With Canada Day and Independence Day just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to discuss some ways to get through BBQ season while eating whole food, plant-based. Whether you are new to plant-based eating, or a seasoned pro, sometimes an invite to a meal outside of your own home can result in a little anxiety. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be a stressful thing. You don’t need to become a hermit to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. You can totally do this while still enjoying an active social life. Here are some tips to help you on your way.
Know Your Limits
Maybe you are pretty new to this and haven’t fully removed meat and dairy from your diet yet. In that case, you may choose to make this occasion an exception and you’ll just enjoy what’s served. That’s a perfectly acceptable way to handle it, and something I would have done early on in this process.
If that’s you, I just suggest you don’t overdo it. Load up your plate with whatever salad and veggie options are available and keep animal products to a minimum. This way, you are basically crowding them out, which is a principle you should be following during the transition stage anyway.
Perhaps you’re further along though, and meat and dairy are no longer a part of your diet at all. Well, fear not, you can still enjoy yourself at every summer BBQ. Here are some tips to help you navigate this meat-filled minefield.
Know Your Host/Hostess
Is this someone who generally has a lot of veggie options available to begin with? Or are they a hardcore carnivore? Either way, you’ll be just fine, but it’s good to know what you are walking into. If the event is hosted by family or a close friend, they likely already know your food preferences and may be planning to have some options available for you. Chat with them about what’s on the menu and plan accordingly. Maybe you can bring some bean burgers or veggie kabobs to be grilled there. If it’s more of a friend-of-a-friend type thing, you may not have this option. In that case, you may want to have a little something to eat at home prior to going in case there aren’t many plant-based options.
It’s always good practice to offer to bring something to contribute to a gathering like this, especially when you eat differently than those hosting you. I would definitely suggest bringing something fairly substantial and filling if you aren’t sure what’s on the menu. There’s likely to be a green leafy salad of some kind, try bringing a potato, bean or grain-based salad or two. This way, if there’s not much else for you to eat, you won’t be going hungry.
You can eat your contributions as a main and supplement with raw veggies and hummus, corn on the cob, fresh fruit, or whatever other plant-based options you see. Just be sure to warn people if your dish contains nuts. Many dairy-free sauces use nuts to get that creamy consistency and you don’t want someone unknowingly digging in and potentially having a life-threatening reaction. You don’t need to advertise that it’s vegan or whole food, plant-based if you don’t think it will be received well (they likely won’t even notice anyway), just mention that it contains nuts.
If you’re avoiding oil and refined sugars at home, you’ve probably noticed how difficult it is to get food without these items outside of your own kitchen. This will be no exception. Personally, I like to think of it like this: if I’m eating oil-free every day at home, then one meal with oil is not going to kill me. Same goes for the odd treat containing refined sugar.
Would you forgo a vacation to an amazing destination just because you aren’t sure you could find food cooked without oil or refined sugar? Probably not, so don’t make this a reason to miss out on time with friends and family. When eating outside of my own kitchen, I’m perfectly happy if I can find something plant-based to eat, so I choose not to sweat a little oil or sugar. Don’t stress it, just relax and have fun. You can put extra greens in your smoothie the next day if it makes you feel any better.
If this makes you really uncomfortable or makes you feel like you’re going to get off track, then you can always bring your own food. I’d mention this to the host ahead of time though, so they aren’t offended. Just explain that you have very specific dietary preferences and will bring your own food to make things easier.
Don’t be that guest. You know, the one who calls the host with a ton of special requests, fully expecting they will jump through hoops to accommodate you. This will guarantee only one thing, you won’t be invited again. They may be polite enough to try, but if you’re a hassle to have around, you won’t be asked to attend next time. Don’t expect to be accommodated, instead, be pleasantly surprised if and when you are.
This is probably not the best time to attempt to educate people about why you feel they shouldn’t be eating animal products. Especially as they’re tucking into a steak or burger. Instead, you can sow the seeds of change with your actions. I find that those who are interested will normally notice and ask about why I choose not to eat meat and dairy products. This way, the topic comes up organically without any forcing or cajoling. If people ask why you eat this way, just be sure to keep your responses light and your tone positive. If they are truly interested in hearing more they will ask. Don’t just launch into a huge diatribe while those around you are awkwardly smiling and nodding.
Be honest with yourself though, if you are going to be really uncomfortable around people eating meat, then consider staying home. Understand that everyone is on their own journey, and whether you agree with it or not, that is perfectly okay. You do what works for you and let everyone else do the same.
If it’s a casual thing and the opportunity allows, consider bringing a friend or significant other. Bonus points if they eat the way you do. It may help to keep you from feeling like the odd (wo)man out. It can be hard navigating these situations alone in the beginning. Having someone with you who understands may make things more comfortable and less stressful. If you’re going this route, have them bring a dish too, so there will be more options for both of you.
Don’t Stress It
This may be easier said than done, but really, it’s not worth getting stressed out over. Remember, this is about going out to have a good time with family and/or friends. It’s not a big deal if you don’t make it one. If you spend your time stressing out over what might happen, then you’ll have a hard time trying to relax and enjoy yourself. Nobody can have a good time if they are waiting for something bad to happen. Just relax and enjoy the moment for what it is. After all, if you’re really not having a good time, you can always duck out early. However, chances are good that if you stop worrying about it, you’ll be able to relax and have a great time.
If you can’t get over the worry and the what-ifs, consider offering to host the next one. This is a great opportunity to serve some of your favourites for others to try. Just remember that some omnivores may be just as unsure about what they’ll eat at your house as you were at theirs. Some people are not very adventurous when it comes to food.
With a little diplomacy and a little planning, you can definitely enjoy BBQ season. There is a lot to look forward to; good weather, good food and good company. That’s what this season is all about. I know I definitely look forward to summers full of corn on the cob, grilled veggies and fresh summer fruits. Mmm mmmm!
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