Are You Ready for a Plant-Based Thanksgiving? Tips and an Updated Green Bean Casserole!
The holidays can feel particularly daunting when plant-based eating is new for you. Most of us have well-established holiday food rules and dishes passed down for generations. What will you eat now? How do you navigate the big family gathering? What about all those questions and potential hostility?
You can have an awesome vegan Thanksgiving, I assure you. But you need to do a little preparation and planning. Here’s some tips and strategies:
Hosting Your Own
Having Thanksgiving at your house is a great way to ensure you have great options to eat.
Decide if you want a 100% plant-based Thanksgiving or if having non-plant-based options for others is okay.
Will you provide all the food or do you want others to bring things?
Once you decide, communication is key to Thanksgiving dinner success.
Communicating Meal Plans
You simply need to communicate your wishes, there’s no way around it.
If you’re hosting and are okay with people bringing non-plant-based foods:
We’ve changed some things about how we eat since last time we’ve gotten together. We eat plant-based and no longer eat meat, fish, dairy, or oil. We’ll have all kinds of great food and I’m super excited to share, but you can bring some other things to go along with it, if you want, that’s fine. I figure we can do a potluck buffet. We’ll just have you take home your leftovers so they won’t go to waste here, and you can take some of ours too, if you wish!
Knowing and setting boundaries are important. If having non-plant-based foods around are going to be a problem for you (maybe you’ll be tempted to eat it and you just don’t want that risk, perhaps it’s no longer appetizing for you to see, etc.) and you don’t want people to bring animal-based or oil-laden foods, you must communicate your preferences:
Hey there, we’re so excited you’re coming for dinner! We’re going to have all kinds of great food and I’m super excited to share! You don’t have to bring a thing, other than your appetite! We’ve changed some things about how we eat since last time we’ve gotten together and are working really hard at improving our health, so come enjoy a great meal with us without worrying at all about bringing a thing. Just come and enjoy!
If someone insists on bringing something, have an idea for them, like a green salad with lots of veggies without dairy, dressing, or oil in it. Or fresh fruit or even cut up veggies for a veggie tray (without dip or dressing).
What if They Bring Something That Doesn’t Match your Eating Preferences?
Just be gracious! Thank them for bringing the dish. Ask what it is and how they made it, if you cannot determine whether it’s compliant to how you’re eating. Now’s NOT the time to go into how you’re not going to eat any of it. Just simply set it out for them and others to partake in, if they wish, and don’t make a big deal about it. If there are others in your party with similar eating plans and this dish contains elements they may not want to indulge in, discretely let them know.
If they inquire later what you thought of their dish, here’s a way to respond:
Oh gosh, it looked great! I wasn’t able to have any because I’ve changed some things about how I eat since last time we’ve gotten together, but it looks like a lot of people enjoyed it!
Going to Someone Else’s House
Again, communication is key here. It isn’t rude at all to let your host know of your eating preferences, in fact it’s very respectful so they can plan accordingly. And it’s not that you don’t like them or their food (I’m assuming!), its simply akin to letting them know of an allergy or sensitivity.
I wanted to let you know that I’ve changed some things about how I eat since last time we’ve gotten together. I eat plant-based and no longer eat meat, fish, dairy, or oil. It’s not a big deal, I don’t need you to change your plans for the meal, I just wanted to let you know I’ll be bringing along some dishes to go along and share. I was thinking about bringing a salad, a side dish, and a little dessert, if that works. Do you have a specific theme so I can make sure what I bring fits in with the meal?
Bring a Dish or Two to Enjoy and Share
When we have a situation like this, invited over to someone’s home for a meal, I always make sure to let them know about our eating preferences AND offer to bring dishes to share. This way I know there will be something we can eat, no matter what they make. However, bringing enough to share is the MOST important part, here’s why:
- You’re being inclusive rather than exclusive
- People discover how good eating plant-based is!
- It promotes healthy eating
- Isn’t sharing the abundance the spirit of Thanksgiving, anyway?
If they ask what they can make that you can eat, I always suggest a salad, because most people are planning on making a salad anyway, so it’s not too big of a stretch. And give them some simple guidelines, like:
A green salad with lots of veggies would be great! Please don’t put any dairy, dressing, or oil in it, you can put that on the side, if you want. Vinegar on the side is perfect, like balsamic or red wine vinegar.
Some people are really great about changing the whole meal to accommodate your new way of eating, which is awesome! If this happens, be prepared to share specifics about how you eat now and even offer to send them some recipes to help.
Dealing with Hostility
Odds are, you’re not going to run into too many problems. Individual dietary preferences are more common than not anymore, so you’re probably not the only one with some changes in eating habits.
But it’s important to have some diplomacy in navigating events like Thanksgiving. Remember this is your own ethical/lifestyle choice, not someone else’s, and some may be confused, disappointed, hurt, embarrassed, and feel judged or condemned just by your own personal decision. Thoughtful communication and respect for differences are key.
As hard as you try to avoid it, you may run into some hostility regarding your lifestyle and eating choices. Remember, you cannot control other people’s reactions, you can only control your own. A simple tactic when asked why you changed your eating is to simply answer, “It’s a health thing for me and I feel so much better now eating this way. It works for me.” Only share as much as you’re comfortable with and if it gets too personal, just say, “Oh, you know, it’s a health thing and I just don’t want to get into all those details.” Keep calm, avoid getting into an argument or shouting match, and remove yourself from the situation if it gets too intense.
