Seeing as how today is the Sunday before Memorial Day and as such, many of us will be spending a day off work or at some point this weekend eating with friends, family, or loved ones, I got to thinking about one of the bigger aspects of the vegetarian lifestyle: Transitioning holidays into your diet. Sure, Memorial Day may not be the most obvious “let’s all eat” holiday, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it’s still there and it has me pondering. If you’ve just become a vegetarian or are thinking about becoming a vegetarian or have problems while this in any way, here’s a little guide to help you with the inevitable holiday meals.

These big holiday celebrations are always about one thing, primarily: Togetherness. Yes, there is some meaning behind why we’re getting together, such as celebrating America’s independence or the birth of Jesus or the fact that it’s Friday or whatever, but at the core they’re all about spending time with those you love. Keep that in mind for how to advance with things.

As with all other aspects of the vegetarian lifestyle, it’s critical to remember that while you’ve made the choice for your own life, you can’t expect everyone around you to instantly make the same choice. I’ve heard more than a few stories of parents following in their child’s footsteps of becoming vegetarians/vegans, but it’s never an overnight thing. Your reasons for making the shift are yours and yours alone, so while you think it’s healthier/more eco-friendly/more animal-friendly, you may be in the minority here as other people close to you may disagree, and disagreement is perfectly fine as not everyone goes down the same road. You may have read some compelling literature that convinced you that a vegetarian diet is right for you, but your mom didn’t, so she doesn’t have the same emotions towards it.

Basically, the trick is to balance things between becoming overbearing with your lifestyle and accepting those around you who haven’t followed your example. Usually the best thing you can do is lead through that same example, allowing you to become a great case study for them to see how life can be great without meat, and holidays are a perfect time to start the sneaky “Oh me? I feel great because I don’t eat meat” routine.

Still, big family gathers that have traditions like plates of steak or the usual roasted ham or the full-size turkey are not easy to change with one moment of “I disagree with this food.” Don’t come in swinging! You’re more likely to be the one causing a bad holiday that the one on the receiving end of something you don’t approve of.

Instead of making a big deal about the turkey on the table, plan ahead and bring an alternative for yourself or others. In fact, the best thing you can do is bring a vegetarian/vegan alternative dish that’s even better than the main course. People at the dinner will try it, be amazed, and perhaps decide this must be added to the tradition as well. The same can happen if you host the meal, giving you a chance to really hammer delicious meatless foods home.

However, remember not to exclude your relatives as you’d expect to be excluded in many meals. Vegetarians are able to easily find alternate dishes during big meals that require no meat, such as rolls, salads, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, soup, etc. If you’re planning on hosting a meal and don’t want to prepare a turkey, let your guests know that you won’t be including meat on your menu and so if they wish to have the traditional ham or turkey or roast beef or whatever that they will have to bring it. Give them the option to plan or not to plan, putting the choice in their hands. Naturally though, your meal should still knock their socks off without any problem.

Holidays are just a tricky time to deal with food and being a vegetarian. You certainly don’t want to create a rift with your family, but you also don’t want to have to sacrifice your own beliefs. Find that careful middle ground where everyone can get what they want, and slowly but surely play the sneaky vegetarian game, hopefully convincing everyone to switch diets without them knowing. It works more than you’d think!

So then, who has some good vegetarian/vegan holiday stories to share? Tragedies, triumphs, that sort of thing? Any advice you’d like to pass on? Otherwise, enjoy your Memorial Day weekend and be safe!