Whether you’re celebrating your first vegan Christmas or just dabbling in the world of plants, holiday gatherings can be both exciting and daunting. With so much emphasis placed on food, making new traditions – not to mention recipes – is no mean feat.
So you’re catering your first plant-based Christmas lunch and feeling nervous — I get it. Navigating the holiday season which, let’s face it — largely centres around food — may seem scary at first. A new way of living and eating may mean your Christmas table will look a little different this year. It’s natural for worries to creep in. Will Uncle Gary, the fervent traditionalist, embrace the meat-free hazelnut and cranberry roast you’ve spent hours preparing? Will everyone like your pavlova? I mean, you’ve never made one from scratch before. What if everyone pooh-poohs your efforts? Or all your nearest and dearest make your food choices the focus of the day, firing questions at you while you’re just trying to enjoy your roast potatoes like every other person at Christmas time..?
If any of the above thoughts are running through your mind — whether you’re subbing Uncle Gary for Aunty Paula or Grandma Edie — I’m here to remind you that everything is going to be a-ok. While lunch might look a little different to Christmases past, it’s going to be for the better.
Preparing the feast
Dining plant-based for the holidays likely means that your spread will be more creative. Without the ‘meat and three veg’ expectations of the past, you will have far more freedom to design your own menu with new and fresh ideas. And even better — you’ll get the ultimate chance to impress your friends and family with the one thing everyone loves. No, not the Mariah Carey Christmas album — food!
Most of us eat with our eyes first, so be sure to bring the presentation and colour. Bright vegetable tarts, salads, stuffed peppers, all the roast veg you can handle, oat and nut-based cheeses, crusty bread rolls, dips, crackers, rice paper rolls … the possibilities are endless.
Plant-based roasts are readily available if that’s your preferred centrepiece, or try this stuffed pumpkin roast wellington. My money is always on this mushroom and lentil stuffed festive log, though don’t let the name fool you — it can be enjoyed the whole year round.
I’ve never been one to successfully save room for dessert at Christmas, though me being the dining overachiever I am, always manage to make it work 🙂
Pavlova, custard tarts, cheesecakes and lemon meringue are always welcome options, and can be made plant-based with ease. Vegan-friendly Christmas cakes and puddings, gingerbread, and fruit mince tarts are available in stores if you’re adamant about sticking to themes, but my advice is to choose a couple of well-loved classics to veganise. You can Google a vegan version of any recipe you’re after, or if you’re sticking to a tried and tested fave, you can find helpful info on subbing out animal ingredients in our guide to plant-based kitchen hacks.
Being the gracious host
Hosting may be hard work, but boy is it rewarding…! It may just be my Italian heritage, but providing way too much food to my favourite humans brings me all the warm feelings.
With food waste a strong consideration, I always ensure no dish is tossed out. Leftovers can last another meal or two, depending on how much you’ve (over)prepared. As well as being tasty the next day, they make fabulous parting gifts for your guests — ensuring their Christmas spirit is stretched to Boxing Day and beyond!
Being a gracious host is about more than simply providing. Checking dietary requirements/allergies in advance shows a genuine care for guests which will help put them at ease. It’s a good idea to also share what will be on offer ahead of time. While a meat-free Christmas will be a new experience for some, knowing what to expect will help allay any concerns. Your spread is glorious after all.
Guests may be curious about your meat-free celebrations and have some questions. This is where I must stress the importance of being a gracious host. Answer questions politely, while keeping heavy topics of discussion (ie. animal welfare) off the table. Christmas lunch is a time to enjoy each other’s company. If you get the sense a topic or question is going to require a challenging, nuanced discussion you’re not prepared for, consider addressing it later (one-on-one) with your curious guest.
Unfortunately, you may experience a guest making you and your choices the butt of their joke. Don’t be disheartened. Just take a deep breath and remember the most powerful thing in the world — kindness! Rather than lose your cool, take the joker aside and give them a gentle reminder that you deserve respect. Often people forget the strong underlying beliefs around food choices, so reinforcing that it’s about more than what is or isn’t on your plate can be helpful.
Food can be life-changing
Sharing food is sharing love. Bringing those closest to you to the table for a vegan feast, you’re not only enjoying a meal, but showing a new way of living. You may even be breaking down pre-conceived ideas of what it means to be meat-free.
As an ol’ mate of mine once said, “the times, they are a-changin’…” (Ok, so maybe it was Bob Dylan, but still … they are a-changin’!). The surge in plant-based eating over the last decade has seen higher quality products hitting the shelves — and fast. Gone are the days of plastic cheese and that one plant-based meat in a tin. These days, you definitely do make friends with salad, though I’ll admit, you may make slightly more with vegan junk food 😉
Your days of hard work prepping for the big meal will no doubt be worth it on the day, but it may prove more impactful post-Christmas than you realise. Showcasing plants at the table may encourage more plant-based meals by your attendees in future, as well as a better understanding of what meat-free meals can be. You may even be asked for your recipes, which I know always leaves me feeling like I’ve won at life!
They say you catch more flies with honey, but (aside from wondering why anyone is looking to catch flies) I prefer to think on how many kinder choices you can create by sharing food. And who knows — your Christmas feast may just be the catalyst for a domino effect of future acts (or meals) of kindness. That’s worth giving yourself a pat on the back for!