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Plant-Based for the Holidays | An Insulin Sensitizing Christmas Dinner!

Article written and reviewed by Cyrus Khambatta, PhD and Robby Barbaro, MPH
Published December 21, 2021

If you're on a plant-based diet and looking for low-fat, plant-based, whole-food Christmas dinner recipes, we've got you covered! The holidays can be a tough time to stay on track with your diet.

The abundance of food around the neighborhood is there to tempt us, and it's hard not to indulge when everyone else is eating ham roasts and turkey dinners (especially if that's what you grew up on!)

That's why we put together this roundup full of low-fat, plant-based holiday dinner options so that you'll have no problem staying on track during the holidays while still enjoying all the fun festivities!

The Challenge of A Plant-Based Christmas Dinner

It's no secret that plant-based diets and classic Christmas don't exactly play nice together. When you think about a plant-based Christmas dinner, what comes to mind? Maybe a few slices of bread and some veggies for the side.

Well, it doesn't have to be that way! Eating plant-based does not mean giving up all your favorite foods; you just need to learn how to make them healthier for yourself!

The Hungry Holiday Season

But that's easier said than done. Think about how much of the holiday season is centered around food. From office parties to family gatherings, there's always something cooking! And whether it’s ham, cheeses, butter, turkeys, or pies, it's all Mastering Diabetes-unfriendly!

Getting Over Old Traditions

And that's without even getting into the fact that you might have grown up enjoying ice cream and gravy and whipped cream on your Christmas dessert. How can you possibly give that up and replace it with some plant-based version of those same things?

That's a big reason why most people struggle with sticking to a plant-based diet around Christmas. It's gotta be sacrilegious, right??

Well, it's not easy to let old habits pass by, but it is possible! You don't have to deprive yourself or feel left out during the holiday season. That's why we've put together this plant-based Christmas dinner menu – so you can enjoy all the deliciousness of the holiday while sticking to your plant-based diet!

Why Are We Even Doing This Anyway?

This question may have popped into your head, and it's worth taking a moment to remind yourself why exactly you're eating plant-based in the first place!

Historically Proven to Be Better For You

You can give back to yourself by eating plant-based meals. Dozens of studies have shown that there are some major risks associated with eating meat, including heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

And in fact, there have been dozens of studies showing that heavily plant-based diets improve your overall health and longevity, and you've got some strong reasons to stay plant-based!

Carbohydrates Are Delicious

One benefit of choosing to follow a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet is the fact that you can enjoy carbohydrate-rich foods. Ingredients such as apples, pomegranates, persimmons, sweet potatoes, kabocha squash, red lentils, quinoa and so many more are back on the menu.

More on this below!

Especially Important if You've Living With Diabetes

And if you're living with diabetes, going plant-based can be a literal lifesaver! The research has consistently shown that the secret to reducing your insulin resistance (the underlying cause of most diabetes complications) is a low-fat, plant-based diet high in natural carbohydrates. If you're eating plant-based, you're already most of the way there!

But That Doesn't Mean It's Not Hard!

And we get that! It's easy to feel like you're missing out over Christmas watching a festive feast filled with dairy and meats and sugars. Even Christmas pudding haters can start to feel jealous -- after all, you're telling yourself you can't have something, so of course, that makes you want it!

That's why we like to focus on an interesting part of eating plant-based -- no need for portion control!

The Green Light to Chow Down

Here at Mastering Diabetes, we've come up with a series of diet guidelines to help eat a low-fat, plant-based, whole-food diet that will help you reverse insulin resistance, improve your cardiovascular health, and provide a number of other health benefits.

We call it our green light, yellow light, red light series of guidelines, with one big emphasis -- you can eat green light foods ad libitum. That means as much as you want, whenever you want!

The Theory Behind Green Light

The theory behind green light foods is to give you the green light to enjoy them as much as you want. Too often, dietary guidelines are focused on being very restrictive, with a massive focus on calorie counting and portion control.

Fortunately, with the items on the green light list (which a VAST majority of plant-based item are), you don't need to worry! You can just snack away to your heart's content because each of these green light foods is fantastic for you!

