For a new vegan, or even for someone trying to eat less meat or dairy, the holidays can be tough! It’s a time of year when we may...
be in more social situations than we’re used to
have traditions we’ve carried with us for years
have a natural craving for comfort foods when it's cold and dark
have to cook for or eat with people who aren’t eating the way we are
There’s no shortage of obstacles, but with support, you got this!
Here are my top 10 tips to help you navigate this holiday season with ease.
1. Try to find ways to replicate favorite foods or traditional recipes.
When I first went vegetarian, I was the first in my family to entirely give up meat. Nobody knew what Thanksgiving would entail. We opted for a Tofurky (now there are SO many options) that cooked faster than a real turkey and that became the centerpiece on our table. Covered up by all the delicious sides, my family took to it quickly. When I went vegan, plant-based butter, cheeses, eggs, and milk quickly stood in for dairy options. I started hosting Thanksgiving (more on that below) and made all the same dishes we were used to, but with all vegan ingredients. I felt like I wasn’t giving up anything and my family agreed. We just held our 5th all-vegan Thanksgiving and people keep coming!
2. Connect with a local vegan group for support.
It’s important to have a strong support system when going vegan since there will be challenges. This is especially true during the holiday season since challenges can be compounded into a tough few months. Connecting with a local vegan group can help you find answers to any questions you have and most people in the group will have been in your shoes before. Bonus: most vegan groups have meetups during the holidays where you can all go enjoy delicious vegan food together.
3. Have a quick answer prepared to tell people why you’re eating the way you are. Have a quick answer prepared to end conversations where people may aim to make you feel bad.
Being vegan during the holidays pretty much ensures that you’re going to have people ask you questions! You can expect this heading into any family gathering, so be prepared! Two common pitfalls that are easy to fall into are 1) allowing your family/friends to inundate you with questions and make you feel attacked and 2) providing a judgmental answer about why you're vegan that might turn people away from veganism.
Instead, prepare a short answer that tells others what inspired you to go vegan, not why they should. If you’re finding the conversations triggering or if people don’t seem to be genuinely curious, politely excuse yourself from the conversation. You’re not required to justify your actions to anyone. You can make decisions that make your body and mind happy. Your decisions are the only ones that are within your control.
4. Offer to bring a dish or host.
One of the easiest ways to ensure you’ll have plenty to eat during a holiday gathering is to bring your own dish(es) or to offer to host your family/friends. Not only will you enjoy what you made but this can be a great way to introduce others to a vegan diet. Duh, it’s delicious.
5. Say no to food pushers.
Similar to tip #3, there may be family and friends who insist you try “some of” a non-vegan dish or just to have “just a taste”. Keep your reason for going vegan in mind, listen to your body, and know that you don’t have to feel guilty turning others down.
6. Drink less alcohol.
Alcohol can be a big part of the holidays. We also know drinking can lower inhibitions, especially when we’re surrounded by food! To avoid going for foods that may later make your body or mind unhappy, stay mindful of how much you’re drinking. If you know you might be drinking, have a vegan snack prepared and easily accessible.
7. Don’t arrive hungry.
Don’t arrive hungry! This one is straightforward. If we arrive at a party or gathering starving, we can often be let down if our hosts don’t eat in a similar way to us. Eat something before you go if you’re unsure what the options will look like. And, if there’s something vegan, you will be pleasantly surprised! Being a disappointed and hungry vegan over and over again is not a recipe for sustainability and success.
8. Be open to trying new recipes for vegan comfort foods.
Comfort food can be a meaningful part of winter for a lot of people-- especially me! This can be a great season to look up new recipes for old favorites. And similar to what I did with Thanksgiving, many meat and dairy-heavy recipes can be easily veganized. Beans and seitan are often good meat substitutes and I always keep unsweetened soymilk, vegan butter, and No Chicken Bouillon base in the fridge for other recipes. See more about my recommended pantry staples here. Think about soups (yes, even creamy ones!), pastas, shepherds pie, stew, chili, etc.
9. Bring snacks when you travel and hit the grocery store.
Travel is a big part of the holiday season for lots of people and this can present its own challenges. In previous travel blog posts, I’ve discussed some of my favorite travel tips so take a look at those if you have a trip planned this holiday season!
To ensure I always have something to eat when I travel, I bring snacks and once I arrive at my destination, I visit a local grocery store to stock up on snacks/essentials.
10. Focus on parts of events that continue to be meaningful.
Although gatherings and events can look a lot different as a vegan, food isn’t everything! Ok, wow, I might not say that that often…
Try to focus on the parts of events and traditions that haven’t changed. You can still catch up with family, take time away from work to slow down, sit by a fireplace, give gifts to loved ones, and still be annoyed by your weird uncle. You are allowed to grow in parts of your life without all of your priorities changing and you can share this sentiment with your family and friends too. Often a fear of change is at the heart of others questioning us about our diet changes.
Did I forget any tips? What have been the most beneficial tips for you for surviving the holidays? Let me know in the comments below!