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07 December 2023

How to navigate social occasions during the festive season

The festive season is often a time of social gatherings and spending time with loved ones. A bit of planning in advance can ease concerns about following the Overcoming MS Program whilst still being able to embrace the spirit of celebration. Nutritional therapist and community member, Jenna Cox, shares her top tips on how to navigate social occasions during the festive season.

Hosting social events

If you’re hosting a gathering, consider one-pot meals that can be easily upscaled to cater for a large group. Dishes like a hearty black bean chilli with baked potatoes or a rich lentil, mushroom and walnut bolognese get my vote. You can even pre-prepare the dishes to alleviate the stress of cooking for the masses on the day.

You’re the guest? Bring something you’ve made

Although it might feel a little taxing to explain your dietary choices, most people will be interested to learn more and even feel inspired to take better care of themselves. What better way to encourage your friends and family to get involved than bringing a dish you’ve made.

Big salads or a smoked mackerel pate with dairy-free yoghurt are convenient options that don’t require reheating, ensuring a delicious addition to the menu that aligns with your preferences.

If you’re going away

For overnight stays, it’s always useful to pack a bag of your go-to Overcoming MS foods so that you’re covered for breakfasts and snacks. Essentials might include homemade granola, a jar of almond butter and crackers, bags of nuts and dried fruit, longer-lasting fruits such as apples, and a carton of nut milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated until opened.

Christmas or celebration dinners

The joy of Christmas dinner is that traditional side dishes are generally plant-based and low in saturated fat – you might just need to make a few tweaks.

Roast potatoes are delicious in the oven seasoned with olive oil and herbs, while vegetables like Brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips, can be steamed or roasted and served with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. If your traditional meal includes cauliflower cheese, give a cashew cheese sauce a go. The traditional roast turkey, beef, goose etc. can be replaced by a delicious nut roast, easily prepped in advance, with a tasty mushroom gravy.

If you’re heading to friends or family for the day, offer to bring over a nut roast and just ask if some or all of the sides can be dairy-free and roasted in olive oil. You’ll probably find that you have to share your nut roast as it’ll be a welcome addition to anyone’s Christmas dinner!

A festive chocolate mousse dessert

A big hit you can rely on is a simple avocado chocolate mousse.

Blend two large ripe avocados (peeled and stoned) in a food processor with two ripe bananas, eight Medjool dates, three heaped tbsp of cacao powder, three tbsp of cashew or almond butter, and one tsp vanilla extract. Once smooth, chill the mousse for an hour or so before serving.

Have a look at other Overcoming MS-friendly dessert ideas in our recipes section.

Eating out

When dining out, having a few restaurant options in mind or cuisines that align with your dietary goals can be immensely helpful. If you’re able to call ahead a day or two in advance, many restaurants are happy to adapt some of their dishes. Consider these cuisines that often offer dishes fitting the Overcoming MS diet:

  • Japanese – miso soup, made with miso paste, tofu, seaweed and spring onions is a great choice. Sushi (with or without fish) is a good option but do check that it’s dairy-free.
  • Vietnamese – summer rolls are the non-fried version of spring rolls and they are often packed with vegetables, fragrant herbs, and a tofu or seafood filling.
  • Italian – pasta and salads are one of the easiest options as Mediterranean cuisine has a focus on vegetables, olive oil and pulses. Reliable dishes are lentil ragu, seafood pasta, and grilled fish or shellfish with vegetables.
  • Lebanese – hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, stuffed vine leaves, and roasted vegetables are among some great plant-based dishes to choose from.

With a bit of planning in advance, Overcoming MS can absolutely be part of the holidays and a chance to share some of your favourite recipes.

Catching up with loved ones is such an important part of our wellbeing but food-stress can take away from the benefits it brings. Do what you can, celebrate yourself and the steps you’re taking, and be kind to yourself over the festive season.

Jenna Cox is a registered nutritional therapist based in Bristol, UK. She has been following the Overcoming MS Program since 2016. As a nutritional therapist, she is passionate about helping individuals, especially those with autoimmune diseases like MS, navigate their journey to optimal health through diet and lifestyle changes.