The struggle of eating differently than your family on Thanksgiving

We all have family traditions, especially Thanksgiving food traditions.  Growing up we would always go to my dad’s family farm in the Poconos.  It was a huge family reunion and every family would bring a dish.  As the years went on we grew accustomed to certain families bringing their signature dish.  There was always a very large turkey that had been raised on the farm, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, butter with a side of green beans, and other variations of vegetables sadly prepared.  When I was younger this was totally fine, I didn’t give a second thought about the food.    As I got older, I became more conscious of the foods I was eating.  I no longer wanted salty, fried, buttery dishes.  I wanted to eat amazingly prepared vegetables, dairy free dishes and organic meats.

On an average day when I was eating at home and cooking for myself this was not a problem.  I will never forget my first Thanksgiving when I was a more thoughtful eater.  I sat down at the table with all the dishes presented in front of me and there was not one thing that I wanted. The milky mashed potatoes just screamed tummy ache and the fried green beans and buttery squash just looked so sad to me.  This particular Thanksgiving, I stuck to the pumpkin pie, because it was a holiday and some dessert never killed anyone.  (I felt it later.)

I learned a lesson that year and going forward I started making my own food.  This presented itself with a whole new category of discomfort, the judgement. 

The first year I brought my own food to Thanksgiving was met with weird looks and comments like “what is that?” and “why are you eating that?”  They are vegetables people, roasted VEGETABLES.  I was also a vegetarian at this time so I thought it would be cute to bring a tofurky, it wasn’t. I ignored these comments and the stares as best as I could but I felt alienated from my family. Here was a holiday where we are all supposed to be together to give thanks for what we had and I felt uncomfortable.

On our long car ride back home I couldn’t shake the feelings from the day.  Here I was trying to be healthy and educate my family on the importance of nutrition and they just didn’t get it.  I became determined to keep sharing my knowledge and maybe even get them on the same page as me, or at least the same book. 

The following year I made tons of dishes to bring along.  I roasted root vegetables, made butternut squash with cinnamon, made a lentil stew and brought along some no bake pumpkin bites.  Instead of just bringing enough for myself and being that girl awkwardly sitting at the table with my own plate, I made enough for everyone and placed it on the buffet table with everything else.  Without drawing any attention to it, I just watched as people went down the line and took a little bit of everything.  No one seemed to notice the new healthier alternatives that I had snuck in.  I even overheard people saying how great the vegetables were, I was so pleased.

I realized that I had been alienating myself.  I let my families’ comments bother me and make me feel embarrassed.  When I turned it around and used it as an opportunity to share with my family, it was received much better.  The key was to help people understand and have them experience it for themselves.  We are all a little weary of the unknown, it is human nature.  They weren’t trying to make me feel bad, they just didn’t understand why our traditional meal was suddenly not something I desired.  It turns out they felt rejected, like I thought I was better than their food.  Not the case at all!

So, if you find yourself being the odd one out at Thanksgiving, take it as an opportunity to share with your family.  Either make or buy the food you enjoy and share.  They may not love it like you do but at least they will have a better understanding.  Don’t make it seem like you are above them for eating healthier, use it as a time to teach. 

Have an absolutely amazing Thanksgiving, and remember, it is okay to have the pie!