Home for the Plant-Based Holidays!

Happy November! For many, it’s the month to kick off a season filled with friends, family, and the coziest dishes our Earth has ever produced. But for many veg folks, it can also be a time of unpredictable social situations, especially when attending a predominantly omnivore celebration. But fear not! All of the vegan holidays I’ve spent have been stuffed full with a classic green bean casserole, the creamiest dreamiest sweet potatoes, a pillowy pumpkin pie, and long post-nourished food-naps.

The best part: these dishes are incredibly fun and easy to make with one another! Whether you send them out to friends and family or whirl them up in your own kitchens, these recipes and swaps are the perfect opportunities to bond with your loved ones through scrumptious plant-based cooking. I’ve found that when others are provided with swaps and recipes, they’re usually very accommodating and excited to try something new!

Lentil Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie via the Minimalist Baker

Plant-based sides and main dishes to wow everyone

The first question on your mind might be how to swap the centerpiece that’s usually comprised of meat. My family has always loved the side dishes more than the main course, so our go-to is to pile the dinner table with lots of smaller dishes. This means more food! Our table is never complete without sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits, freshly cooked cranberries, green bean casserole, and, of course, the desserts!

If you’re looking to wow the whole family with an impressive main course, I might suggest making your own vegan “turkey” roll with tofu or a homey sweet potato shepherd’s pie! Some classic swaps for the main dish are hearty squash and potato dishes (e.g. shepherd’s pies and stuffed squashes), meat substitutes (e.g. Tofurky or other tempeh/tofu/seitan-based roasts), and heart-and-soul warming soups.

The Best Damn Vegan Mashed Potatoes via the Minimalist Baker

Here are some other festive mains that give me heart eyes just thinking about them:

As I said, my family LOVES the holiday sides, so let’s get right into them! And they form the perfect color palette on your plate. The recipes that we use yearly are:

Simple Vegan Dinner Rolls from the Minimalist Baker

Here are a couple of other fantastic additions to any holiday dinner table:

Let’s talk desserts! My mom comes from a long line of bakers and has almost never let a week escape without magically producing a dessert on the table, so this point of the meal has always been the most special for us.

Vegan Pumpkin Spice Cookies via Making Thyme for Health
Vegan Pumpkin Roll via Fooduzzi

Some of the favorites that we try to make throughout the holiday season are:

Detox Crockpot Lentil Soup from Pinch of Yum

Swap one ingredient to veganize your holiday favorites

Do you already have some favorite family-cherished holiday recipes that aren’t plant-based? No problem! Luckily, many dishes can be made just as delicious with a few simple swaps. For pies, coconut oil/vegetable shortening are great replacements for dairy butter. For baked goods, 1 tablespoon of flax meal sat with 3 tablespoons of water for five minutes makes a great egg-replacer (and so does a ¼ cup of applesauce for cakier items). For egg whites, aquafaba makes an amazing binder that can also be whipped up for meringues and marshmallows!

Plant-based milk, butter, cream cheese, whipped cream, and other plant-based dairy staples make 1-to-1 substitutions super simple (brands like Silk, Daiya, Earth Balance, Miyoko’s, Pacific, Califia, Follow Your Heart, and So Delicious are some of the most popular brands in grocery stores). If you need the perfect cream cheese frosting for your pumpkin bars but can’t seem to find any vegan cream cheeses in stores, this cashew frosting will do the trick. Whipped cream can also be made easily with coconut cream (try out this recipe!).

In savory dishes, don’t be shy around spice! Dishes can be easily elevated with generous spices and sauces, so no one will be left craving more. Rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice will be your best friends! If you’re looking to transform your tofu/tempeh/meat substitute into something the whole family will find familiar, trying out liquid smoke is a great idea. It’s made from condensing the smoke from wood to provide a richer, meatier taste. Use it sparingly!

Vegan Heaven’s Vegan Thanksgiving Lentil Loaf

Sharing a message of compassion at the table

Equally important as knowing how to swap recipes for the holidays is having the confidence to say why we’re doing so. Especially during holidays like Thanksgiving, these family gatherings can be wonderful times to answer questions about why there’s no meat on our plates or cow’s milk-based butter on our potatoes. Starting these conversations can be tricky, so letting questions come naturally and approaching everyone with empathy can make these situations more comfortable and enjoyable for you. Plus, you’ll be surrounded by plenty of proof that plant-based cooking is undeniably delicious! 

One idea to invite friends and family into the plant-based movement is to encourage them to take the 30 Day Vegan Pledge or sign up for the free Explore Veg Mentor Program to receive support from a vegan mentor! Also encouraging them to take small steps toward a vegan lifestyle (ex. exclude meat from dinners or prepare plant-based breakfasts) while letting them know you’re here to support them through recipes, education, and accountability can be a fun way to grow your relationships.

Stefanie with residents of Farmaste Animal Sanctuary

Finally, spark the idea of ThanksLiving! Laura Matanah wonderfully described this holiday as “a way to refocus our celebration on the lived experiences, and resistance to oppression, of both human and non-human animals. Our goal is to retain many of the positive elements of the traditional holiday while expanding its meaningfulness with greater knowledge and action.” ThanksLiving consciously acknowledges the brutal mistreatment of both marginalized indigenous communities and seeks to celebrate the traditions of the holiday that are life-giving. Read more about ThanksLiving here!

Most of all, remember to enjoy your time spent surrounded by friends and family this holiday season. Soak up the craziness of the kitchen and embrace the process of making new holiday traditions, even if that’s unsuccessfully stuffing your first butternut squash. You’ve got this and happy holidays, friends!

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Stefanie Amundsen is a member of the Compassionate Action for Animals chapter at the University of Minnesota.

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