How I Do Thanksgiving as a Vegan

iStock 000017500087XSmallA lot of things seem like a big deal before you’re vegetarian or vegan. For me, as a Marylander, it was crab feasts — that was the one thing, I said, I’d never give up, even after I was mostly vegetarian.

But then one day the idea of eating crabs just stopped appealing to me, and after that I found it easy to drink a beer or two and, enjoy the company, and just skip the crabs.

Thanksgiving has been a lot like that for me. My first vegetarian Thanksgiving occurred eight months after I stopped eating meat, so by then the turkey just wasn’t that interesting. Since then, Thanksgiving hasn’t been nearly the big issue it seemed before I was vegetarian.

And yet, “What do you do on Thanksgiving if you don’t eat meat?” is one of the more common questions people ask me. Almost as common is, “Do you have any advice for a first vegetarian/vegan Thanksgiving?”, so I figured I’d write a post about how I handle this holiday that’s based so much on (traditionally not-even-close-to-vegan) food.

Why plant-based Thanksgiving isn’t so hard

The reason Thanksgiving is easier than people expect, I think, is that while turkey is the main course, this is one meal where the focus is generally just as much (or more!) on the side dishes.

Pumpkin soup, casseroles, vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and even pumpkin pie all have easy vegan versions; you just need to look for the recipes.

And so what my wife and I have done for the past few years is simple: focus our Thanksgiving dinner on the sides.

We actually hosted Thanksgiving the first year we were vegetarian (not yet vegan). We made a bunch of delicious side dishes from Fine Cooking, substituting where necessary. We did have a turkey at the table, but if I remember correctly, we had a guest bring it for anyone who wanted it, instead of making it ourselves. (I’m the opposite of the type of vegetarian who would expect my non-vegetarian guests to skip turkey just because they’re my guests.)

So hosting Thanksgiving yourself is one way to make it easy. But for the past two years, we’ve gone to my wife’s sister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, with last year being our first as vegans. Going somewhere else was harder than hosting it, of course, because we weren’t making all the dishes. But we’ve been lucky that our hostess has made us our own gravy, and made sure several other dishes were vegan so we could eat them.

Even with fewer choices than when we made everything ourselves, eating somewhere else hasn’t been hard. I recognize that not everyone has such a nice situation, with accepting relatives that make it easy and pleasant. But even in a tough situation where nobody is going to go out of their way to help you out, I still think you can make the best of it with just a little bit of effort. Here are some simple ways to do it.

A few tips for making your vegan Thanksgiving a delicious one

  • If Thanksgiving for your family is an all-day affair, bring a dip that’s filling (like hummus, see recipe below) that you can snack on all day. Unlike everyone else, you’re not so worried about filling up on appetizers and ruining your dinner, especially if you won’t have much of a dinner to ruin!
  • Many vegan, one-dish meals also make great sides (like this lentil, mushroom and root vegetable dish). If you’re only making one thing to bring for yourself, make it something hearty like this that can serve as your main course but that others will enjoy as a side.
  • Go to a vegan restaurant or a vegan potluck for their Thanksgiving dinner. Often these are held on the night before Thanksgiving, so you can treat that as your big feast day and the next as a day to spend time with family and just fill up on what food you can. (We’re going to this one, at our favorite vegan restaurant in the world that happens to be right up the road. It’ll be our first Thanksgiving thing like this.)
  • Field Roast (purveyors of the best fake meats around, in my opinion) makes a Celebration Roast that I’ve eaten and enjoyed with no cause whatsoever for celebration. They even provide some Thanksgiving-style recipes for it! Also check out their Hazelnut Cranberry Roast en Croute — I’ve never had it (nor do I speak French) but it sure looks fancy.
  • From Doug: “If going to someone else’s house for dinner (like family), be aggressive in either offering to provide recipes or cooking some of the dishes yourself.  I find that most people just don’t know how to handle it, so they are happy to accept some help. “
  • From Susan: “As a vegetarian whose in-laws are cattle ranchers, I’ve learned the most important thing during family gatherings is to always keep a sense of humor. Though we have our joking banter about how I ‘need to eat more beef!’ they ultimately respect my way of living because I respect theirs, too. I love my partner’s family – they’re wonderful, funny people, and when we get together, we’ve got ten million things to talk about besides vegetarianism and cattle ranching. I don’t care if we gather around a turkey and I’m “only” eating side dishes – I’m enjoying the company! The holidays are supposed to be a positive, fun time, not a time to try to ‘convert’ anyone or make people feel like a bad person because of what they choose (or not choose) to eat.”
  • From my sister, Christine: “Remember all the great stuff that is naturally vegan and doesn’t need replacements — like baguettes and roasted garlic, cranberries, green beans, succotash, sour kraut, mushroom gravy, sweet potato casserole (marshmallows are gross on this anyway), butternut squash soup, apple crumble, and hot apple cider.”
  • Don’t make a big deal about your diet differences on Thanksgiving, unless people are genuinely interested. I know some people are more vocal about their veganism than I am, and that’s cool, but I think Thanksgiving is one time when debating about food probably only entrenches both sides. Not to mention ruining the atmosphere and the point of the celebration.
  • Finally, remember that the food isn’t the real point. One of the great things about vegan Thanksgiving is that it’s not quite as easy to eat so much that you’re disgustingly, uncomfortably stuffed and needing to immediately unbuckle your jeans and collapse into a food coma the instant the meal is over. Use the energy and attention you would have spent destroying your plate to instead be mindful and grateful that you have food on it, and that you have friends and family to share it with.

