The holidays can be a wonderful time to spend with family and friends. Unfortunately, the holidays can also be difficult to navigate depending on your relationships with family, what kind of traditions you have, and what you like to do together. As a new vegan (or whole food plant-based eater), it can be even more of a challenge. You may be questioned about your diet and lifestyle choices and it may be difficult to navigate.
After going vegan, and subsequently whole food plant-based (WFPB), I have regained my health and lost 80 lbs. I was obese and had many chronic health issues prior to switching to a plant-based diet. (See my story for more details if you’re interested.) I used to struggle with food, especially during the holidays. I typically ate mindlessly and overindulged in rich and processed foods resulting in my health suffering and my weight increasing particularly throughout the holidays (starting with Thanksgiving to Halloween and right through the until New Year’s Eve.)
Important note: These tips stem from my personal experiences. I live a vegan lifestyle and also consume a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet. I am passionate about BOTH, but recognize that not all vegans are whole food plant-based and vice versa. I do my best to differentiate between veganism and WFPB in this post and in my video. Check out Defining Terms for more information on this topic.
TIP 1: Tell family and friends that you’re vegan (or WFPB)
If you’re new to being vegan (or WFPB), have a discussion (or more than one discussion) with your loved ones about what you’re doing and why. It’s especially important to discuss if you will be having meals together. I initially decided to eat a plant-based diet for my health, so I let family and friends know that I was eating a vegan diet and testing it out in an effort to improve my health and to see how I would feel. I felt strongly about living a vegan lifestyle forever, but also didn’t want to be questioned about my newfound lifestyle choice. I did my best to be open and remain as judgement free as possible, in the hopes that those around me would also be open and remain as judgement free as possible. I was (and am) very fortunate to have awesome family and friends who were easy-going and respectful of my decision. I felt a bit awkward in the beginning, but we were able to make our own separate food choices and enjoy each others’ company.
Conversations with friends and family will go very differently depending on your personality and the personality of those you are speaking with (depending on how open and agreeable everyone is). I recommend approaching these conversations with openness, calm, and compassion (more on this in Tip 7).
TIP 2: Find vegan alternatives
There are so many great vegan alternatives out there! Whether you’re looking for a snack or a meal, it’s super cool to see so many vegan options available. For Halloween, many chips, candies, licorices, and lollipops are accidentally vegan. Be sure to read labels and watch out for animal-derived ingredients such as: gelatin, whey, lactose, carmine, honey, beeswax, and more (see PETA for a complete list of ingredients to avoid).
For the holidays, there are many brands that make a variety of turkey analogs and a variety of other meat analogs from vegan ham to burgers to chicken and even bacon. Check out brands like: Tofurky, Gardein, Field Roast, Yves, and Beyond Meat. (Please note: I am not affiliated with any of these brands, but have tried products from them and enjoyed them in the past.) Check with local vegan restaurants or caterers for fully prepared meals and/or desserts.
As for the WFPB eaters, it is admittedly more difficult to find packaged foods that do not contain animal ingredients and are also oil free. Nut cheeses are typically free from added oils and there are also several bars, bites, and other snack items made from dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. Check out our vegan treats post for some great options.
TIP 3: Make homemade snacks and meals
Make veganized (or WFPB) versions of your favourite snacks. Make festive Halloween themed meals featuring orange, black, green, or purple foods. See our Healthy Halloween Recipes video for some fun ideas.
As for the holidays, there are lots of great meat alternatives you can prepare at home: lentil or bean loaf, vegetable and nut loaf, tofu, tempeh, seitan. We thoroughly enjoyed Shepherd’s pie for Thanksgiving, so that’s another great option. You can also load up on tasty side dishes like roasted veggies, vegan mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy. There are tons of great free holiday dessert recipes online. There are vegan and WFPB versions of pretty much every dessert from puddings and pies to brownies and cakes. We like to keep it simple, so we will likely have apple sauce with either our apple cookies or sweet potato carrot cookies for dessert.
TIP 4: Enjoy food, but shift focus to other things
Prepare delicious foods that you enjoy, but don’t make food be the central focus of the holiday. Celebrate the time of year and spending time with your loved ones.
Halloween – Focus on other aspects of the night. Some other things you can do this time of year are:
- pumpkin carving
- make or put different items of clothing together to make costumes
- dress up
- watch Halloween movies – some of our favourites are: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ghostbusters, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Corpse Bride, Coraline
- listen to spooky music
- go for a walk through your neighbourhood to look at decorations
- haunted house
- haunted hayride
- corn maze
- pumpkin patch
Holidays – Focus on spending time with family and friends. Enjoy a meal together, but also do different things together. A few ideas are:
- go for walks/hikes
- play catch
- kick a soccer ball around
- play board games
- make puzzles
- watch holiday movies together – some of our favourites include: Elf, Love Actually, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Arthur Christmas
- listen to holiday music
TIP 5: Make a plan and stick to it
When attending holiday events, I have different strategies depending on the type of event I’m attending (ex. holiday office party, meal out with friends, or staying with family for a few days). I plan ahead by speaking with the host about what vegan options may be available, deciding what I will make and bring with me if applicable, or sometimes I will eat at home before I go out. If the holiday outing is a meal at a restaurant, I would check out the menu online in advance or call the restaurant ahead of time to ask what vegan and WFPB options they have or are willing to prepare. Make a plan based on your values and what you want to do. It’s all about making choices you’re happy about in the moment and that you’ll be happy abut after the moment has passed. It’s ok to make a plan to go a bit off-plan from your typical WFPB diet. It’s equally ok to say, “No thanks,” if you’re offered something you don’t eat (or don’t want to eat in that moment).
TIP 6: Be kind to yourself
If you make a misstep by straying from your plan, do NOT beat yourself up about it. Be kind to yourself. Don’t allow one mistake to derail you and lead to a downward spiral of another bad choice and another bad choice and another bad choice. Take a deep breath and consider why you made the decision you made. Make a plan for how you can make a different choice the next time around. (It could be as simple as eating before you go somewhere or bringing delicious food with you.) Take a deep breath and question why you made the choice you made. Commit to yourself to revert back to your original plan or reevaluate and make a new plan.
TIP 7: Be kind and compassionate with others
I was not always vegan. I was not always WFPB. It takes time to build new habits and routines to change your lifestyle. It can also take time for your family and friends to understand what you’re doing. Remember that you live your lifestyle every day and become very accustomed to it over time. Hopefully those closest to you will be respectful of your lifestyle choices. It’s helpful to also remember where you came from and what their perspective is. It would be awesome if everyone went vegan, but don’t expect people to go vegan just because you have made the decision to do so. Lead by example and maybe they will eat more plants or even consider going vegan and/or start consuming a WFPB diet in the future!
BONUS TIP: Enjoy yourself!
Have fun, and don’t stress about the food! Food is only one aspect of the whole experience. Bring delicious food for yourself or to share and then work to shift your focus to the more important aspects of the holiday. Focus on love, family, and friendship. Wishing everyone a happy, healthy holiday season!