Compassionate holiday meals

photo of Vesanto Melina

by Vesanto Melina

About ten percent of Canadians are choosing plant-based meals and the trend is accelerating, especially among young people. So you are likely to have at least one vegetarian or vegan at your holiday dinner table. They may be making this choice because they have learned from the World Health Organization that cured meats such as ham are Group 1 carcinogens, meaning they are in the same category as benzene and cigarette smoking. They may be making this choice because they are aware of the high environmental costs of using water, fuel, pesticides, and herbicides in order to feed plant foods to animals, which we then eat. Or they may have seen footage or read reports about the lives and deaths of farm animals such as turkeys – even those that are free range.

So what can you put on your holiday table?

Many traditional menu items are plant-based: brussels sprouts, baked sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a big, colorful salad. Gravy can easily be made with vegetarian soup stock and any oil. Mashed potatoes taste great when made with non-dairy milk, and a spread such as Earth Balance. If you’d like to add a ready-made holiday roast or holiday goodies, you can find a selection at Vegan Supply through these links:, and They have locations on East Pender near Main Street and can deliver to your home, or to several pickup locations. Other supermarkets and natural foods stores carry some of these items. Another good choice is a stuffed squash; for recipes do a search at my nutrispeak website.

If you are going out for a holiday meal, or for snacks after a winter outing, you can find a variety of restaurants (worldwide) that offer tasty food through the website

Kale and Red Pepper Holly Ring

Kale salad wreathMakes about 5 1/2 cups
From Cooking Vegetarian by V. Melina and J. Forest

The deep green kale tossed with bright red bell peppers, resembles a small holly wreath when presented on a plate. This simple yet elegant dish is perfect for the holiday season and adds color and a festive touch at any time of the year. For larger gatherings, double the recipe. It is a rich source of calcium, iron, potassium, the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E.

12 C thinly sliced kale leaves, stem removed, packed
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 tsp tamari or soy sauce
1/2 C diced sweet red pepper or small cranberry tomatoes

Place kale in a steamer. Cover and briefly steam over medium-high heat until the kale is soft to the bite. Drain in a colander and press out any excess water. Combine the oil, vinegar, and tamari in a large bowl. Add the kale, toss to coat the leaves with dressing, and arrange on a platter. Create a round wreath shape by pushing the kale toward edges of platter, leaving a clean, open space in the center. Sprinkle with the red pepper and serve.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver Registered Dietitian and award winning author. Websites:,, and


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