Make Alternate Plans
You know your own situation and the dynamics of specific acquaintances or family members. Have an open mind, but really consider past similar situations, if you can, and determine how the interactions may be at this event. What are your boundaries? If you know that others at this event are not going to be supportive of your lifestyle and eating changes and will be adversarial, consider whether it will be a healthy environment for you or not. If you can weather this, great, go! If it just going to be too much and too confrontational, don’t go.
Have your Own Thanksgiving Meal
There’s nothing wrong with just enjoying your own meal at home, with the things you want to eat. Keep it simple and with your immediate family or invite some like-minded friends and have a plant-based FriendsGiving.
Go Later, After the Food Event
Perhaps the meal will be just too disruptive, but there’s always a family flag football game afterward. Eat at home and go later for the game and family time. Take some plant-based snacks or a dessert to share.
Organize or Attend a Vegan Thanksgiving (ThanksLiving) Potluck
A lot of organizations sponsor Vegan Thanksgiving potlucks and events. Check out the vegan groups in your area and look on social media for options. One of my favorite events in the Portland, Oregon area is the Compassionate Thanksgiving held by NW Veg. What used to be a small event held in a church fellowship hall has turned into an enormous gathering in a huge event center with so much amazing food that you won’t even know where to start!
Pasado’s Safe Haven, an animal sanctuary in the Seattle area, hosts Thanksgiving for the Turkey’s, a sit-down Thanksgiving meal at their facility every year. It sells out quick, so look for this event and others like it early.
If you can’t find one in your area, consider starting one! I’m certain there are other people in your same situation looking for like-minded others to share the day with.
Volunteer at an Animal Sanctuary
The thought of all of the cruelty involved in an animal-based food holiday like Thanksgiving can just be too much for many. Many animal sanctuaries are open for these holidays so people can spend time with the animals, care for them, and give back. And because so many people have plans over the holidays, these sanctuaries can really be shorthanded and be looking for some help.
Last year, Sno-Valley Vegans had a ThanksLiving event at Rooster Haus Rescue, a sanctuary for all kinds of birds, including chickens, geese, turkeys, and more. The day was spent building new habitat enclosures, something the sanctuary really needed assistance with. It was a really rewarding day and I highly recommend connecting with similar organizations.
Do Something Else Instead
There’s no requirement for you to celebrate Thanksgiving, or any holiday, for that matter! Do something else, something that feeds your soul, heart, or body. Work out—you’ll probably have the gym to yourself! Participate in a Thanksgiving race, like the Torfurky Trot in Portland, there’s lots of those. Or travel outside of the US where Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday!
Veganize an Old Family Favorite or Discover a New One!
Odds are, you can veganize any of your old family favorite recipes, and even make them whole, plant-based, and oil-free. Remember my Vegan Raspberry Applesauce “Gelatin” Salad? That’s an old family holiday recipe I missed and veganized so I could have it back in my life! Do a little research online and learn how others have adjusted traditional recipes. Look at your own recipes and identify where the issues are and find better components to make it. Take some time, try some things out in advance.
Check out these great sources for awesome Thanksgiving fare:
And there’s thousands more out there.
I hope this post helps you have the Thanksgiving/4th Thursday in November you want to have! Like most things, it takes a bit of planning and preparedness to have a successful day. Consider the options, maybe role-play some of the conversations, try some new or update some old recipes. But make it the day you want.
In the spirit of giving, here’s my updated version of our family Thanksgiving favorite, the Green Bean Casserole. It’s dairy-free, preservative-free, trans-fat-free, and full of those delicious flavors you know and love!
Trimazing! Green Bean Casserole
- 1½ cups Homemade Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup https://brooklynfarmgirl.com/homemade-condensed-cream-of-mushroom-soup/ (omit oil and use pinch of coconut sugar in place of sugar)
- ¾ cup plant-based milk
- ⅛ tsp ground black pepper
- 4 cups cooked green beans or 2 14-oz. cans
- 1⅓ cups Vegan Baked Onion Rings 1/2 recipe https://passtheplants.com/vegan-baked-onion-rings/, divided
- Make the Vegan Baked Onion rings according to directions, but slice rings just ¼-inch thick. https://passtheplants.com/vegan-baked-onion-rings/. Cool. Roughly chop. Can be made ahead and kept in refrigerator.
Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
- Make the Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup but omit oil and use coconut sugar in place of sugar. https://brooklynfarmgirl.com/homemade-condensed-cream-of-mushroom-soup/. Can be made ahead and kept in refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Assemble & Bake Casserole
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix the soup, milk, and pepper in a bowl. Mix in green beans and ⅔ cup chopped baked onion rings. Pour into a 1½ quart casserole.
- Bake 30 minutes. Stir.
- Top with remaining ⅔ cup chopped baked onion rings. Bake 5 more minutes until onions are golden brown.
Serve as side dish or load into a baked sweet potato for main dish
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Cindy Thompson, MS, is a certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator; an American Council on Exercise certified Health Coach, Peer Fitness Trainer, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist; Tilth Alliance Soil and Water Steward; 5 Gyres Ambassador; Rouxbe Culinary School Plant-Based Professional; and retired fire captain and paramedic. She provides health and lifestyle coaching at Trimazing! Health & Lifestyle Coaching. Cindy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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