If you are a new vegetarian, or have other specific dietary requirements (particularly if they differ from your family), Christmas can be a challenging time.
To help you out and remove some of that stress of ‘What am I going to eat?‘ or the feeling of not wanting to offend anyone, take a look at the following tips to turn Christmas into a hassle-free time of year, full of delicious food, like it should be!
Over the years I have found that a few simple strategies can help to ensure that there are plenty of options available for you to eat. I find that it also helps to be prepared for some of the uncomfortable situations that may arise.
- Communicate – let the host know about your dietary requirements well ahead of time. Offer them the opportunity to ask questions (ie. do you eat dairy/eggs/stock) and have an open conversation before the day of the event. Sometimes people can get stuck for ideas so have some easy hassle free veggo options in mind – and ask if they mind leaving the bacon bits out of salads/potato bake as that is something they may not think of.
- Don’t arrive starving – I find this particularly important for any event that is cocktail style with mainly finger food, as if you are hungry you will find yourself chasing the waiters around looking for the only veggo dish to come out of the kitchen. In this case, I often find it easiest to pull one of the waiters aside and ask them if they wouldn’t mind directing anything vegetarian in your direction – that way they are paying attention to what comes out of the kitchen and will find you to make sure you are fed!
- Work as a team – Talk to any other vegetarians before or during the event and hunt out appropriate food together – it can make it a little more fun than being the only person who is hungry. I am lucky that Kris is also vegetarian so we are constantly making a plan of attack and hunting out food together… haha!
- BYO food – Bring along a main dish to share with everyone. Most of the time there will be plenty of sides with meat being the main event, so an alternative main is all you really need. Bonus points for getting others to try a delicious vegetarian dish (see my recipe for Lentil Nut Loaf at the bottom of this post).
- Be assertive – If you are at a catered event, ask to see the chef and politely request a vegetarian option. They are usually more than happy to make something up especially. If you are someone’s home, offer to help out in the kitchen – then you can either make something or direct them to make something that works for you.
- Relax your restrictions – Obviously if you are a strict vegetarian or vegan this usually doesn’t work, but I find that it makes it easier if you just eat things you wouldn’t eat on a normal day (ie. white bread or chicken stock). Seeing as it is a rare occasion, I don’t have a problem with filling my plate with carbs – though it is something I would prefer not to do at home.
- Host yourself – If you have a very meat-centric family you could try hosting them at your place for a completely vegetarian Christmas. This may be met with resistance but if you make something delicious enough, ensure no one goes home hungry, and are prepared to put up with some smart ass ‘I’m stopping at Maccas on the way home’ comments, it can be a great success! I have found that it is a great way to start a stimulating conversation about being a vegetarian in a non-hostile way, and it is a chance to show off your cooking skills and have people say ‘I can’t believe there isn’t meat in this’. PS. this is probably not a time to try cooking tofu or any other ‘scary veggo’ item for the first time
- Expect to have the ‘why’ conversation- As your dietary requirements will likely come up on the night, be prepared to have the ‘Why are you vegetarian’ conversation with curious people. I personally find it best to explain it in a quick one liner ‘My parents are veggo and I was raised that way’ which is often enough for people, but if they are interested and probe further then I can go into my reasons in a non-confrontational way.It is interesting that people often become very defensive of their meat-eating ways, which is a personal choice for them that I never try to change, and can become aggressive about your choices – so I think it helps to know the facts re: health (protein requirements, iron requirements/levels, cholesterol levels) and be able to reassure them that you are living healthily so they need not worry about you being malnourished. As soon as I tell people that I take iron supplements and my doctor told me my cholesterol is amazing, they become less concerned about my health.
- Share your knowledge - Some people are actually curious in a ‘one day I would like to cut meat out of my diet’ way, so I try to use it as an opportunity to share my excitement about food, give them recipes and direct them to inspiring blogs, hoping to improve their chances for if they do decide to make the switch.
Looking for a meat free alternative suitable for the holiday table? This recipe is one that you just must try!
Lentil Nut Loaf
- 1 ½ cups red lentils
- 3 cups boiling water
- 2 vegetable stock cubes
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ cup cashew nuts, chopped
- ½ cup walnuts, chopped
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 spring onions, chopped
- 1 ½ cups diced mushrooms
- 1 clove crushed garlic
- 1 tbsp dried rosemary
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
- 1 tbsp dried sage
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds
- 1 slice stale rye bread, crumbed (can substitute coconut flour or buckwheat flour if GF)
- 2 eggs lightly beaten (can substitute chia seeds made into a gel if vegan)
Rinse the lentils under running water until the water is clear. Add to a saucepan with the boiling water, stock cubes and bay leaves and simmer for a low heat for 20 min. Stir occasionally to ensure they don’t catch, and remove the bay leaves when cooked.
Meanwhile in a fry pan, dry roast the nuts over medium heat for 5 min. Watch closely to ensure they don’t burn, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Take the same pan, add the olive oil and sauté the chopped spring onions over a medium heat for three to five minutes.
Add the chopped mushrooms, crushed garlic and dried herbs and stir for a further three to five minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft.
Add the cooked vegetables, lentils, sunflower seeds, bread crumbs and beaten eggs to the mixing bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon. Spoon the mixture into a greased loaf pan lined with baking paper.
Bake in a moderate oven (180C/356F) for 35-45 minutes, or until golden brown on top and a metal skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before running a knife around the edges and turning the loaf out on to a serving platter. Slice with care using a serrated bread knife. Serve warm.
Photo from: Flickr creative commons – murilocardoso