In our modern world of different tastes, views, and opinions, it’s very likely that the holiday season will bring you into contact with at least one vegetarian during meal time. It could be a friend who will be joining you while dining out, or maybe you’re even hosting a veggie-loving family member for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.
Perhaps you’re even a herbivore yourself.
Whether vegetarianism is represented at the family dinner table by you or someone else, special accommodations are in order, and that means hitting the supermarket in search of something meaty that contains no meat. Sound complicated? It really doesn’t have to be, and you may even surprise yourself with the delicious tastes to be found in vegetarian meat substitutes.
In the spirit of the holiday season, let’s take a moment to investigate what options vegetarians have on world-renowned turkey-eating days, and how those options rank as far as healthiness is concerned.
Eating Turkey Without the Turkey
Given the fact that more than 75 millions turkeys are consumed during the holiday season in the United States and Canada alone each year, there is obviously a turkey-substitute market for the 10 million or so vegetarians who live in those countries, and this market is where you’ll need to turn if you want to add faux turkey to your holiday menu.
Part of the charm of a holiday dinner is directly related to the look of a beautifully roasted whole bird on the table, and that means that common meat substitutes may not do the trick where the feel of the holidays is concerned, but, luckily, there are a wide range of soy- and tofu-based products out there that replicate the experience from start to finish, imitating the size, shape, taste, and even parts of a turkey quite well.
With an estimated 12 percent reduction in the amount of meat being eaten by Americans over the past 5 years, it’s more than just vegetarians breaking the holiday dinner mold, often in the name of better health, but does foregoing a turkey in favor of a vegetable-based meal automatically mean that it’s better for you?
”Vegetarian” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Healthy
It’s not obvious why this is the case, but the average mind seems to jump to the conclusion that a vegetarian diet is a necessarily healthy one, probably due to exaggerations of scientific studies that suggest unhealthy meat-related results, such as the fact that red meat threatens to give us cancer – a true fact, but one needing to be taken in context. While taking meat out of your diet does offer some benefits, that doesn’t mean that foods that are labeled as “vegetarian” are definitely healthy – it means only that they don’t contain any meat products.
For quick reference, other food items containing no meat products include Twinkies, potato chips, and milk chocolate – not exactly healthy stuff.
The truth is, while eliminating intake of meat does have health benefits, it also requires that a person be much more aware of their meal plan in order to be sure that they’re getting all of the protein and other compounds that they need – compounds typically consumed via meat. That means that a vegetarian diet is only as healthy as the vegetarian in question chooses to make it, without exception.
As far as your holiday dinner goes, don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that the meal is any healthier for having a non-turkey turkey included; between the sodium and other preservatives added for taste, and the gelatin or similar products used to give the faux turkey its shape and density, there is a very good chance that it is actually less good for you than the real thing!
Whether your holiday plans include vegetarian options or not, this growing trend is one that you’d do well to better understand. To that end, click here to learn more about just how healthy – and sometimes unhealthy – a vegetarian diet is.
Healthy Vegetarian Options for the Holidays
If a vegetarian option isn’t necessarily a healthy one, where does that leave you when a well-balanced table is an important part of your holiday routine? Let’s have a look at a few great options for replicating a traditional meal in a way that is fit for the vegetarians in your life, while still bringing something good for the body to the table, as well.
The name is crazy and catchy enough that you may have already heard of it: Tofurky. This is a great option, possibly the very best available, when you’re looking to replace the experience of a turkey dinner from look to taste.
Made from tofu, itself a product originating from soy beans, this option presents as healthy in moderation, providing a good dose of calcium, protein, and a variety of vitamins and minerals, depending on the brand you go for. Its high sodium content should limit your intake of Tofurky considerably – large amounts could actually provide higher levels of sodium than would a similar amount of lean red meat or poultry – but it’s an excellent way to help your vegetarian and vegan friends and family to enjoy a holiday meal in familiar style.
There are many brands of faux turkey out there, but there is only one maker of the patented Tofurky, an American company called Turtle Island. Offering a wide range of flavors and ingredients between variations, Turtle Island products are worth checking out – just be sure to compare labels in order to ensure that you’re getting the most healthy option available to you.
If the aesthetics of a cooked bird on the table play second fiddle to simple taste – and this is almost certainly true of any vegetarians you happen to be dining with – then consider moving away from the idea of a turkey replacement altogether, and focusing instead of the healthiest meatless centerpiece possible; so long as it goes well with gravy, potatoes, and dressing, all taste buds in attendance will be pleased!
Enter the veggie load, an ambiguous term that refers to just about any vegetable-based meatloaf substitute. This may seem like a sideways step from the turkey replacement discussed above, but the freedom you have when constructing your own kitchen creation, as opposed to buying a pre-processed solution, means that you’ll have complete control over the healthiness of its contents.
Instead of providing a detailed recipe here for one type of veggie loaf or another, I’ll leave the final decision up to you. The options really are nearly endless given the versatility of most veggies, allowing you to choose from a wide range of base vegetables in order to whip together a meaty-but-meatless centerpiece for a holiday meal; lentils are my personal favorite, but you could just as easily go with mushrooms, cabbage, or beans!
If you do choose to shape your own meal, be forewarned that you’ll not likely be able to successfully recreate the dimensions of a turkey at home – that trade-off is necessary when preservatives and gelatins aren’t an option. Sacrificing the look of the meal in the name of dietary goodness will work for most, but you’ll be better of exploring a true faux turkey if not.
No matter what holiday you’re celebrating and what food you grace your table with in doing so, I wish you the best of luck, and the best of times!