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Plant-Forward Holidays

food Healthy Meals

Plant-Forward Holidays

Festive Foods Everyone Will Crave 

by Veronica Hinke

A plant-forward menu can be one of the best gifts that a host can give this holiday season. It is also more likely than ever that guests will welcome a celebration menu filled with vegetables and fruits. 

A 2023 survey by the International Food Information Council found that six out of 10 people reported eating a more plant-based diet to be healthier. “About 20 years ago, there might be one or two people at a party who followed a plant-forward diet. Now, we have to plan our menus to have more plant-based options,” notes Ojai, California-based dietician Sharon Palmer. “Even if only half of the guests follow a plant-based diet, my dishes are gone. Even the carnivores love them.”  

Plant-Forward Eating

“When we think about plant-forward eating, what we are really going to do is add more vitamins, minerals and fiber and reduce the amount of calories that we consume,” says Sherry Coleman Collins, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Marietta, Georgia. “That is especially important during the holidays when we are inclined toward eating more calorie-dense foods that have more fat, sugar and salt. A plant-forward meal can naturally reduce some of that without losing the flavor and enjoyment of eating.”  

All in the Presentation

The name of a recipe can make a difference. “Why even say vegan?” Palmer asks. “Research shows that using the word vegan loses the crowd. There are people who will immediately think less tasty. If you lead with a description and its flavors, people are much more interested in trying it.”   

The Holiday Centerpiece

When planning a plant-forward meal, consider making it the spotlight of the celebration. “What replaces that focal point can come in a variety of different forms,” says Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, a thought leader on the culinary, social, ethical and practical aspects of living compassionately and healthfully. “I think what’s missing for people isn’t just the meat. I don’t think people are thinking, ‘I need my meat.’ I think they are thinking, ‘This looks so unfamiliar and incomplete.’ So, how do we complete it?” 

Patrick-Goudreau suggests a large acorn squash stuffed and baked with flavors and foods of the season, including grains (quinoa, millet, rice), cranberries and raisins sautéed with onions and seasoned with winter spices like cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. “That stuffed squash can be the focal point, not just on the plate, but also on the table,” she asserts. “Now the oohs and the aahs are about the squash as the centerpiece.” 

Plant-based nutrition specialists and restaurateurs Bart Potenza and Joy Pierson were among the first to elevate plant-based menus in the 1990s to the flavor-filled, crave-worthy foods enjoyed today. They love a whole, roasted cauliflower that is frosted with cashew cream and cut into slices. “[Cauliflower] is the new white meat,” Pierson says. “It’s about sharing beautiful foods with friends and family.” 

Part of the plant-based movement has been accomplished by incorporating more ingredients. “We are omnivorous, so we don’t naturally crave meat, but we do crave fat, salt, texture, familiarity and flavor,” says Palmer. “The recipes that I make for the holidays check all of those boxes. I always volunteer to bring the entrée. I try to think of something savory that’s also seasonal and matches the holiday menu.” 

Delicious Plant-Based Starters

Minnesota-based Instagram influencer Kristi Erdal makes a plant-based holiday party snack that can double as a holiday gift. “It is important to have a nutritionally balanced meal, especially during the holidays, which tend to be more meat- and carb-forward with all the roasts and gravies,” she says. “My rosemary spicy roasted nuts are a party snack with savory, smoky, spicy and sweet flavors. A huge amount of fresh, chopped rosemary gives them an amazing flavor boost along with added health benefits. I have several favorite plant-forward recipes that I make during the holidays, including my jalapeño cranberry sauce and my kohlrabi slaw, but the nuts are the most popular.” 

Palmer makes meatless appetizers that stand up to their classic meat-based counterparts. One of her favorites is golden beet vegan meatballs with almond sage cranberry cream. It is made with shredded golden beets and showcases flavors of the season like hazelnuts, flaxseed, sage and thyme. “They’re just so colorful, which is especially nice at holiday time,” she says. “More and more people are realizing that [plant-forward food] is going to be delicious. They’re not going to miss out. It’s going to be satisfying, colorful and amazing.”

Veronica Hinke is a food historian and the author ofThe Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining and Style and Titanic: The Official Cookbook. Learn more at FoodStringer.com.

Photo credit: Foxys Forest Manufacture/shutterstock.com

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