The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone. But they can be especially stressful for vegans.
There’s the endless stream of questions about where you could possibly get your protein from, the not-so-subtle encouragement to “have just one bite” of Aunt Carol’s mincemeat pie (gross), and pretty slim pickings when it comes to dishes sans meat and dairy.
Thankfully, this Holiday Survival Guide for Vegans is here to help you prepare for the questions and comments while still enjoying all kinds of flavor-packed and indulgent meals. Even the omnivores in your life will love them (and ask for the recipe)—I promise!
And while I can’t promise that your uncomfortably weird uncle won’t pull you into an aggressive conversation about the wonders of his raw meat diet, these five strategies for surviving the holidays should help make family meals much less stressful.
By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be ready for a holiday season that’s full of #goodvibesonly and legitimately excellent food.
1. Plan ahead
As with most things in life, having a plan in place around the holidays can prevent disaster from striking.
Being prepared might include the following: researching highly-rated vegan Christmas recipes you want to try, testing new recipes before the big day, texting family and friends to see what dishes they love the most, writing out a killer menu you will all love, and planning for multiple trips to the grocery store… all done days or weeks before the dinner.
Pro tip: If you plan on serving new recipes at your holiday meal, be sure to schedule in time to test them in advance.
The last thing you want to do is play with unfamiliar recipes on the day, only for them to flop. Don’t be that vegan who promises a “meatloaf that tastes just like meat” only to deliver a soggy brick of lentils. No time for testing? Stick to the dishes you already know and love.
And if you care about having a stellar multiple-course vegan menu, volunteer to host the holiday dinner. Yes, it’s more work, but it also means you’ll get to eat and thoroughly enjoy every part of the meal.
To help prepare you for hosting your big dinner, get to planning with this suggested timeline:
- 2 weeks (or more) ahead: Start researching recipes for every part of the meal, from appetizers and salads to mains and desserts.
- 1 week ahead: Begin testing new recipes you’ve never tried before. Print out the recipes so you can take notes on what flavors or ingredients need tweaking.
- 5 to 7 days ahead: Write down your finalized menu and grocery list.
- 3 to 5 days ahead: Do your best to finish all of your grocery shopping. Triple-check the list to make sure you didn’t forget anything because a December 23rd supermarket line at 5 pm is nobody’s idea of fun.
- 1 to 3 days ahead: Prepare the recipes that can be made ahead of time, like vegan gravy. Keep them in the fridge until it’s time to reheat and serve. You can also do some veggie prep (chop all the onion and carrots, etc.) or make any other components that don’t need to be made fresh (e.g., vinaigrettes and dressings). Now is also a great time to finish any last-minute trips to the grocery store.
- The night before: Get your beauty sleep! You’ve got a busy day tomorrow.
- On the day: Get up early and start cooking! You can always reheat some of the dishes before serving. This way, you can actually enjoy your company AND the food.
If you’re looking for vegan main dishes that can be partially made ahead of time, I’d recommend:
- Vegan Wellington: You can bake the mushroom loaf and wrap it in puff pastry 1 to 2 days ahead of time, then refrigerate covered; bake it off on the big day.
- Vegan Moussaka: Assemble all three layers, then cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days. On the big day, bring the dish to room temp for an hour or so, then bake as instructed.
- Pumpkin Ricotta Stuffed Shells: Make the pumpkin ricotta 1-3 days ahead of time; 1 day ahead of time, make the bechamel sauce, cook the pasta shells, and stuff the pasta with the pumpkin ricotta. Refrigerate separately. Assemble on the big day.
- Lentil Shepherd’s Pie: 1 to 2 days ahead of time, make the lentil filling and steam the cauliflower and potatoes; refrigerate once cooled.
2. Be prepared for questions
Oh, the questions and comments. If you’ve been vegan for more than a hot minute, you’re probably used to these, but the holidays bring out these questions and comments in full force. Some will be harmless and roll off your back, while others may feel a little more personal.
