When I began a vegan diet a little more than two years ago, it was just before the holidays. It seemed like the worst time and, also, possibly the best time to transition to a plant-based lifstyle.
Yes, I knew that it would be slightly torturous to forgo the turkey, the cheesy casseroles and the buttery pies all at once. But I also thought about how I felt after I gorged on holiday staples: a pants size larger, a whole lot guiltier, and generally not so thankful for my lack of self-control.
Two years ago, I decided I wanted to be vegan and I went for it – cold turkey (quite literally) on the meat and dairy over the holiday season.
All kidding aside, with research and some planning, I found it so much easier than I would have guessed to go plant-based for Thanksgiving. Even better, I found my past two Thanksgivings as a vegan to be much more rewarding than holidays of the past.
With a more conscious plate, I could really feel a deep state of gratitude for my wellness after making better food choices for myself and those at my table.
You can do it, too!
If you’re new a plant-based lifestyle this holiday season, here are some tips (and some dishes) I've found that kept me plant-based and made me love myself for sticking with it before, during, and after the Thanksgiving meal:
Learn to Love Plant-Based Sides.
Acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash (I feel like Bubba Gump listing shrimp here, but you get the point, right?)…there are so many variations that typically need only to be baked, cut open into halves, and then served with various fixings.
Check out this recipe for charbroiled butternut squash, or try my recipe for Garlic Veggie and Couscous Stuffed Acorn Squash, or mix up your own variations. Acorn and butternut squash are both lovely when baked for about one hour at 350 degrees, sliced in halve, cored (seeds), and then sprinkled with cinnamon and a bit of non-dairy butter.
For a soup appetizer or side, check out this totally delectable recipe for a coconut butternut squash soup. Serve up with a side of fresh cornbread, and you’ll be swimming in praises shortly after.
For some other traditional sides-gone-vegan, how about some plant-based macaroni and cheese made from potatoes, carrots, cashews, and other spices. This stuff is so delicious, you’ll never miss the “real” cheese. On the cheesy note, check out this hearty broccoli and “cheese” soup recipe – after a bowl of this, I promise that no-one at your table will ask for any bacon-stuffed anything !
For some more plant-o-rific sides on your Thanksgiving table, don’t discount the simplicity and incredible nutritional boost you’ll get from cooking up a simple batch of baked sweet potatoes, sautéed brussel sprouts, baked carrots, or steamed peas and corn.
Sometimes, the simplest things are the ones you’ll love the most. You could even bake up some sesame seed kale chips for a crunchy side to all your other prized dishes.
Say Hello to Vegan Stuffing.
Stuffing’s a breeze to make more plant-based for your holiday meal. We all know that on its own, stuffing is already filling, but you can make it gloriously plant-based and that much more filling for the new vegan if you just load it UP!
Instead of opting for the simple mix of bread crumbs drenched in veggie broth, add in chopped pieces of carrot, celery, green bell peppers, mushrooms – even zucchini tastes delicious with the crumbly stuff. Also consider adding in some non-meat proteins – think sliced cashews, almonds, or dates. Even better, split your stuffing into two parts and make a dessert stuffing, too – spruce up the second half with cranberries and apple slices and sprinkle in a bit of cinnamon.
This recipe for sweet cranberry stuffing with cinnamon sounds just plain heavenly. Everyone will be so full and satisfied from the stuffing alone, you might not even need to serve dessert (kidding – I’m not that crazy!).
Pie Lovers, Do Not Fret!
Pumpkin pie can easily be modified to become a vegan dish. Even in Grandma’s famous recipe, just switch out your eggs for applesauce and use raw almond milk when the recipe calls for dairy milk. This recipe for a spelt crust pie is awesome, and, if you are feeding a ton of people, consider a single-serving variation and make a bunch with my Pumpkin S’mores recipe. If you want something reminiscent of those pumpkin cheesecake variations, check out this mouth-watering pumpkin cheesecake with a pecan topping.
Or, try something new this year – this chocolate chili pudding would be an amazing and surprising pie filling. Then, if you aren’t topping over with choices yet, there’s this killer potato and apple dumpling pudding pie – so many choices! Feeling thankful yet?
Okay, I know I have to address the Turkey Thing...
Ah, the great dilemma: do we attempt to substitute the turkey, or do we just make so many other delicious and beautiful dishes that no one even misses it?
Personally, I opt for the latter. While Tofurkey and its various related store-bought faux meat concoctions are likely to be fine products, I do feel as though fake meat products standing in as a Plan-B for the real meat products only emphasize that meat is being “missed,” so to speak.
By making the decision to be plant-based, you are making a solid commitment to the notion that eating meat is either not healthful, not ethical, or not sustainable for the planet (or some combination of these). When you use a processed product that tries to “substitute” for the real thing, it is my opinion that you still somehow align to those values associated to the real meat product by saying it necessitates substitution, and thus you somewhat discount the decision and reasons you became plant-based in the first place. What to do? Make your own new crowning center piece dish, whether it mimics turkey or not! The key here is to emphasize something plant-based as your main dish without calling it a turkey substitution.
Check out some of these vegan options that you can healthfully whip up on your own: a hearty wheat vegan roast or a seitan roast with mushrooms and leeks. For those who want to opt for something a bit different, check out this to-die-for veggie-packed pot pie or these amazing stuffed pumpkins with quinoa, cranberries, and squash. Who needs a turkey when you’ve got pot pies and stuffed pumpkins, anyway?
I hope that my compilation of ideas and links will lead you to an effortless plant-based Thanksgiving, too. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!