First-time vegan holiday survival guide

vegan holiday stuffed squash fi
Photo credit: sveta_zarzamora/Getty Images

If you’ve gone vegan over the past year, you may find that the holidays are shaping up to be, well, different. But don’t worry. Having a vegan holiday definitely doesn’t mean avoiding all your favorite dishes. We’ve got tips to help you survive without cheating. And you won’t just survive with these tips, you’ll thrive.

Let me share this: When I made the “big leap” into plant-based living, I dreaded that first holiday season. Although I have practiced a mostly plant-based lifestyle for the past six years, I am not vegan. I eat some dairy, eggs and, occasionally, a piece of fish. Still, however, that first holiday was difficult because I wasn’t properly prepared to endure the change in diet.

My family is from the South, so Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners most definitely include turkey and ham and all the fixings, like stuffing, mashed potatoes, pies and gravy. The biggest challenge for me was my desire to feel part of a group knowing that I couldn’t partake in many of the foods my family was enjoying. Sharing is caring, and we Southerners like to show our love through cooking and eating.

By the second holiday as a plant-based eater, I had wised up with some hacks to get through the season.

The vegan diet is totally manageable with preparation, creativity and some patience. I sat down with plant-based chef Edouard Sooh of Rouxbe Culinary School for help in creating a survival guide for your first vegan holiday season so you can get it right on the first time and avoid my mistakes.

MORE: Vegan miso ramen with mushrooms & winter greens

Bring a popular dish that everyone can enjoy

As Sooh described, many side dishes can be made vegan with a few substitutes. Most supermarkets these days carry a variety of options for special dietary needs. The items are usually merchandised with their traditional counterparts. Ask your host for more details on what they’ll be serving and offer to bring a side dish.

Depending on what you decide to make for your side, I guarantee it can be swapped out for a non-animal substitute. Think cashew cheese, coconut cream and almond milk. Some very popular, readily available brands will also help make your vegan cooking experience more manageable. Look for:

  • Earth Balance for butter
  • Daiya for cheese
  • Califia/Ripple/Silk for milk
  • Kite Hill for yogurt
  • Beyond Meat for meat

Epic vegan cheese board (5)

Host your own Friendsgiving party

There is no better way to be in control over what’s for holiday dinner than to prepare the menu yourself. I recommend providing the more complicated-to-make or pricier dishes, like dessert and some of the meat alternatives. Then invite friends to contribute with a potluck. To be extra helpful in that process, keep things simple for everyone by offering easy suggestions for non-animal alternatives. You can also determine whether you want to allow an item like turkey for your meat-eating friends.

We recommend easy side dish suggestions like:

  • Grilled asparagus
  • Baked sweet potato
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Roasted carrots
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Roasted brussels sprouts
  • Sautéed green beans
  • Basmati rice

MORE: Vegan cheese board: How to build one for the holidays

Make sure to educate your friends about what is vegan and what isn’t, and ask that, where dairy or stock are used in dishes, they are swapped with a non-dairy substitute or vegetable stock.


Fill up on hearty food a few hours before the holiday dinner

If you are at the mercy of a meat-eater’s holiday menu, especially one that may not prove applicable to your recent dietary changes, Sooh recommends eating a full meal of your own before arriving at the gathering. Think a grain salad with avocado and carrots, rice with tempeh and green beans, or a nice vegetable soup with lentils. Not ideal, but it’s better than being hungry and facing the temptation of eating something you’d rather not.

You may not feel “as one” with the group if you are not eating, but there will probably be at least one vegetable-based dish.

Yes, the food is a big focus during the holidays, but it doesn’t have to be the main one. As Sooh said, “No one likes that feeling of missing out. Contribute where you can, just come with something in hand.”

If all else fails, there’s always the wine and cocktails.

As you continue on your journey as a vegan, the holidays will get easier. The shock value of it with your family and friends will wear off, and you will find people are less judgmental. Ultimately, the holiday season is about traditions, gatherings and family. Yes, food is a big factor, but it doesn’t have to be your main focus. Enjoy the company and continue to be that happy, healthy person you are, no matter the circumstances in which you may find yourself.

Looking for an easy vegan holiday side dish? Try a gourmet blend of unique mushrooms. Learn more below.