How to Get Your Family to Embrace Plant-Based Options This Thanksgiving
If you're trying to get Mom to use vegan butter in the stuffing so you can have some, here's some good news. There are ways to approach the Thanksgiving meal that will allow your whole family to enjoy vegan or plant-based options, without making it a "you against the meat-eaters" view from where you sit.
Rather than try to get everyone on the vegan train, start by asking the chef/host to "veganize" some side dishes. And of course, you can bring some sides that are made with oat milk instead of dairy, vegan butter or olive oil, and lentils or mushrooms in the stuffing instead of turkey parts. And then if you're like Stephanie M, and you bring your vegan roast, expect a few jokes and laugh along with the snide cousins. When I plated my vegan roast last year the comments were literally: "That looks like a ham for a cat!" It actually was pretty funny, since it was a tiny little roast. But I didn't care since we were all enjoying the meal together."
Here is how to get your family on board to have an inclusive (albeit smaller) TG
Talk to Your Family in Advance
If your family eats turkey every year, don’t invite them over to your place, and then spring it on them that there won’t be a bird in the oven. Instead, let them know in advance that you’d like them to attend your vegan Thanksgiving, or that you’d like to make sure there are at least some plant-based options. If they are heart set on turkey, add a few vegan-friendly sides like mashed potatoes with non-dairy butter and plant-based milk or string beans and other vegetables roasted with olive oil (skip the butter). Most of them won’t even notice the difference and once they learn how easy it is to make traditional Thanksgiving sides vegan, they may be more open to prepare them that way in the future.
Keep It Fun, Inclusive, and Joyful. Leave the pulpit at home
No one loves being accused of murdering animals, especially at the dinner table. Instead of going at it from an animal rights perspective, remind them that it's heart healthier to eat plant-based foods, and you love them enough to want them to stick around longer, suggests Susan Levin, an RD and the Director of Nutritional Education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Avoid the preachy approach, and keep it light. “Some people enjoy knowing their carbon footprint is lighter, their meal is healthier, and their choices compassionate,” she says, “but some people just want to eat!” Let people be people. You aren't going to change their minds by telling them how to think. You may change their views by letting them taste delicious plant-based food.
Focus on foods your family already enjoys, but make them plant-based
If you’re from a meat and potatoes crowd that tends toward hot and hearty dishes, it may not be the best time to show up with a kale salad or cold gazpacho. The goal is to get them to try new foods they already love but prepared without meat or dairy. The closer they look to the real thing the more likely they are to give it a shot (and to enjoy it). For instance, if your family loves potatoes, whip up vegan mashed potatoes, or potato pancakes. If they don’t eat a lot of greens, simply use them to garnish. Or try roasting Brussel sprouts together with squash or pumpkin, beets, yams, and carrots to create a medley of tastes.
And for the bird substitutes: Your choice is to buy it or make it
Instead of simply not eating the turkey in the center of the table, an alternative is to check in with the cousins and ask if any of them would partake in a plant-based or vegan turkey substitute and then bring enough for you and whoever else is in. You can even bring a variety since most of them are smallish and a single vegan turkey at the store will feed about 4 servings. Why not make it a fun taste test?
We like the vegan turkeys and turkey-less roasts such as Field Roast Celebration, or Trader Joe's, or Gardein. Another option is to homemade vegan wellington, a delicious home-made lentil loaf, or a vegan shepherd's pie. If your family already enjoys tasting different meat alternatives like plant-based burgers and sausages, this is the perfect opportunity to introduce them to meat-free turkey roasts. However, if your family tends toward loving dishes made from scratch, a homemade entrée will be well-received precisely because you made it. (You can stress the "Try my dish, Aunt Pat!" As opposed to: This is vegan. We bet the first approach works better.)
Plant-based gravy that's rich and savory
Just about everything tastes better with gravy, from mashed potatoes and stuffing to potpies and vegan turkey roasts. Though several brands of store-bought vegan gravy are available (and are a great option if you don’t have time to make your own), a delicious mushroom or lentil-based gravy can really elevate a meal and show everyone at the table how rich and flavorful plant-based gravy–and meals–can be.
Plant-based sides that everyone will fight over
Everybody knows that sides are the best part of any Thanksgiving meal, so this is your moment to shine. From grains to greens, it’s time to get creative and flex your plant-based cooking skills to have your entire family saying "Wow." Many traditional Thanksgiving side dishes can easily be made vegan by swapping out the butter, cream or milk and using plant-based alternatives like olive oil, plant-based butter, and almond or oat milk or cream instead. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Garlicky mashed potatoes
- Baked sweet potato casserole
- Baked acorn squash stuffed with wild rice
- Roasted cauliflower or carrot soup
- Vegan mac and cheese
- Stuffing (homemade or from a box)
- Apple and/or pumpkin pie
If family members say they are struggling to come up with recipes that everyone can enjoy at the same table, send them a few ideas from The Beet, and encourage them to reach out if they have any questions (like do you eat honey? Eggs?) Once they see how easy and delicious plant-based dishes can be, they may even work them into their menu rotation. Wouldn't you be thankful for that?