The best thing you can do in this situation is muster up some empathy for their lack of understanding and prepare your answers ahead of time.
Some of the most common questions you’ll hear are, “Where do you get your protein?”, “Don’t you miss the taste of meat or cheese?” or “Why can’t you just have one bite? It’s the holidays!” Having your responses locked and loaded in your mind will make you feel more confident in the moment, making these conversations less stressful.
If you’re vegan for ethical reasons, try to gently explain that this is not a diet (without sounding holier-than-thou) and that choosing to not eat animal products is a decision that’s not only important to you but one you’re perfectly happy with. Try to keep things short and simple, unless of course the other person seems genuinely interested in hearing from you. If that’s the case, babble away, my vegan friend!
3. Bring some of your own food
If you’re not hosting the dinner, you should still plan to whip up a couple of dishes. The host will always appreciate it when you offer to bring a dish or two to the big holiday dinner. It takes away some of their stress and helps to complete the meal, plus you get to enjoy some of your favorite foods. Win-win-win!
Ask your host in advance what types of dishes they need, then start researching recipes.
I recommend bringing one or two recipes that work both as a main and a side dish. For example, cauliflower steaks and lentil stuffed butternut squash can serve as hearty, filling, and vegan-friendly mains for you but also as vegetable-forward sides for others.
4. Make sure it’s indulgent
The holidays are all about indulgence, so keep that in mind when planning a holiday menu, especially when cooking for non-vegans.
Vegans already have a bad rap for “healthifying” dishes and adding kale everywhere it doesn’t need to be, so don’t be that vegan. I promise that if you bring your cauliflower “mashed potatoes” with almond milk and olive oil, you will only be setting back the cause of veganism. Instead, bring some seriously good vegan mashed potatoes made with miso butter and roasted garlic, and (metaphorically) wow the pants off of your family and friends.
Here’s a stretchy-pants-worthy holiday menu everyone, vegan or not, will love:
- Start the night with this vegan spinach artichoke dip, which is outrageously creamy and served in a bread bowl. Set it out well before the dinner so you and your guests aren’t famished by the time dinner is served.
- Move onto this roasted pumpkin salad or this roasted butternut squash kale salad as the starter. Salads get a bad rap, but both of these are delightfully fun. If you’re not keen on serving a salad, this creamy and umami-rich vegan mushroom soup is an amazing starter alternative.
- This incredible vegan wellington is sure to wow your guests as it makes its way to the table for the main event. Or, opt for a rich vegan moussaka that is sure to please omnivores and vegans alike.
- Pair the wellington with wildly good cheesy vegan scalloped potatoes and maple-roasted carrots on the side.
- Finish the night with a maple-spiced apple crisp or apple cinnamon bundt cake for dessert and maybe a little vegan eggnog (spiked with bourbon for adult fun).
Not only are these recipes packed with crowd-pleasing flavors, but most of your guests will not be able to detect they’re vegan. The only comments you’ll receive are, “Are you sure that’s vegan?!” and “Send me the recipe, pls!”
5. Think outside the box
As much as I love holiday traditions, some classic holiday recipes are a bit lacking in flavor (why is green bean casserole still a thing?). Bring some excitement to the table by thinking outside the box!
Breathe new life into traditional dishes with new flavor pairings or ingredients, or whip up entirely new dishes using seasonal ingredients.
Use these examples for inspiration:
- If your family normally makes glazed carrots, try something a little different like roasted carrots with pistachio pesto.
- Try wild mushroom stuffing if regular stuffing doesn’t appeal to you.
- Mashed potatoes feel a little boring? Make crispy smashed potatoes.
- Or do a mix of traditional recipes like vegan cornbread and baked mac and cheese with non-traditional recipes like baked Japanese sweet potatoes with miso butter, Thai pumpkin soup, and mushroom risotto.
Now that you’re armed with conversation talking points and a whole host of fantastic vegan recipes, go forth and enjoy the heck out of the holidays!