No Christmas Portion Control Needed

So while it may not be rich in butter and fats and meats, that doesn't mean you can't make a sweet, delicious feast full of festive flavors that'll leave you stuffed to high heaven! And with these dairy-free, delicious recipes, you'll be able to clean off the Christmas table knowing that your Christmas menu was guilt-free, and good for your overall health!

Some of Our Impossibly Delicious Plant-Based Christmas Dinner Ideas

So without further ado, let's take a look at some of our favorite plant-based Christmas dinner recipes! Ready for the perfectChristmas dinner, one that'll make you lose yourself in the holiday celebration without ever feeling like you're missing something?

We even have low-fat, plant-based Christmas desserts!

Plant-Based Christmas Starters

To us, there's nothing that gets a holiday gathering started better than super creamy soup to cut the edge off of the cool weather outside and get you in the mood for a Christmas Party. And funnily enough, you can make some incredibly tasty, creamy soup with just sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and carrots -- no dairy milk needed.

Check out some of our favorites!

Squash and Sweet Potato Corn Chowder

Squash-Sweet-Potato-Corn-Chowder-900x900

The subtle sweetness of the squash, corn and sweet potatoes give this savory soup extra depth of flavor. It's a creamy, tasty option that will have your whole family asking for more!

Carrot and Ginger Soup

This easy-to-make one-pot soup is one of our favorites to prepare at any time of the year, but it's fresh, creamy flavor is an awesome start to a plant-based Christmas. The creaminess of the potato paired with the brightness of the citrus makes for a deliciously refreshing soup and can be served hot or cold.

Curried Red Lentil Soup

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Shaking things up just a bit, this red lentil stew has the perfect balance of being spicy and subtly sweet, and it's best served on top of a bed of spinach. Who said you couldn't start off Christmas dinner with a little bit of a kick!

Plant-Based Christmas Recipes for Side Dishes

It's not hard to think of some classic plant-based side dishes -- mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, salads... But oftentimes without even realizing it these treats sneak in some red-light foods, like cream in the mashed potatoes, cheese in the salad, or bacon in the brussels sprouts.

And while your mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, and salads can still be a great option with the right recipe, we've also included some items for the holiday table that will blow your mind!

Butternut Buddha Bowl with Black Beans

Buddha bowls are one of our favorite salad replacements. Rather than needing a heavy dressing or sneaky red-light additions to give them flavor, these delicious plant-based bowls use punchy butternut squash, roasted cauliflower, nut roasts, and interesting salad dressing alternatives for good food that non-plant-based and plant-based family members will both love!

Smoky Lentils with Kabocha Squash

Smoky Lentils with Kabocha Squash

Ever realized that "smoky" isn't just for meats? This warm, savory dish packs a punch with protein and fiber to keep you feeling satisfied for hours without feeling weighed down by meat and oil. And if you've never tried kabocha squash or smoked paprika, you're in for a real treat. You may want to make this dish all winter long!

Roasted Root Vegetables

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Tasty, stackable, crunchy texture, and completely addictive. All you want for a great side and delicious plant-based comfort food! This recipe is full of roasted potatoes, roasted carrots (maybe even roasted garlic if you're feeling adventurous!) and makes for a robust side dish, main course, or even a snack as an easy starter.

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash

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And we'd be remiss if we didn't include a classic salad option! This quinoa salad is simple yet satisfying, and it's a perfect dish to make in advance and serve chilled later! Add in homemade salad dressings and you've got a nice space to fill the salad most people expect at a Christmas party.

Plant-Based Christmas Dinner Recipes

Now here's where you're really going to be impressed. Everyone knows that when it comes to starters and sides, it's a little bit easier to make do with green light ingredients. But when it comes to serving a truly impressive plant-based Christmas dinner packed with festive flavors... well, that's where the expertise comes in!

And believe us, with these hearty plant-based Christmas recipes, you'll forget you ever thought about caving and eating meatloaf!

Sweet Potatoes and Lentil Stew

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Lentil stew has the comfort of warm soup, made extra hearty and filling by the lentil base. Add in sweet potatoes and you've got a starchy, sweet, and delicious meal that'll stick to the ribs! Finally, the fresh rosemary and thyme in this recipe make it especially aromatic.

This is the perfect meal for a chilly Christmas, and has the style and substance to stand on its own as a fantastic centerpiece!

