As Thanksgiving and Christmas are shortly approaching, I am quickly realizing that it means one thing: FOOD. Okay, okay, so clearly the holidays mean more than just food but if I am honest with myself, food truly is of great emphasis. So what does this mean for someone who has food restrictions? Whether you are gluten-free, vegan, Paleo, sugar-free, you name it, the holidays can provide anxiety for your new way of eating. I wanted to do something a little different in this post and take a moment to share with you some of my tricks and tips on How to Survive the Holidays with Food Restrictions; what I have learned over the past few years and what I am still learning as I personally have entered this brand new way of eating.
Here are my 6 Tips on How to Survive the Holidays with Food Restrictions:
1. Don’t Assume Everyone Knows What Gluten Is
Way back in the day, I went quasi-vegetarian. I’ve never been really good at following any way of eating really (hence the “quasi” status) but at this time in my life I was introducing a life of vegetables into my diet–one that I had never experienced before. I remember being at a restaurant where, for some reason when you make a dietary change, everyone has to ask you tons of questions about what it is that you CAN eat. So there I was at the restaurant being grilled by my father about what I could even eat on the menu. He said I could just eat the chicken dish at which I looked at him perplexed and said, “Dad, that’s meat.” To which he replied that it wasn’t. Meat was beef. Chicken was, well, chicken. At that moment I understood that just because you tell someone that you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean they fully understand what is under the umbrella of “meat.” And that is okay! If you are someone who is not suffering with an autoimmune disease or are eating a specific way for health or moral reasons that require you to eat differently than most people, you’re not going to know all the ins and out of those food restrictions. Don’t expect them too either–most people still don’t know what gluten really is and why some people need to avoid it. Rather use it as a teachable moment to explain and educate. This is also a great way to dispel rumors and false information about your lifestyle.
2. Offer to Bring Your Own Dish
Not only will this help you know that the food you are eating is safe for you but it is also a great way to show others that cooking with different ingredients doesn’t mean that it has to taste like armpit hair and tree bark. For the longest time my family thought that my baking gluten, egg, and dairy-free was strange and they turned their noses to the idea of it. It was a great moment when they were able to taste my Pumpkin Muffins (recipe from my cookbook, Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking) and I swear to the G that my brother said they were the best pumpkins muffins he has ever had. He was gob-smacked. *I* was gob-smacked (Sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of Tabitha Takes Over and am allowing her vocab to permeate mine). It was a victory for me that day because they finally realized that having food restrictions wasn’t the end of the world AND it still tastes great, if not better! Even if they don’ come over to “the dark side” and eat like you do after that one bite, at least they will know that you eat rather well (and maybe the teasing will stop, wink).
3. Find Smart Alternatives to Your Favorites
This is where it’s going to get good. One of the smartest things that I have taken way from this new lifestyle of eating has been to find similar alternatives to what I used to enjoy eating. For instance, I am a snacker and I love chips. I love them so much. I love the crunch. I love the saltiness. I love the satisfaction of biting down into each piece. So since going off of corn, I miss them dearly. People will say stuff like, “Well, just eat carrot sticks or celery if you want a crunch” of to which I say, well I don’t, I just look at them with one eyebrow raised. I’m sorry. That is not similar at all. Instead I created an Everything Cracker recipe that I found was not only suitable for my dietary needs but it truly satisfied that need for a salty bite. So if you are going to bring a dish for the holidays or even offer to host the event at your house, know that there are great recipes out there that can still taste good while honoring your lifestyle. The way to stick to a dietary change is to find things that match closely to what you once enjoyed that are within the confines of your limitations. Wait until you see the Thanksgiving Dinner I have planned for the next 2 weeks for you! You can STILL eat:
Mashed Cauliflower “Potatoes” and Gravy
Vegan Green Bean Casserole
Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice
And even a Grain-Free Vegan Pumpkin Pie!
…despite the fact that you are vegan, someone who cannot eat gluten, follows the Paleo diet, or even if you are battling candida! Stick around and I will show you how.
4. Come Prepared
If you are anything like me, my hunger tends to attack at the most unpredictable times. Especially if I am running errands I make sure to bring with me a bottle of water, a green apple and raw almonds for the road for those moments that the not-so-nice Cara rears her ugly head. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be no different either. Consider taking some safe-to-eat snacks, especially if the unexpected happens. Always be prepared and stuff those purses (or man purses) with food that can satisfy either the deepest of cravings or those times when hunger strikes.
5. Be Gracious
9 times out of 10 people just want to be as supportive as possible so if Aunt Suzy makes you a Honey Butter Pie even though you have told her 80 times already that you are a vegan, don’t be rude and accuse her of trying to force animal products down your throat. Go back to #1 on this list.: Don’t assume people know what gluten is (or fill in the blank). They either forget (despite you telling them numerous times) or they just don’t know. That is, unless they do know and truly are trying to sabotage you. If that’s the case, you need to stop visiting Aunt Suzy. But like I said, it’s typically never done intentionally so find a polite way to refuse (or just say that you aren’t hungry) and always remember to be grateful to your host.
6. Enjoy Yourself!
I know that what I am about to say is going to be a little bit of a shock but yes, there is more to life than just food. I know. Go ahead. Throw popcorn at me (careful, I just might have to pick it off the ground and eat it though!) Take a moment to be grateful for the people in your life and remember that the holidays extend far beyond just food. Smile. Laugh. Enjoy yourself!