Other useful vegan Thanksgiving links:

Thanksgiving pumpkin hummus recipe (from my sister, Christine)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can pumpkin puree (or 2 cups homemade pumpkin puree)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons

Puree all ingredients in a food processor until uniform.  Serve with flatbread and fresh veggies.

Have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving

I published this post a few weeks ahead of Thanksgiving so you have time to use it. I’ve heard a lot of stories (like Katie’s!) of people who use an over-indulgence on Thanksgiving as their motivation to start eating better or even go vegetarian or vegan. While that’s great, my hope is that a few people might skip the over indulgence this year, and go right to the healthy part. icon smile

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Comments

  1. Very good information for newbies. I, too, like to host TG. I get the turkey from Popeyes and everything else is vegan. Folks never notice, especially if you have enough alcohol….

  2. Thanks for the shout out, Matt!!! If anyone reading this is hosting a mixed crowd like me, don’t stress!!! I love preparing Thanksgiving for everyone and really found no difficulty in offering vegan options. I chose not to tell some of the other guests that the mashed potatoes had soy milk and that the hazelnut butter for the brussel sprouts was Earth Balance and no one even noticed the difference! There are lots of delicious options out there and it’s fun to be creative with the menu. You’re right, the meal should transcend the food and it’s really all about being together and being thankful for what you have.

  3. Thanks Matt for the tips, they’re great. Too bad you missed posting them in time for the Canadian Thanksgiving. I’ll keep them handy for Christmas and next Thanksgiving.
    A loyal fan!

  4. Ohsheglows.com has a fantastic vegan menu already to go – I’ve used it the last few years and everyone, meat-eaters included, has loved the dishes.

  5. Thank you, Matt! Some helpful ideas here for recipes and I’ve already shared it with my friends and family. They always freak out about the turkey thing, which I don’t really understand because I never liked turkey to begin with and often would take a tiny bit just to be polite. I’ve always been a side dishes eater – favorites include green beans and the standard pepperidge farm bread crumb (i.e. vegan already) stuffing options. I’d say the only slightly more difficult dish is Pumpkin Pie – I’ve got to try some better dairy-free options this year. I used coconut milk for one before and the pie never set. It tasted fine as a pumpkin pie creme but was kind of a disappointment overall.

  6. Awesome reminder and encouragement, Matt! I just got a little teary-eyed when reading about how the point of it all is to be grateful for the food that is on our plate and the company with which we are enjoying it – absolutely true. Thanks!!

  7. Great advice Matt! I needed a few more vegan recipes for this year and the hummus looks perfect. Thanks for showing others how going vegan isn’t a death sentence for Thanksgiving. Love the post!

  8. Great tips, Matt—I’ve been a vegetarian since I was a kid, but no one else in my family is, so I’ve had to be creative with my own Thanksgiving meals.

    I’ve done the whole Tofurky thing, but I honestly just prefer tons of veggies, sweet potatoes, LOTS of pumpkin and maybe a little tofu side dish. Easy & delicious!

    Happy Thanksgiving! :)

  9. My first Thanksgiving as a vegan is quickly approaching, eek! I am thankful for this article as it confirms my original plan of vegan-izing all my traditional sides. I host Thanksgiving and will be making a turkey for the omnivores but the sides and pies will all be vegan!

  10. Hi Matt,

    This was my first Thanksgiving as a vegan. My whole family looked at me like I was an alien. In less than 12 months I’ve lost and kept off 15 pounds, I sleep better, and my hair grows faster.

    Yeah, that last part is kind of weird, but true!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] it can be done. I’ve done it for four years: No Meat Athlete, How I Do Thanksgiving as a Vegan. Matt gives a lot of tips and encouragement on enjoying a plant based Thanksgiving. It’s [...]

  2. [...] Many of these Thanksgiving tips for vegetarians and vegans from No Meat Athlete are also germane to those with food allergies, and are definitely worth checking out.  I know I link (*i* being Mary Kate in this case) are vegan.  After going dairy-free, I found vegan recipes, vegan restaurants, and vegan blogs to be great resources for learning about substitutions and alterations.  Vegans are VERY aware of what’s in most of their food, so they have a lot to teach the newly allergetic or sensitive.  Beyond that, vegetarians and vegans cooking for omnivores are often trying very hard to create awesome foods — both because they love food and because they want to show the omnis that they aren’t missing anything.  When the allergic or food sensitive cooks want to share food, often that’s what we’re going for, too — to welcome people into our world, which isn’t as deprived as you think. [...]

  3. [...] tips. Vegan Thanksgiving via No Meat [...]

  4. [...] How I Do Thanksgiving As a Vegan from No Meat Athlete is full of great tips and recipes for a plant-based holiday. [...]

  5. [...] a lot of great articles including one on how to navigate the holidays as a vegan and how to enjoy a vegan Thanksgiving. I began to feel less stressed about how to enjoy my favorite holiday and still follow my [...]

  6. […] Vegan Thanksgiving Tips from NoMeatAthlete […]

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