The year-end weeks bring with them opportunities to rest, reflect and reconnect with loved ones.
Along with coffee and conversation comes food. Lots of food.
If you are new to the plant-based lifestyle, food-focused gatherings can be a real challenge. Especially sit down dinner parties, where what you are eating – or not eating – is more obvious.
Here are some strategies to help you enjoy those dinners without tanking your newfound resolve to fuel your body with what it needs to heal and flourish.
When You are the Guest
If you are invited to join family or friends at a meal, decide ahead of time to be okay with eating differently. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable everyone else will be.
Avoid discussing your dietary changes at the dinner table. This can lead to awkward exchanges and defensive statements. If someone really wants to know, offer to talk with them about it at a later time.
A thoughtful host will inquire about nutritional needs of their guests while meal planning. If this is the case, let them know what you can eat and what you are avoiding. Offer suggestions on substitutes such as vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, almond milk instead of cow’s milk, Earth Balance instead of butter, beans or grains instead of meat.
If the host doesn’t ask, simply state you have some dietary restrictions and offer to bring a plant-based dish to share. Large gatherings require a lot of work, and your host will no doubt appreciate having one less dish to prepare.
Sometimes, despite the best planning, you arrive at the dinner and learn the host does not really understand what plant-based means. They have cooked the vegetables together with the meat, or in the drippings from the meat, thinking you can just eat the vegetables. Or they have confused it with gluten-free.
If you are 80% or 90% plant-based, you might consider this meal as your non-plant-based meal for the week. If you are 100% plant-based, or prefer to avoid meat, assure your host you are happy with a salad and whatever else may be available. Keep in mind this is just one meal out of the thousand+ you will be eating over the year.
Always, always be gracious.
When You are the Host
You may have out of town guests or want to host your own dinner. Depending on how you feel about serving or preparing meat, you can serve an entirely plant-based meal or include some meat, dairy or eggs to accommodate other preferences.
Meals where guests assemble their own tacos, burritos, baked potatoes, pizzas or salads make it easy for everyone to build a meal that suits their style of eating. Just put it all out on the counter or table and let everyone pick and choose.
Another strategy is to make traditional side dishes made with plant-based ingredients, and serve a separately roasted chicken, turkey or ham. If you don’t want to cook it, you can buy one ready to serve. You and any other vegan, vegetarian or plant-based guest can rest easy and know everything else on the table is a-okay.
By all means, don’t let food get in the way of enjoying your time with family and friends. If it seems like it is becoming an issue, reassure them you love them and that you understand each person can decide for themselves what they want to eat and why. There is no judgment. You are not the food police, nor do you want to be!
Got any tips for navigating year-end dinner parties in a plant-based way? Please share them in the comments section below.