Pumpkin and White Bean Stew

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This thick and hearty stew full of rich winter flavors is an iconic classic that's also perfect for a cold Christmas day. It goes especially well in a one-two punch with any of our other plant-based Christmas recipes, serving as a sweet and savory base to bounce some of the more punchy flavors off of!

Warming Winter Squash, Potatoes, and Lentils

Warming Winter Squash, Potatoes, and Lentils

And speaking of vibrant, interesting flavors, the warming winter squash, potatoes, and lentils above are the perfect base for some exciting spices! You'd be surprised how many natural spices are not only green light but also amazing for you!

A hearty, sweet, savory, and spicy bowl full of rich slow-cooked deliciousness? That's what we're talking about!

Stuffed Delicata Squash

And we get it, sometimes Christmas is as much about the presentation as it is about the palette. Delicata squash is absolutely the perfect base for plant-based Christmas recipes because that gap inside is just waiting to be stuffed with all sorts of delicious plant-based Christmas goodness.

Quinoa or sweet roasted potatoes are a great start for filling this fun main course, though a little bit of roasted garlic, carrots, bell pepper, and more can all be exactly what the doctor ordered!

Plant-Based Christmas Desserts

And it wouldn't be the best plant-based Christmas dinner you've ever had without some awesome, tasty treats with a healthy twist! Here are three of our ideas for how to bring your Christmas feast home with a bang!

And why not just enjoy them all?

Oatmeal Christmas Cookies

They're not shaped like Santa Claus or reindeer, but these cookies will definitely have you in the Christmas spirit! In fact, thanks to the natural sweeteners in fresh fruits, you might find that you love these plant-based options even more than their sugar-filled counterparts!

And don't worry if you're not a seasoned baker! These killer cookies are simple to make and bake in only 12 minutes -- one of the shortest prep times of any of our plant-based Christmas recipes.

Banana Nice Cream

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And what should go on top of those cookies? Well, nothing else than the first of our creamy, delicious plant-based Christmas recipes for nice cream!

Banana nice cream is the PERFECT dessert. It tastes dreamily decadent, but it's 100% healthy. You can check out the variations we list below, or get creative with your own spin!

Mint Chocolate Nice Cream

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And our second homage to ice cream (that tastes just as good as any classic American or traditional Italian dessert like ice cream/gelato) is our Mint Chocolate Nice cream. That's right, cacao -- and hot chocolate if you make it right -- are green light foods!

Tons of our friends that are plant-based eat what feels like buckets of this stuff at the end of their plant-based Christmas dinner!

And Our Community Is Just Getting Started

And this is just a start! Our favorite part about founding the Mastering Diabetes Method and helping assemble this community was that people around us have taken off, and given these dishes a life of their own.

We've seen options like:

  • Plant-based mince pies
  • Hot chocolate dessert
  • Plant-based mushroom wellington
  • Plant-based cheesecake
  • Cranberry juice salad dressings
  • Plant-based meatballs
  • Plant-based apple cake
  • Plant-based Christmas pudding
  • And even plant-based Christmas drinks like plant-based milk punch

It's so inspiring to see so many people coming together and discovering that even though they've chosen to eat plant-based, whether that's for weight-loss, heart disease, other conditions, or to fight diabetes, that there's a whole world of delicious foods to try!

Stay Tuned and Join the Community

If you'd like to learn more, you can check out the many articles below, or read more about the science behind our method.

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About the author 

Cyrus Khambatta, PhD and Robby Barbaro, MPH

Cyrus Khambatta, PhD, and Robby Barbaro, MPH are the coauthors of the New York Times bestselling book Mastering Diabetes: The Revolutionary Method to Reverse Insulin Resistance Permanently in Type 1, Type 1.5, Type 2, Prediabetes, and Gestational Diabetes. They are the cofounders of Mastering Diabetes, a coaching platform that teaches people how to reverse insulin resistance via low-fat, plant-based, whole-food nutrition. Cyrus has been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002, and has an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from UC Berkeley. Robby was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2000, and has been living a plant-based lifestyle since 2006. He worked at Forks Over Knives for 6 years, and earned a Master’s in Public Health in 2019.