I am reminded that spring is in the air when my amaryllis plants blossom and the three of the most predominant religions in the US celebrate holidays. Each of these holidays are remarkably close to the beginning of the planting and growing season in the Northern hemisphere.
Jewish people celebrate Passover; Christians celebrate Easter; and Muslims celebrate the Feast of Ramadan. Even amongst the friction between people of different religious convictions over centuries, these holidays coincide on the calendar and bring people together.
The Role of Food in Holiday Gatherings
What do many of us do at holiday gatherings? We eat, of course! We celebrate, enjoy each others’ company, and often eat some more.
I have always enjoyed the special meals each family member or friends have made for the Passover holiday. To tell the truth, it is my favorite holiday for eating. Nothing in the world can replace my Grandma Rosie’s recipe for chicken matzah ball soup. Over the years, when I have prepared it for our Passover Seder (special meal) guests, it has received very high praise. Guests usually indicate their enjoyment by asking about the ingredients. But holiday eating is not often thought of as healthy, because it usually isn’t!
Healthy Meals Everyone Will Enjoy
So what do I do now that I have adjusted my eating lifestyle? My guests might not be on the “same sheet of music,” as my wife Melissa has a tendency to say. It can be a challenge, but as far as I can tell, very few people have avoided coming to our home during the holidays, in part because they also enjoy the delicious meals Melissa prepares. She is the chef in our Power of 5 Test Kitchen. She is about to release her first cookbook for healthy eating. When she prepares meals for our guests, they are never disappointed and nobody leaves hungry.
During a recent socially-distanced dinner with my physician partners and their wives, our dinner was entirely plant-based. They all loved the food! When we had our fully-vaccinated guests for Passover, dinner was a hybrid. Melissa and I made a delicious chicken-flavored matzah ball soup, but it was all plant-based. It still tasted just like Grandma Rosie’s. All the food we made was plant-based, and our guests brought additions to the meal: a chicken dish and noodle pudding (neither plant-based). It was a wonderful Seder! If invited, I suspect all our guests will come back next year to enjoy a flavorful meal, maybe even without the chicken.
How to Have Healthy Meals when Eating Lifestyles Differ
However, when my sisters, Nancy and Claire, visit after the holidays we have a bit more of a challenge. My younger sister, Nancy, has refused most vegetables most of her life. While she tells me she is getting better, I know she does not like anything dark green or anything red (like tomatoes), and heaven-forbid she would eat root vegetables other than potatoes.
So, when we gather with family or guests who have different eating lifestyles, we adopt a different strategy to communicate love and respect for our loved ones through food even when we differ in diet preference.
We ask for a list of desired food items ahead of time. Nancy has already given me a list of a few items that she would like to have for our weekend together: eggs, half and half, and tuna fish. Claire asked for oatmeal. They both asked for strawberries. This is great! We love them too. These are easy requests.
The sisters will be staying for just two dinners. Due to COVID, we do not plan on dining out. Melissa and I will plan a savory and satisfying menu that both sisters will hopefully enjoy. If things don’t go that well, there are a few Asian restaurants nearby that we love. We can get a variety of takeout for each person to sample.
Encourage New Experiences through Healthy Meals
For those who also follow a healthy eating lifestyle, it does take some effort to satisfy guests who may make other choices with their eating. But it’s worth it! Many times, guests are game to try optional healthy recipes and are always surprised by how delicious meals can be even without meat. It does take intention, planning, and consideration preferences to formulate and prepare a satisfying healthy menu.
Next time you host a gathering, I hope you enjoy the celebration, and I encourage you to maintain your healthy eating lifestyle—even introducing it to your guests. Wherever your guests’ preferences fall, stick with a healthy Power of 5 focus. Have a joyful springtime!
To a Long and Healthy Life,
David Bernstein, MD
P.S. Remember to follow Melissa in the Power of 5 Test Kitchen and join in the happenings!