How to Make the Perfect Meat-Free Holiday Meal
So you’ve decided to go meat free for your holiday meal—good for you and the animals! But you know you just can’t serve a big bowl of mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green beans and call it a meal. This quick guide has your answer for a complete meal, including a satisfying main protein dish that tastes great and can be served with all the sides.
The three main components to a clean, healthy, vegetarian meal are protein, unrefined carbs (although it’s the holidays so we’re not too worried about overdoing carbs temporarily), a little fat for satiety, and greens. For this meal, your main protein will contain a bit of fat, which helps satisfy the appetite. When you eat mostly carbs, it tends to keep you hungry which can make you want to overeat.
Here are suggestions for healthy foods that you can serve with your main protein dish:
- Mashed sweet potatoes. Not only do sweet potatoes rate high on the anti-inflammation scale, they have a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes, are loaded with vitamins C and A, B6, and taste wonderful. Just peel, chop, and boil until very soft. Drain and add a little soy milk, olive oil, ground black pepper and mash together until smooth. Some people like to add a dash of nutmeg and/or cinnamon.
- Steamed collard greens. As with all greens, collard greens are low in calories and high in fiber. Collards are also a source of protein. Simply chop into bite-size pieces, steam until the tenderness you like (since they are high in fiber, they will tend to keep a slightly chewy texture), toss with some fresh lemon juice, and sprinkle on some toasted pine nuts. The pine nuts add a little fat, which help your satiety and provide a wonderfully nutty taste.
- Cranberries/cranberry sauce. Cranberries are high in antioxidants and are known for their powerful healing properties, plus they add a tart, complementary flavor to any vegetarian holiday meal. You can make a sauce using whole cranberries, usually pre-bagged. Use the directions written on the package to prepare them, or find an easy recipe online. If you’re not into the extra cooking, canned cranberry sauce is ready to slice, chill, and serve.
- Bread. If you are not being refined-carb–phobic for the holiday, any type of rolls, cornbread, or biscuits can be a complement to this meal.
- Pie. Although pies aren’t technically part of a balanced meal, it certainly is a dessert that you shouldn’t deny yourself or loved ones for the holidays. If you choose to make your own pie, consider using stevia or xylitol as a guilt-free, sugar-free sweetener.
This is a delicious and easy main dish that will be sure to impress your guests!
- ¼ cup tamari soy sauce (low sodium)
- 1 TB. balsamic vinegar
- 1 lb. firm tofu, drained, not rinsed
- 2 TB. Dijon mustard
- 1 TB. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 4 strips vegetarian bacon
- 4 slices low fat provolone cheese
- ½ cup Panko bread crumbs
- Mix soy sauce and vinegar in a marinating dish.
- Cut tofu block, along the narrow edge, into 4 thin slices. Spread the Dijon mustard on the tops of the tofu slices. Sprinkle on oregano and pepper.
- Place tofu flat in bottom of the marinating dish. Let sit for at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Place 2 strips of bacon and 2 slices of cheese on each of 2 tofu slices.
- Top with remaining tofu slices mustard side to the inside.
- Lightly spray top and sides of tofu with olive oil and cover completely with Panko.
- Bake for 35-45 minutes until top is browned and cheese bubbles from sides. Do not turn over during baking.
Making a meal for your loved ones is a gift in itself. Here are some ideas to decorate and present the meal, as the final gift wrap!
- Celebrate a kinder, gentler meal. If you are serving your meal with other vegetarians, they may certainly appreciate knowing what good your particular meal does for them and the world. One nice way is to make placemats or placement cards noting the benefits of your meat free, and/or organic, non-genetically modified foods. You can highlight how your organic meal lessens the toxic burden on your body, and that buying organic supports a more natural use of farmland and reduces pollution from insecticides and pesticides. And don’t forget to give yourself credit on the bottom of the card by saying something like “This meal made with love by ------.”
- Color it up. Whatever decorates your table can enhance your food presentation. Choose a color theme for your table cloth and/or placemats, napkins, and dishes. Color has a psychological effect on us, so choose a color that you feel embraces the mood you’d like to create.
- Rich, dark colors can give an elegant feel to a table, and are generally better in winter months.
- Low light and candles can set a more romantic mood.
- If you want a livelier, energetic meal time, think brighter colors.
- If you are serving family style, where everyone is serving themselves, it can be fun to use unique, colorful serving bowls and plates for the table.
- Decorate the food. Think of the serving dish as you would an outfit for your food. Take into consideration the color of the food and place it in a dish that gives it some contrast. For instance:
- Sweet potatoes in a dark blue bowl pop, but putting them in a yellow or orange dish can drown them out.
- Add decorative greens such as parsley or lettuce leaves underneath or around some food items to enhance presentation.
- Sprinkle a few thinly chopped herbs such as chives, cilantro, rosemary, or parsley over the top of foods for magazine picture-perfect presentation.
With all this effort, you can be sure to enjoy the satisfaction of oohs and ahhs when your dinner guests see what you’ve created. Enjoy the food, fun, and laughter. Happy holidays!
by Frankie Avalon-Wolfe, M.H., Ph.D., author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being Vegetarian, Third Edition