Ah, it’s that time of year. Thanksgiving is almost here, and Christmas is right on its heels. Holidays can be stressful for anyone, but they can be particularly tough when you’re the lone vegan in your family.
I’ll never forget getting the stink-eye from my mother my first vegan Thanksgiving as I passed up platter after platter of our family’s traditional holiday dishes. That was a few years ago, and I’m happy to say I’ve learned a bit since then!
Here are a few tips to help you navigate a healthy holiday season as a vegan in a non-vegan household.
Healthy Holiday Season: Five Survival Tips for Vegans
- Talk to the person hosting beforehand. Whether it’s your mom, grandma, aunt, or friend, it’s helpful if they know beforehand that you’re vegan. I had to explain to my mom what that meant when I first shifted my diet. Now, four years later, she sets some of the collard greens and black-eyed peas aside when she’s cooking – before adding animal fat – for me. I didn’t pressure her to do it, mind you, but she made the choice to accommodate me in her own time and way. (And let me tell you, being Southern born and bred and raised in a place where pork fat is ubiquitous, this is real progress!)
- Get your “mind right,” as my grandma would say. Take a deep breath, relax, and focus on the celebratory purpose of the holidays. If and when the subject of being vegan comes up, state your commitment to a vegan lifestyle in a positive, uplifting way. This one took me a few years to learn, but it’s become very clear to me that walking my talk and being healthy and happy is a more effective strategy for influencing others than being judgmental and preachy. When someone asks about my lifestyle at a gathering, here’s one of my go-to lines: “Being vegan makes me feel great physically, mentally, and spiritually.” If someone questions your choices in a confrontational way, continue taking deep breaths, smile, and be polite: “I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned about nutrition, animal agriculture, and the environmental impacts of factory farming another time. This really isn’t the best time and place. Let’s set up a time to get together, have coffee or tea, and chat further. I look forward to it!”
- Be strong in your convictions. Be confident in your lifestyle choices – you don’t need to justify yourself or feel apologetic in any way. If you’re a new vegan, there will be an adjustment period. Especially in my first year of being vegan, most holiday gatherings were filled with comments that went something like this: “What? You’re not going to have any of your grandma’s famous chocolate cake with butter icing? But it’s your favorite!” Be true to your values, and respond to your caring relatives and friends in a positive, neutral way. Thank anyone who comments for thinking of you, but let them know you’ll be passing on the non-vegan dishes this year. I’ll often say something like “I’m sure it’s delicious – maybe I’ll try making a vegan version of that for next year’s celebration!”
- Practice gratitude. The holidays are all about celebrating our blessings, right? We are fortunate to live in a part of the world where we have lots of choices about the food that we buy, prepare, and share, from being able to buy almost anything, whether it’s in season or not, to having access to awesome organic food. We also live in a country where we have the mobility to visit friends and family, whether we live down the block from one another or on different coasts. We are truly blessed, and remembering that helps keep things in perspective.
- Do some cooking yourself, and make sure you have plenty to share. They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right? Think of the holidays as a great time to show off just how amazing vegan food can be. And don’t think you have to make “veganized” versions of traditional dishes. You can, of course, but vegan food doesn’t need to compete with the traditional stuff. It is amazing all on its own and offers an alternative to a lot of the heavier fare that is standard on a holiday table. Consider making a one-dish vegan casserole that can serve as the main part of your meal and will be hearty enough to impress the omnivores at the table. Also, take a dessert! It’s so easy to make awesome vegan sweets – vegan pumpkin bread and vegan “cream cheese” pie are two of my family’s favorites. (And I never thought that the words vegan and favorite would be used in the same sentence, with my family!)
With these simple strategies, you can enjoy the a healthy holiday season as a vegan, whether it’s your first one or you’re a long-timer. And you never know – you might even turn a few friends and family members on to a new way of doing things during the holidays! Happy feasting.
Just as important, it is incredibly flavorful, versatile, and easy to prepare. Read on for five quick and easy ways to prepare butternut squash that are sure to please even the pickiest eaters!
Favorite Fall Recipes: Butternut Squash, Five Ways!
1 – Simply Steamed. This is the quickest, simplest way to prepare butternut squash, and it retains the most nutritional value when prepared this way. Cut a large butternut squash in half and remove the seeds. Chop into large chunks (3-4 inches or so) to help them steam faster. Place in a steamer – you can use the metal insert that fits into a pot, or an actual steamer. Steam for approximately 20 minutes until a fork inserted in the thickest section of the squash penetrates it easily. Enjoy with salt and pepper, or indulge and add a little vegan buttery spread.
You may wonder, is the skin edible? I buy organic squash and yes, I eat the skin – which contains a lot of the nutrients of the squash. (Also, to keep food waste to a minimum, you can roast the seeds for a nice snack!)
2 – Simply Roasted. Cut a large butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Rub the halves with coconut oil, inside and out. Place cut side down on a metal cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 40-60 minutes until tender (the amount of time depends on the thickness of the squash and your oven). Sprinkle with a little cinnamon, sea salt, and black pepper, and enjoy!
