How to embrace a plant-based Thanksgiving

How to embrace a plant-based Thanksgiving
Photo by Any Lane on

First, the elephant in the room – Thanksgiving can be a problematic holiday. Having a large meal with friends and family, while reminiscing about what you are grateful for certainly makes for a joyful holiday. But the history of Thanksgiving is rife with misinformation – the myth of mutual beneficence in the relationship between European colonists and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas is a continuously damaging one. In fact, November is also Native American Heritage Month. During this holiday, it’s great to eat your turkey and enjoy time with those you’ve been missing while staying cognizant of the true history of its origin.

It’s also worth noting that Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season are notorious for wastefulness. As one of the biggest food waste days of the year, Thanksgiving is better off planned with food that all of the guests in attendance can enjoy. So, what about your guests that perhaps don’t eat turkey?

Although you can’t please everyone all the time, you can plan a meal where everyone is able to enjoy a few things on the table for the sake of community as well as curtailing waste. With allergies, different dietary lifestyles, food aversions and more to contend with, it’s ideal to have diverse options in your spread.

Moreover, you can have a more sustainable holiday this year by embracing more plant-based Thanksgiving foods. Cooking and sharing vegan Thanksgiving foods is a good way to be more flexible and eco-friendly with your feast. While you don’t have to get rid of the turkey altogether, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy plant-based Thanksgiving options this holiday. Read on for some ideas to embrace a more veggie-centric spread this year.

Focus on the sides

Let’s be honest, most peoples’ favorite Thanksgiving dish isn’t the turkey. Thanksgiving sides are often the star of the show (and all of the Instagram posts of loaded up plates), and there’s a ton of room for diversity here. Some traditional sides may already be vegan, like dinner rolls, roasted veggies and cranberry sauce. Still, making a colorful, delicious meal out of sides isn’t the easiest thing in the world, so focus on variety.

You can boost your plant-based Thanksgiving sides by also adding satiating protein to them. For instance, crumbling up vegan sausage into your stuffing adds some satisfying plant protein into the mix. Sprinkling pecans over the sweet potato casserole and tossing candied pecans or walnuts into the salad could also help “beef” them up a bit.

Don’t be afraid to try something new

Some typically “vegan” ingredients may seem a bit strange at first – chickpeas, nutritional yeast, seitan, tofu, flaxseeds. But really, many of these ingredients have been used for centuries in many different culinary cultures. There’s nothing new or “different” about tofu inherently – you may just only be trying it now. When prepared correctly and used appropriately, vegan ingredients are really just … useful ingredients.

Because Thanksgiving often includes so many dishes, this is a pretty safe time to experiment with some of the food on the table. There will likely be plenty of other options if one dish isn’t a hit, and you can still try your hand at plant-based cooking. Even if you don’t want to change any of the dishes your family usually makes, you can still make a few unexpected new foods to share with loved ones. There’s no shame in updating your holiday traditions or experimenting with new ideas!

Consider what you can replace

Not every classic Thanksgiving side dish is reliant on animal products. Take sweet potato casserole, for instance. Depending on how you make it, most ingredients are either already plant-based or can be swapped for plant-based alternatives without much fuss.

Sweet potatoes, pecans, cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla – all of this is already vegan-friendly. In addition, you can easily sub out the butter and milk in the recipe for margarine and oat or almond milk. And use marshmallow fluff instead of a package of regular marshmallows.

Go through the list of dishes you typically make and see which ones are most conducive to changes in ingredients and preparation. With a few tweaks, these dishes can be enjoyed by everyone at the table, not solely the vegans at dinner. By putting a vegan spin on something that will still taste good, you’re also demonstrating how choosing plant-based diets doesn’t always necessitate giving up your favorite foods or doing a complete one-eighty on your eating habits. Yes, even for the holidays!

Plant-based Thanksgiving recipes

Having a few go-to recipes that are plant-based without being expensive or labor-intensive is a good idea for your recipe arsenal. Even if most of the food on the table uses animal products, serving additional balanced, delicious vegan fare isn’t an exhausting task. So we’ve pulled together a few simple recipes to help you round out your meal.

Easy Pecan Stuffed Dates

Perfect as an appetizer or a side dish, these stuffed dates are sweet and savory, getting their tang from the vegan cream cheese. Make these the day before and just take them out of the refrigerator on Thanksgiving.

Garlicky Green Beans with Crispy Shallots

A substitute for the classic green bean casserole, this side is vegan, gluten-free and paleo.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Squash with Dried Cranberries and Dijon Vinaigrette

All you need is one sheet pan for this recipe, and everything cooks together to form the perfect roasted veggie dish.

Mushroom Wellington

A hearty dish to take the place of turkey on your vegan guest’s plate, this Mushroom Wellington looks as good as it tastes. You can make this up to three days ahead of time.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

Skip the mashed potatoes this year in favor of some “smashed” potatoes, which are crispy as well as soft.

Dark Chocolate Truffles

This dessert requires only two ingredients and is easy to put together last minute.

Apple Pie Cookies

Make these days before Thanksgiving to free up time and space for making the main course. You can also make these cookies using whatever apples you like the best or have on hand.

Create a welcoming atmosphere

One of the fundamentals of an American Thanksgiving is hospitality. When families celebrate this holiday, they intend to welcome guests into their homes to show goodwill and to feed them with warm, hearty food.

One of the best ways to extend that welcome is to be aware of and cater to the needs of others. By cooking, ordering or buying plant-based Thanksgiving foods, you’re showing that you recognize and embrace all guests. Catering to allergies and other food sensitivities, as well as religious dietary requirements or lifestyle preferences, shows that you really do welcome everyone who comes through your door. It shows that you want everyone to leave in good cheer and good health – and with a food baby, of course.

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