Topics » In The Kitchen » Rewriting Family Traditions: How To Introduce Your Plant-Based Diet
T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, sporting events, vacations – no matter what the event, food is often a central part of family gatherings in most cultures. Many traditions are rooted in cooking together and sharing meals, so when a family member makes a drastic change in dietary habits, it can affect everyone. Sometimes the very food served even defines the custom. How will you face Thanksgiving without roast turkey? Will your birthday ever be the same without your mother’s famous chocolate cake and ice cream? Can you even watch the Super Bowl without chicken wings and pizza? It’s not surprising that facing traditional celebrations can be a huge deterrent to those considering a whole food, plant-based lifestyle. The good news is that with some planning, communication, and good intentions, you can not only continue to enjoy family gatherings but also start some new traditions everyone will love.

DO explain to your family members your reasons for adopting a whole food, plant-based diet. Keep the focus on yourself and remain nonjudgmental of everyone else’s preferences.

DO expect some family members to have difficulty with your decision. Change is hard, particularly within families. Your parents or children may feel you are not participating fully in the event, and that may hurt. Recognize that as time passes, though, what is new now will become normal later.

DO participate in the planning of the meals, and offer to bring or prepare the dishes that can be made WFPB. You can’t expect others to change their methods for you, so you may have to take on a bigger role in the cooking than you have in the past.

DO convert some favorite family recipes to WFPB. If you don’t know how, consult a local vegan chef or email one of the many plant-based online food bloggers for help.

DO create a visual focus that isn’t food. It’s not just food that makes the party. Step up the table decorations with festive place settings and a centerpiece, for example. Add a fun party favor or a conversation-starting prompt at each seat.

DO start new traditions that are not centered around food. Play games, have a gift exchange, host a family talent show, or get out old photo albums or family movies. Help everyone to see the focus should be on the time spent together, not just the food.

DON’T expect others to eat your WFPB food. You may be pleasantly surprised when they do want to try your vegetable lasagna or tofu tacos, but don’t get upset if they don’t. Besides, more leftovers for you.

DON’T get into a debate at the dinner table. You may encounter some ribbing, or even insults, about your new diet, but take the high road and don’t climb on a soapbox or go on a rant. Answer questions about WFPB eating politely; don’t let your answers sound judgmental against other ways of eating.

DON’T throw down an ultimatum that it’s your way or no way. You may be hosting the holiday dinner at your house, but to declare that no meat is allowed past your front door is not the way to introduce your new lifestyle and will only make it harder for your family to accept your decision.

DON’T give up! Transitioning to a fully whole food, plant-based lifestyle can take months or even years. The same is true for influencing others. The people in your life who resist you in the beginning may eventually look to you for guidance. The best way to teach others is by example and with patience.

Image credit: USDAgov

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