3 – Baked. Take a large butternut squash, remove the seeds, peel it, and cut it in to 1” cubes. Toss with 2 tablespoons of fresh minced parsley 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste, and about a quarter cup of nutritional yeast. Bake in an uncovered, ungreased shallow casserole dish at 400 degrees for 50-55 minutes until squash is tender.
4 – Mashed. Steam or roast a large butternut squash. Let it cool and remove the peel. Mash the squash with about a quarter cup of vegan buttery spread, a splash of plant-based milk, 2-3 tablespoons of maple syrup, ¼ teaspoon each of cumin, cinnamon, and coriander, a dash of cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.
5 – Soup. Roast butternut squash and a medium-sized yam (poke holes in it with a fork first) per roasting directions above. While the squash and yam are roasting, saute 3 chopped carrots, 1 diced sweet onion, and 4 chopped garlic cloves in a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil in a stock pot over medium heat. When they are softened, add about 6 cups of vegetable stock (more or less, depending on how thick you like your soup) and heat gently until the squash and yam are finished roasting. Remove the peels of the squash and yam and add them plus salt and pepper to taste to the stock pot. Puree with a stick blender until smooth, simmer until desired consistency and temperature, and enjoy!
And there you have it. These are just a few of the myriad ways to enjoy one of fall’s finest market finds. My collection of fall recipes definitely would not be complete without these easy go-to dishes.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy butternut squash? Let us know in the comments below!
It can be intimidating to stock a kitchen for plant based living, especially if you don’t have a lot of cooking experience or a health coach guiding you. One of my number one tips as a plant based living educator is this: set yourself up for success. If you have a well-stocked pantry, you can be prepared to make all kinds of amazing plant based meals – with just the addition of fresh produce – without a lot of fuss! Read on for my top ten must-have vegan pantry items.
10 Must-have foods in my plant based pantry:
- Beans: Inexpensive, filling, and versatile, beans are a staple in my kitchen. I keep both dried and canned organic beans on hand, and I often cook a batch in the slow cooker on Sunday for use in various dishes throughout the week. My favorites are black beans, green split peas, and pinto beans.
- Lentils: Did you know that lentils are “pulses,” the edible seeds of legumes? They are good sources of fiber and protein and also contain high amounts of calcium and vitamins A and B. The most common varieties are brown, green, yellow, and red lentils. The yellow and red ones break down a lot during cooking, while the brown and green ones hold their shape. Make your choice based on your desired outcome, in terms of texture! I use the red ones for my Red Lentil Dal.
- Jarred or canned tomatoes: Tomatoes are an excellent base for a variety of soups, stews, and sauces. I keep a variety of them on hand, both canned and jarred tomatoes . Diced tomatoes, spiced or not, are preferred for some recipes, while whole or stewed tomatoes may be better for others. I also keep sun-dried tomatoes on hand for some recipes, as they have a depth of flavor and a richness you don’t get from regular tomatoes.
- Whole grains: Whole grains contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions. When processed, meaning cracked, crushed, rolled, or cooked, the grains deliver the same rich balance of nutrients found in the original grain seeds. Brown rice and quinoa are my go-to grains. They are great on their own or with a little sauce/dressing, and they can be incorporated into tons of dishes, like soups, stews, vegetable stuffing, and cold salads.
- Nuts: Nuts are versatile in the kitchen and contain healthy fats. Cashews are probably the nut I use most often. With just two base ingredients – raw cashews and water – and whatever spices or flavoring you prefer, you can make cashew cream cheese (enjoy plain or add your preferred flavors – I add walnuts and agave nectar), cashew sour cream (add lemon juice and garlic powder), cashew creamer, and cashew milk. For the creamer and milk, I usually add a little agave nectar and a little vanilla.
- Seeds: My favorites are flax, chia, and sunflower. I use the first two in smoothies and breakfast dishes, and I use sunflower seeds in a variety of ways! My favorite way is to soak them and make a white sauce for pasta that is absolutely divine. You can also put them on salads, roast them with spices as a snack, or incorporate them in a stuffing – the possibilities are endless!
- Plant-based milks: You can find plant-based milks in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, but I prefer the aseptic (shelf-stable) packaged milks. They aren’t as perishable, of course, and they come in smaller containers! My personal favorite is hemp milk, as it tastes good and hemp is a nutritional powerhouse – packed with vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
- Nutritional yeast: Affectionately known as “nooch” in the veg community, this is a deactivated yeast in powder or flake form that is sold commercially as a food product. It contains folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein, and it is often fortified with vitamin B12. It has a nutty, “cheesy” flavor, so it’s an excellent substitute for dairy cheese in many recipes. I like nutritional yeast best on organic popcorn and as a pasta topping in place of parmesan.
- Tahini: It’s hard for me to imagine that just a few short years ago, I had never heard of tahini. Now, it’s one of my go-to ingredients for salad dressings and sauces! It’s simply ground sesame seed paste, and it is commonly used in North African, Greek, Iranian, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisine. It is remarkably versatile, and it packs a ton of flavor. It’s usually my dressing base instead of oil – this Tahini Lime Dressing is my absolute favorite!
