Tips for new vegetarians: how to manage holiday meat cravings

It's not always easy to be a new vegetarian around the holidays, especially because holiday menus are often firmly focused on meat. If you're nervous about missing the turkey on Thanksgiving or Ham on Christmas or Easter, it's okay (and normal). Many vegetarians find it hard to give up meat - even vegetarians who 100% believe in the benefits of living a meat-free lifestyle.

To avoid slipping during the holidays, it's smart to be prepared.

  • Know that there will be a lot of meat ads and meat talk going on during major holidays.

  • Know that your family and friends will still probably want to serve meat at holiday meals

  • Know that you may have cravings and feel like you want to eat meat.

All of the above can be a pain, but your commitment to a meat-free life is important. You've made a great decision by going vegetarian and even though it's Thanksgiving or Christmas, you can stick with your choice. Consider the following...

Think about if you really want the meat - or something else:

For many, traditional holiday dinners remind them of happy family gatherings. Remind yourself that it's not the meat you're craving, but the family and friend time. For others it's the scents and seasonings of holiday cooking that draws them in - not the actual meat. For example, if you're craving turkey during Thanksgiving, try adding traditional Thanksgiving minded seasonings such as sage, savory and parsley to meat-free dishes like rice, steamed veggies or a Seitan Roulade.

Opt for a vegetarian alternative:

Nowadays there are some decent meat alternatives available - including mock turkey for holiday events. Read Recipes for a Traditional Vegan Thanksgiving Menu for ideas about what to eat instead of meat.

Plan a healthy diet now:

Maintaining a healthy diet can help cut down on meat cravings. For example, if you lack calories, specific nutrients or fat in your diet, it can make you hungry, which in turn may make it harder to forget about meat. It's best to talk with your doctor if you need help planning a healthy vegetarian diet, but you can also read this handy vegetarian meal planning guide (pdf) for tips.

Remind yourself that new habits take time:

Research shows that forming a new habit, such as not eating meat, can take anywhere from anywhere from 18 days all the way up to 254 days. Stick with it. The longer you don't eat meat, the easier it becomes and the sooner going meat-free will become second nature.

Grab a vegetarian buddy (or two, or three):

If you have a vegetarian pal, why not have holiday meals with them? It's much easier to go vegetarian and stick with it if you've got a friend on your side of the table. If everyone else at your event is a meat-eater, and there are no other vegetarians in sight, try to visit a helpful vegetarian message board, like VeggieBoards, in the weeks leading up to a holiday. A message board allows you to vent a bit, talk to others about their holiday issues and get support. Don't underestimate peer support. Stacks of research shows that people are more likely to stick with new habits, say like exercising, quitting smoking or going meat-free, when they hang out with peers who have the same goals.

Make a list of vegetarian perks:

When people first go meat-free, they're usually excited with their choice and running on fresh willpower. A few weeks in, the initial excitement wears off and that willpower may die down. Make a list of all the reasons you want to be a vegetarian and hang it up somewhere visible. Maybe you don't want animals to die just so you can eat. Maybe you want to be healthier or more eco-friendly. There are many good reasons to go vegetarian and it's important to remind yourself about those reasons frequently.

Be positive:

The American Heart Association notes that people who want to take on new habits often sabotage themselves with negative thoughts instead of thinking positively. For example, it makes it hard to give up meat at Thanksgiving time if you're thinking, "It really sucks that I CAN'T HAVE turkey!" A way to turn this around and make it positive would be to say to yourself, "There are tons and tons of foods I can eat, like yummy sweet potatoes, creamy mashed potatoes, delicious vegetables, hot rolls, pumpkin pie and more!"

Need more help?

With a little planning, new vegetarians can handle cravings during the holidays and the rest of the year too. Remember, cravings pass, but living by your ethics and values is an amazing accomplishment that will stick with you for life.

For more advice, check out the following helpful threads and articles that deal with being a new vegetarian and cravings.

By: Jennifer C