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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Plant-Forward Holidays: Festive Foods Everyone Will Crave

Nov 01, 2023 06:00AM ● 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,” he 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 author of The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining and Style and Titanic: The Official Cookbook. Learn more at

Plant- Forward Holiday Recipes

pPhoto Bart Potenza and Joy Piersonbrp

Roasted Whole Cauliflower With Cashew Cream

½ cup raw, unsalted cashews, soaked overnight, or for 15 minutes in hot water (see Note) Read More » 


pPhoto Sharon Palmerbrp

Golden Beet Vegan Meatballs with Almond Sage Cranberry Cream

To make the vegan meatballs, trim the beets and scrub the outside surface, leaving the peels on. Using a food processor or a box grater, shred the beets. Read More » 


Mini Curried Lentil Wellingtons

Mini Curried Lentil Wellingtons

Place plant-based milk in a small dish. Dip a pastry brush into the plant-based milk and moisten the surface of the pastries with the brush. Read More » 


pPhoto Sharon Palmer MSFS RDNbrp

Herbed Lentil Patties with Mushroom Sauce

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Press ½-cup lentil patty mixture into a measuring cup or scoop, place onto the baking sheet and flatten down t... Read More » 


pPhoto Colleen Patrick-Goudreaubrp

Creamy Leek Polenta

Add the leeks and stir to coat. Cover and cook until the leeks soften, stirring occasionally for 7 to 10 minutes. Read More » 


pPhoto Kristi Erdalbrp

Rosemary Spicy Roasted Nuts

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the rosemary and stir occasionally. Cook until fragrant, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Read More » 


pPhoto Colleen Patrick-Goudreabrp

Vegetable Pot Pie

Once the vegetables, especially the sweet potatoes, are fork-tender, add the tarragon, oregano, thyme, sage, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook for another two minutes. Give the vegetables... Read More » 


pRecipe and photo Sherry Coleman Collins MS RDN LDbrp

Fall Farro Bake

Roast the squash until tender, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the farro in water according to the package directions. Read More » 


Organic Sparkling Lemonade

Organic Sparkling Lemonade

Wash and dry the lemons. Cut off the ends then quarter the lemons. Place all ingredients, except ice, in a blender and pulse 7 to 11 times until pulverized. Divide the ice into 2 glasses.... Read More » 


Other Healthy Recipe Ideas + Main Article

Stir-Fried Okra

Stir-Fried Okra

Preheat oven to 400° F. Bake okra until lightly brown on unbleached parchment paper that has been sprayed with a bit of oil. Remove from heat and set aside. Read More » 


Anti-Inflammatory Chicken

Anti-Inflammatory Chicken

Add the remaining ingredients except the tomatoes and cook for five to six minutes until the chicken is done. Add the tomatoes and cover, simmering until the liquid evaporates. Read More » 


Date Cookies

Date Cookies

Scoop about a tablespoon of batter and roll into a round ball. In the middle of the ball, press ½ teaspoon of dates into the center, rolling again to surround the dates with cookie dough. Read More » 


Holiday Parties for Every Diet How to Plan an Inclusive and Safe Feast

Holiday Parties for Every Diet: How to Plan an Inclusive and Safe Feast

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, more than 17 percent of the adult population is on a special diet on any given day. Food Allergy Research and Education ... Read More » 


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