- Agave nectar or maple syrup: I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but a lot of savory recipes need just a touch of sweetness. Agave nectar and maple syrup are my preferred sweeteners. I use one of the two in my plant-based milks when I make them from scratch. I also use one or the other in veggie chili, in some salad dressings, and in a lot of the soups and stews I enjoy.
If you stock your pantry with these staple ingredients, an easy, plant based meal is at your fingertips every day. Just add fresh produce, and the variety of dishes you can make is limited only by your imagination. Bon appetit!
With superfoods being all the rage, let’s take a closer look at organic goji berries. Often praised as the next fountain of youth, organic goji berries look like a shriveled red raisin. They are both tangy and sweet with a raisin-like texture.
Organic goji berries are also known as wolfberries. They come from a shrub that is native to China but grows in many parts of the world. In Asia, goji berries have a reputation for extending life and are eating for many health reasons. They have been associated with health benefits for diabetes, high blood pressure and age-related eye problems.
Filled with powerful antioxidants, organic goji berries join the list of other berries like acai, blueberry, cranberry and strawberry that have very high antioxidant levels. The body uses antioxidants to combat damage from free radicals that can injure cells and damage DNA, creating abnormal cells. Antioxidants can combat the destruction that free radicals cause.
High in Vitamin A and other carotenoids, organic goji berries can protect or even improve your vision. They also contain the synergistic antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are beneficial for eye health.
Organic goji berries are a great source of protein and minerals, containing 19 amino acids (including all 8 essential amino acids) as well as zinc, iron, copper, calcium, selenium and phosphorus.
Known as an adapotgen, organic goji berries help strengthen the body wherever it needs it. They support the adrenal glands and endocrine glands, helping to keep stress feelings under control.
With all of those health benefits, you may be rushing to order some immediately, but what do you do with them once you have them? Organic goji berries can be eaten dried like raisins in trail mixes, added to smoothies or desserts. They can also be cooked into baked goods or used in herbal teas. Make sure to buy organic goji berries and not conventional, as the sulfites used on conventional dried fruits can be harmful to your health.
Organic goji berries recipes
Easy Organic Energy Bars
1 cup organic walnuts
1 cup organic almonds
1 cup organic pumpkin seeds
6-8 organic medjool dates
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp organic vanilla extract
1 Tbsp organic coconut flour
½ cup organic maple syrup
½ cup organic cacao nibs
1 cup organic goji berries
Preheat oven to 350F. Process in a food processor the walnuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds.. Add the dates and pulse a few times to combine but leave some texture. Place the mixture in a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well to combine ingredients. Spread mixure into an 8×8 baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, cut into squares and serve or store. These freeze well for handy snacks.
Super Immunity Tea
Bring water to a boil then turn heat to low and add the ginger, cloves, orange peels and lemon. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain into tea cup and stir in honey and goji berries. Enjoy.
Superfood Trail Mix
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and store in an airtight container.
Start by adding the liquid to your blender, then add the fruit, then the spinach. Blend on high for 30 seconds or until the smoothie is creamy. If you do not have a high-speed blender, soak the goji berries for 10 minutes before adding them to your blender.
As a vegan who’s picky about the ingredients in the foods I eat, finding a milk alternative wasn’t easy. Most commercial nut beverages contain added ingredients to stabilize the liquid. I also found that I’d open up a carton of nut milk and it would go bad in my fridge before I used it all. I decided to explore making my own so that I could control the ingredients and make just what I’d need without wasting anything. The easiest way I found is to make nut milk out of organic nut butter. It’s so simple you’ll never buy packaged nut milks again.
How To Make Nut Milk From Organic Nut Butter
The basic recipe is 1 tablespoon of organic nut butter to 1 cup of water. You’ll need a blender, but it doesn’t have to be a high powered one, a regular blender will do. Just whizz the nut butter and water together until it is milky and smooth. Use more water if you like a thinner consistency, less water if you want a thicker consistency. A thicker nut milk makes a great creamer substitute.
Making your own nut milk out of organic nut butter allows you to make only what you need so that you’re not wasting any. The most common nut butter used to do this would be almond butter but experiment with other nut butters like cashew butter, walnut butter, peanut butter and pecan butter.
Keeping organic nut butter on hand is a great way to make sure you’ll always have nut milk available for recipes. Cashew butter, when made into milk, is the best cream substitute I’ve found. One of my favorite recipes to make is a creamed spinach recipe using cashew milk instead of cream. It is so rich and delicious, my 11 year old step-son was even asking for more.
How to make vegan creamed spinach using nut milk:
- 1 lb fresh spinach, chopped
- 1 c cashew milk
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- pinch of salt
Steam sauté the spinach until wilted and drain to remove the water. Add cashew milk and spices to the pan and stir constantly until the mixture thickens, 2-3 minutes. Serve hot.