An overhead view of a holiday feast on a tableSo, you’re whole-food plant-based and the holidays are coming! Maybe you’re new to this way of eating, or perhaps you’ve been enjoying a plant-forward lifestyle for some time. Your first plant-based holidays can take more planning – but they can also be really exciting! Finding ways to combine traditions with a plant-forward way of eating can open up a whole new world of delicious recipes, with the bonus that you can also feel really good that you aren’t “cheating” a diet – delicious food and a healthy plant-based lifestyle are a great intersection for a feel-good holiday meal.
You may be unsure, however, how to navigate conversations with your family about your whole-food plant-based lifestyle – so let’s talk talking plants with your loved ones. Changing your lifestyle, no matter how, can be tricky to share with family and friends, especially at times when tradition is expected and comfort is important. Food is a huge part of many families’ culture and traditions, and changing the way you eat can sometimes cause a rift when planning meals, especially during the holidays. Here are some ways to be sure your holidays won’t be derailed – either for your personal lifestyle, or for your time with family.

Talking to Your Family

Yes, this is the hardest part for some folks. When food is wrapped up in comfort, tradition, and cultural experiences, it can be difficult to hear that a loved one has decided to make a big change. It’s also helpful to brush up on your talking points to stand comfortably in your “why.”
Here are a few things to have in your mind before starting the conversation:
  • This is a choice I have made for my health and wellbeing.
  • While I don’t expect you to change your lifestyle, I would really appreciate your support!
  • I’m happy to share my research with you if you’d like to learn more.
If your family is open to learning more, you can start by watching a film together! Even if you can’t be together over the holidays this year, you could get the conversation started by asking if everyone would stream before a family video chat to discuss.
  • Forks Over Knivesis a great documentary to watch with your family: it’s gentle and nutrition-focused, and includes commentary by some of today’s leading doctors.
  • The Game Changersis another amazing film, and it really speaks to those of our friends and family that have athletic backgrounds.
  • Vegucatedfollows three people who spend six weeks eating a vegan diet, even though they love their meat and cheese. While this one isn’t focused on WFPB nutrition, it shows how folks in transition feel and some of the challenges they meet at the beginning.
For anyone that shows genuine interest following your conversation, send them to our website for more information – our Resources page has links to many of the most prominent evidence-based resources.

Feed Your Family

Another way to encourage family members that are interested in learning more about WFPB nutrition is to share your favorite dishes. Everyone loves a good meal, and everything seems to taste better when someone else prepares it for you. So pick your favorite recipe and make enough to share with everyone – even if you plan to bring your own plate to dinner. While you may not “trick” Uncle Mike into thinking tempeh is turkey, making some tasty options to share may help your family get past the idea that you’re existing on twigs and grass.
Forks Over Knives has a few collections of holiday meals on their website, here’s their Thanksgiving recipe collection if you need a place to get started.

Introduce New Recipes

New recipes are great for sharing because you’re not competing with the memory of a well-loved comfort food. I don’t recommend busting out your favorite Carrot and Potato Mac and Cheese for folks who eat dairy on the regular. I do recommend roasting veggies with all the seasonings, preparing an interesting bean salad, or making a big old batch of WFPB brownies for dessert.

Transform Traditional Recipes to WFPB

This one is for the adventurous folks that have already had some discussions with their family. There are lots of ways to make a traditional recipe plant-forward, including swapping dairy milk for plant-based milk, replacing eggs with flax eggs or applesauce, veggie broth for chicken broth, or even skipping the turkey altogether and rethinking your “centerpiece” food.  Pile on those beautiful veggies and grains – let’s face it, the sides are usually the best part anyway! Typically a quick search on Google will help you find some ways to change up even the most meat and cheese-heavy recipes. Just remember, for the WFPB meal, we’re looking for minimally processed ingredients and low-to-no oil, so a veganized recipe may need to be further altered.
I do recommend testing (and tasting!) your family’s favorite recipes before you go all-out to prepare them for a holiday meal. Things may take a bit longer to make as you maneuver the changes, but once you make your updated recipe once or twice it will feel normal again!

Making Space for Yourself

If you are expecting your conversations with your family to put you in a defensive position, it’s wise to think ahead about how you can remove yourself for a moment to regroup. There’s nothing wrong with excusing yourself and taking some fresh air outside, or going to the powder room to give yourself a splash of cold water and a big smile in the mirror. Self-care is important every day, and small gestures for yourself will help you remember why you made the decision to care about the food you eat.
While the Rooted team hopes your holidays are as good as can be, this year will certainly be a little different than we’re used to – so be sure to give yourself the space and time you need to have these discussions or avoid the conversation altogether if you feel the need. You don’t owe anyone an explanation, and we find it’s better to lead by living your values than by preaching. Ask what you can help with, bring delicious food, and enjoy time with loved ones.
We all eat plant-based foods. Plant-based eating can see out of the norm, but there are lots of foods that connect us and bring us together. If you do have plant-curious friends and family, check out our Resources page so you can share as much information as they would like.

Samantha Haentjens is a long-time plant-enthusiast working with Rooted Santa Barbara as a Steering Committee member and marketing consultant.

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