another good survival tactic. Chips and salsa, breads, and other vegan friendly food you can load up on before the big meal. When dinner arrives fill your plate with salad greens.
SURVIVING ON THE SIDES
A skill set many vegans and vegetarians learn to master early on and use at restaurants and dinner parties. When you realize the menu is not so vegan friendly, simply combine a few side dishes to make for an entree size plate of food. Roasted vegetables, olives, French fries, grain and legume salads, greens, and bread makes a well rounded plate and will hold you over for a while. You can use this tactic at restaurants and holiday get-togethers.
CALL THE HOST
Sometimes all it takes is a simple discussion with your host about your plant-based diet. Most likely, they will understand your dietary restrictions and rise to the occasion by cooking you the finest plant-based lasagna you’ll ever have. If that doesn’t happen just politely ask if they would mind if you brought your own food. You may be surprised how accommodating a host can be.
BRING YOUR OWN DISH
This one of the easier suggestions because it is fuss free for the host. It benefits you because you will be able to eat whatever you want. Simply show up with whatever dish you are in the mood for. Just remember to make some extra portions because you always want to wow the crowd with one of your specialty vegan dishes. If it’s good enough you will make new friends and become a plant-based diet ambassador. Who knows? You may even win over some meat eaters along the way.
CALL AHEAD FOR DELIVERY OR TAKE OUT
Chances are you can find a restaurant or cafe with plant-based options near the holiday get-together. You can pick up your food before attending the party or plan for a delivery. Door dash and Uber Eats can help you with all the culinary logistics and cater to your dietary needs. Remember, always order more food so others can try. Food is one of the best social lubricants. The idea is to make friends and not alienate others at the table.
FILL UP BEFOREHAND
This is another tactic you can use when you know you’re going to a meat lovers destination. Sometimes you’re doomed from the very beginning. Many families are proud carnivores and aren’t afraid to flaunt their love of animal proteins at the dinner table. That’s okay, to each is to own. If you know it’s a holiday BBQ, roasted pig, or feast of the 7 fishes you may have to accept the fact that there won’t be anything on the menu for you. It’s no big deal. Have a delicious plant-based meal at home and fill yourself up so you don’t have to eat any meat or animal products at the get-together.
Many of us choose a plant-based diet for environmental reasons. Understanding the dire importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that come from animal products is key to a healthier planet. Other motivations include health, wellness, animal ethics, and animal welfare. The good news is that the amount of people that are self identifying as vegan is increasing and so is consumer demand. Many food companies and restaurants are meeting the demand by launching new plant-based products as well as offering a variety of plant-based options in restaurants and cafes. It looks as if living a vegan lifestyle or doing your very best to be a plant-based eater will be all the more easier in the immediate future.
Remember to wear a mask when not eating, and keep socially distanced from those not in your household.
Happy Holidays – Stay Green!
Vegan Butternut Squash Soup
A hearty soup that is great for the colder months. It packs up well and it’s easy to carry along to any dinner party.
2 tablespoons of vegan butter (or olive oil if you don’t have vegan butter)
1 small onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 stalk of celery
1 medium carrot
3 small red potatoes cubed
1 medium butternut squash — peeled, remove seeds, and cube
1 32-ounce container of vegetable stock or 32-ounces of homemade vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste.
Add vegan butter (or olive oil) to a large pot on medium high heat. When the vegan butter sizzles add the butternut squash, red potatoes, onion, carrot, potatoes, celery, and garlic. Mix vegetables with a wooden spoon and add salt and pepper. Cook to lightly brown (about 6 minutes).
Add the vegetable stock to the vegetable mix and bring to a boil. Once you have achieved a rolling boil reduce the heat to low and let the pot simmer for about 35-40 minutes. Turn off the heat and mix with a hand held immersion blender. If you do not have an immersion blender you can use a regular upright blender just be careful because the liquid is hot. Consistency is key. If you like it thicker you can blend in more cooked vegetables. Add more vegetable stock if you prefer your soup with more liquid.
Pasta with Marinara Sauce
Most pasta is 100 percent vegan. Just give the product box a good read to make sure there are no animal-derived ingredients. Cook according to the instructions on the package and set aside. You can add any kind of cooked vegetables to the pasta and sauce for extra yum factor. This dish is easy to package and carry along to any holiday party. The best part is that it’s meat free.
2 large can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes
2 medium yellow onions (halved)
2 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of red pepper flakes (Optional)
Salt, to taste
In a saucepan, combine the tomatoes, halved onion, garlic cloves, olive oil, oregano and red pepper flakes. Simmer the ingredients over medium-high heat. Then lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for about 45 minutes. Make sure you stir the sauce every so often. Crushing the larger tomatoes with a wooden spoon as you stir. Remove the pot from the heat and use an immersion blender to blend the tender onions, garlic and tomato pieces. Do not over blend. You’re just blending until the big chunks of tomato is gone and the sauce is semi smooth. Salt to taste. You can directly pour on to the cooked pasta or keep separate until you arrive at the party and
Seasonal Roasted Vegetables
Ahhh roasted seasonal vegetables. Where would we be without you? Take your pick! Cauliflower, brussel sprouts, potatoes, onions, butternut squash, green beans, kale, carrots, parsnips, beets, and more!
Note: Some roasted vegetables can get soggy if there is too much time between cooking and serving so won’t transport well. If you are traveling, choose heartier veggies like brussels, carrots, onions, beets, parsnips. Or you can prep them at home or cook until they are al dente and finish them when you arrive. There are so many ways to roast vegetables. Try roasting them with a harissa sauce. If you are looking for something simple but just as tasty then coat the vegetables with some good imported olive oil and slightly salt them. Lay out on a sheet pan and roast at 350 degrees. Try to cut the vegetables roughly the same size for the most even roasting. If you like them tender, keep them in longer. If crisper is your thing, take them out sooner.