If this is your first time being plant based for the holidays, it can be very stressful with totally new territory to navigate! I can absolutely relate and remember how anxious I was going into my first Holidays. Let’s be real…I still get nervous, because I’m also one of very few of our family that’s plant based. 😬
1. Progress not perfection
First and most important, choose a mindset of “Progress not perfection”.
Find little ways to make healthier choices and don’t try to be perfect if that seems too much the first time.
If it means having more processed vegan foods instead of meat & dairy to make things easier the first time, then that’s ok! Progress not perfection.
It’s most important to be gentle with yourself as you navigate the holidays for the first time and just do the best you can. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up and eat something not whole food plant based – this can cause us to feel guilt, shame, and spiral out of control leading to binge eating instead of just being able to stop after eating something off plan once or twice.
Remember this is a LIFESTYLE, not a diet, so having a few things off plan doesn’t have to derail you!
Each year, just try to make better & better choices. My first year I went vegetarian and ate all the sides. The 2nd year (luckily was COVID & no events to navigate), I cooked whole food plant based just for my boys & husband. This year, we’re only going to one Thanksgiving event and I’ll bring some dishes & just eat the things I know are plant based.
2. Remember your “why”
Why did you start eating whole food plant based? What are your goals? Why is this new way of eating important to you? How much better do you feel now or want to feel in the future?
Remind yourself daily of your why & goals to help you stay on track.
Put post-it notes where you will see them with positive affirmations & quotes that inspire you. Write out your goals in a journal each day to remind yourself to make the best choices possible.
Join plant-based online communities to help you have support through the Holidays, get ideas and recipes, and be encouraged to stay on track the best you can!
3. Make a plan and stick to it
Everyone’s situation is different, but don’t let the holidays completely get you off track. You need to make a plan and stick to it (the best you can).
Know yourself – what’s going to be best for you long term?
- Indulging a little for one meal & then getting right back on track?
- Or would indulging at all cause you to stay off track for days or weeks?
- Try to avoid major trigger foods; what foods need to be off limits for you because you can’t stop eating them?
- Can you make a healthy version of the foods you love to eat during the holidays? Especially sweet treats?
Decide in advance what you plan to eat or cook for each event – don’t wing it! This almost always leads to eating way more unhealthy foods than you would like.
You know the saying – “Fail to plan, plan to fail”.
Make a decision about what you will or won’t eat, then make it your intention that you are committed to. Don’t decide “lite” or “try” because trying means we aren’t really committed and are expecting to fail.
It’s ok if you want to have something not WFPB, but I try to keep it to a minimum. If you’ve been eating plant based for any period of time, then going back to Standard American Diet foods can send your digestive tract into distress!!! Stomach upset, digestive issues, nausea, cravings, weight gain, headaches, gas, bloating, & diarrhea, are all very common.
What we eat we crave more of because small food particles trapped in our tongue for days. We literally keep tasting what we ate, which is why we sometimes crave something days after we have had it. A tongue scraper can be helpful when brushing your teeth to help remove more of the food particles & reduce cravings.
Each day just make the best choice possible and “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good” – Voltaire.
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4. How to talk to friends & family about plant based eating
The need to please others is big, but we need to remember to put ourselves first and that hurt feelings for not eating their dish are not your problem and you shouldn’t feel guilty. Although this can be easier said than done sometimes!
If you are nervous about talking to your friends & family about your new way of eating here are some tips to help you out:
- First & foremost, be the example – actions speak louder than words.
- You don’t have to bring it up, but if they ask about your plant based diet you can explain
- Be your own advocate, but don’t preach
- Politely explain that you are eating this way for your health and that you are feeling better, losing weight, and your health is improving.
- Let them know you’ve talked to your doctor & have their blessing/encouragement
- Say you’ve done your research and this way of eating has helped you feel so much better and improve your numbers – A1C, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, etc.
- If they are interested in learning more – suggest they check out documentaries like Game Changers, Forks Over Knives, or What the Health. If they like to read, suggest Dr. Greger’s How Not to Die or Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat for Life.
- If someone is being negative, just change the subject. Food can be like politics & religion….best to avoid talking about it!
- Don’t let the negativity affect you. That person is projecting their own health insecurities on you and it brings to their mind their own health/weight issues which makes them feel guilty. It’s not about you and you don’t need to feel bad or like you need to cave in to make them feel better! It won’t work anyways! Just be the example.
Remember why you are there in the first place. It’s to spend time with family! It’s not REALLY about the food.
5. Attending holiday parties while staying plant based
When attending someone else’s party and you don’t know what they are having, ask what the menu will be so you will know if there is anything you can eat. I don’t suggest asking for accomodations unless you know that person would do it for you or if they ask to make you something plant based.
Here are some suggestions when going to someone else’s party:
- Bring your own dish(es) to share
- Eat a large salad & fruit first (if it’s available)
- Bring your own dressing with you
- Drink lots of water – this will help flush out the higher sodium & keep you full so you don’t overindugle
- Stick with the side dishes which are usually vegetarian, but beware of dairy & oil
- Eat before you go so you’ll eat less of what’s there
- If someone asks, just say if you eat meat, dairy, etc it upsets your stomach – TRUTH
- Bring a water bottle so you have something in your hands to sip on to help you avoid the punches/alcoholic drinks
- Keep your distance from the food table. I find it best if I don’t even bother looking because I’ll end up getting tempted
If there are multiple parties you are invited to, maybe it’s best to be picky about which ones you attend. This may be the last year you can use the “COVID” excuse…
6. Avoid the Standard American Diet Leftovers
Having one holiday meal off plan isn’t the end of the world and isn’t going to wreck your health or weight loss efforts.
HOWEVER, eating unhealthy leftovers day after day for the months of November and December, CAN!
If there is leftover unhealthy food, let others take it. If you are stuck with leftovers and don’t want to throw it away, then consider donating leftovers to shelters, fire stations, or someone in need so it doesn’t go to waste, but it won’t affect your waistline (and health)!
7. Hosting parties with Plant Based Options
If you’re hosting your own party, you have more control over the menu. You can still have family members traditional favorites if you choose, or have them bring their own meat dishes while you can make plant based sides or non-traditional options.
- Search Pinterest for great ideas for plant based & vegan recipes
- Instead of Turkey – make a Lentil Loaf
- Have a big salad with a healthy plant based dressing options
- Apple slices & Pumpkin Spiced Hummus
- Veggie trays with hummus
- Chips & guacamole and/or salsa
- Sweet potato casserole without the marshmallows (use fresh orange juice, coconut sugar, date paste, or pure maple syrup to sweeten) – you can top with pecans or you can find vegan marshmallows at some stores – just know it’s added sugar
- Make mashed potatoes with plant based milk & plant based butter (does have oil)
- Green bean casserole – vegan Cream of Mushroom soup (Imagine Brand). And bake your own thin strips of onions to top it with.
- Dressings/stuffing – use whole wheat bread, leave out eggs or butter
- Make a bean chili or red lentil curry (this was our main dish last year!)
- Make Healthy Vegan Carrot Cake or Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes for dessert
I had a plant based party a couple years ago and had lots of wonderful comments. My friends were actually very happy it wasn’t the regular junk food. You might be surprised!
8. Turn holiday classic favorites into whole food plant based winners!
You can still have many of your traditional holiday favorites (it’s really all about the sides isn’t it??) with some simple tweaks to turn them whole food plant based.
These substitutions can be used for just about any recipe!
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- cooked lentils or beans
- 1 tablespoon ground flax seed whisk in 3-4 tablespoons of water and let set for 5 minutes (equals one egg)
- Aquafaba (liquid from canned chickpeas) (about 1/4 cup for 1 egg)
Butter/Oil (all can be subbed at 1:1 ratio)
- Saute with veggie broth, water, or cooking wine
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Aquafaba (liquid from canned chickpeas)
- Ripe banana
- Vegan butters – but made of oil
- Sometimes can just leave it out
- Whole grain flour
- Chickpea Flour (gluten free)
- Oat flour (gluten free)
- Almond Flour (doesn’t hold together well so not great for cookies or cakes)
- Really depends on what you’re making as to what’s best
- 100% whole grain breads
Sugar/brown sugar (all can be subbed at 1:1 ratio)
9. How to stay plant based eating out at a restaurant
Some families (like ours) like to do a big restaurant get-together around the holidays so no one has to cook. This can be awesome, but you’ll just have to do some prep work to see what you can eat.
Check the menu online before you go and make a decision about what you are going to eat. Then don’t open the menu when you get there or start looking at what other people are going to get.
At Mexican restaurants I typically get veggie fajitas and many places will make it for you even if they don’t have it on the menu. Refried beans usually have lard in them, so opt for black beans if they have them. But make sure to ask for no cheese, but I’ve had my black beans come smothered with them even though it wasn’t listed in the menu!
Even steak houses can be good options – they typically have salads and many veggie sides to choose from. Even baked potato or sweet potatoes are great!
Asian restaurants usually have vegetable stir frys or tofu dishes. Just remember to ask for no egg because sometimes it will come with it.
You can even bring your own salad dressing with you in case they don’t have healthy options and then ask for a big salad and a side of beans to add to it.
If there’s absolutely nothing you can eat on the menu, then eat ahead of time or bring your own food and focus on the conversation instead!
10. Use WFPB & Vegan Meal Delivery to save time & stress
Too stressed & overwhelmed to cook? You don’t have to! There are more and more companies offering plant based holiday meal delivery or pick up!
- MamaSezz is 100% whole food plant based and usually has a holiday box you can order or you can build your own bundle.
- The Very Good Butchers – they are minimally processed but some do have a little oil (some do not) (but a lot less than many plant based options like Impossible or Beyond), but could be good for the holidays to have a “meat” option that everyone will like but is still plant based.
- Whole Foods usually has a vegan Holiday meal – but again this would have some oil & processed ingredients, but big step up from traditional holiday foods
Go easy on yourself as you navigate the holidays being plant based for the first time or even tenth time! It will get easier as time goes on and you’ll learn new recipes to make and strategies for staying away from the temptations.
In conclusion, don’t let one or two meals completely throw you off your game. Just get right back on track and don’t feel guilty. Negative thought patterns don’t help support positive habits. Focus on all the good that you’re doing and make the best choice you can each day. You can do it!
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