How to Host a Plant Based Thanksgiving: Your Guide to Vegan Entertaining

|Updated Nov 22, 2021
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Bold steps: You invited people over, deciding that it's your turn to host the ultimate meal: Thanksgiving. One catch: Some of your guests are vegan, plant-based, or vegetarian. Before you tear at your hair or hit the vino, actually, with these tips, it's going to be no problem. What was once a daunting task –hosting a vegan Thanksgiving dinner – is now easy-peasy.

With plenty of delicious vegan recipes to choose from, a few important pro tips, and advice from a veteran vegan chef who has hosted a half dozen vegan Thanksgivings, you can host this year's feast for non-meat eaters like a complete pro.

Here are the tips you need to keep everyone – vegetarians, vegans, plant-based eaters, and traditional omnivores – happy when Turkey Day rolls around. That includes you. With these tried and true recipes, a little advanced preparation, and an understanding that vegan food is delicious, you're going to look like the old pro. Vegans on the way over? You got this. Here's how.

What is a vegan Thanksgiving dinner?

For anyone who is hosting it helps to define terms:

A vegetarian Thanksgiving menu

A vegetarian dish is essentially one without meat, including the bird. Vegetarians still eat dairy, however, so they don't have a problem with butter or eggs or milk or cream. But check in advance since everyone has their own "exceptions."

A vegan Thanksgiving recipe

A vegan dish is one that has no meat, dairy, or honey since vegans stay far away from all animal products, and that includes byproducts or anything that exploits animals. That means a vegan dish can't touch any animal product in the cooking, and no animal products can be involved in making the meal. Honey is something that we humans steal from the bees, so honey is out. For safety's sake, leave honey out of all dishes and use maple syrup instead.

A plant-based holiday dinner

When someone tells you they are plant-based it usually means that they still want to stay away from dairy, like butter and milk or cream and eggs, as well as all meat and poultry, since animal fat has been shown in studies to harm human health, and eating meat is bad for the environment since the greenhouse gas emissions from animal farming are harmful to the planet.

For the sake of simplicity, the best move is to go vegan

That means making sure that any dishes that might have traditionally used butter or milk or dairy get made over. It's actually simpler than it sounds. Instead of butter use plant-based or vegan butter, or olive oil. Instead of dairy milk use non-dairy milk (like oat, almond, or cashew for example).

Cheese is out, but that's fine because there are amazing vegan cheese these days, made of cashew and other plant-based ingredients, so before you feel like this is an impossible task, take a look at the amazing cheese options that you have to choose from and order in advance.

Find alternatives. If you ordinarily bake with eggs, you can find an easy substitute that allows for successful baking. (Start with an overripe banana!) There are no fewer than nine egg substitutes to use that are successful egg alternatives in most recipes.

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Keep the vegan dishes apart from the others. If someone is making a non-vegan dish for another person at the table, just make sure it doesn't touch the vegan options, to be on the safe side. In general, if someone is meatless or vegetarian they are also good with vegan dishes but not the other way around. So we are erring on the side of caution and making everything vegan. It's just easier that way. And it's also delicious. We'll get to that in a minute.

Plan your Thanksgiving menu ahead of time

The trick to being successful with hosting any meal, vegan or otherwise, is to plan ahead. Even before supply chain issues madded food shortages a thing to worry about, planning and shopping ahead of time make for a happy host on the day of the meal. For ideas and inspiration, check out these 25 amazing plant-based or vegan recipes that make it easy to host, whether you are asking for help or making it all yourself.

One of the things you'll discover is that the vegan dishes are so delicious, everyone will want to try them and once they do, they will come back for seconds so have enough for the whole party, not just the vegans at your table. One reason plant-based options are so popular is that they are healthier for you and they won't leave you feeling sluggish the hours and days after.

Make simple dishes or buy the main course

Not prepared to make the main dish? You have options. For the best turkey alternatives that you can buy, as opposed to making yourself, check out the best plant-based turkey alternatives that you can get at your local market. But shop soon since shortages are real.

Speaking of getting things done ahead of time, that's also the main message of celebrated chef Derek Sarno, who has created many a plant-based meal to write home about (or post on Instagram).

Chef Derek Sarno, founder of the Wicked Kitchen line of vegan foods, and co-founder of Wicked Healthy is a veteran at hosting plant-based meals that people talk about for weeks after. A columnist for The Beet, as well as being the Executive Chef and Director of Plant-Based Innovation for Tesco PLC, Sarno spends his days creating new and exciting ways to bring delicious, accessible vegan foods to market. So we trust him when he gives advice.

Sarno's advice for hosting the best vegan Thanksgiving: Plan ahead

"If I had one sure-fire tip it would be mise en place, mise en place, mise en place!  [French for preparation] Simply put, prep ahead as much as you can the day before and get everything you can get done ahead of time out of the way.

Shop early and know what you need. If in doubt, make sure you have all the staples in hand. For staples to keep on your shelves, always have a full array of proper seasonings, Sarno says, as well as fresh garlic, onions, plenty of flour, lots of plant-based butter, and plant-based milk, Chef Sarno suggests. He prefers Oatly's Barista Oat Milk but you can try different plant-based milks depending on your preference, and keep a favorite stocked or make your own.

When shopping, know what is out there and what you want to make yourself. The great thing about hosting vegan Thanksgiving now, as opposed to say, back 10 or 15 years ago when there were very few store-bought high-quality vegan choices, is that you can combine your own special recipes with store-bought items that make for an easier meal.

A few of Chef Derek's favorite Thanksgiving recipes

"To get things started, I rely on a beautiful holiday veg board," he says. Essentially you choose your most beautiful, colorful, and fresh vegetables and then cook them separately (you can grill some and roast others) and arrange them like a work of art, presented on a platter, and watch everyone dig in.

Two of Sarno's favorite vegan main dishes:

Favorite vegan sides:

Derek Sarno, Wicked Healthy Derek Sarno, Wicked Healthy

 Vegan entertaining can be inclusive to all

One trick that every host learns: When someone asks, "What can I bring?" the best answer is to say: bring your favorite dish so we can all see what that is and sample it. Plant-based eaters love to show off how they make their mushrooms into a meat-like Wellington or their lentils into a meatball. In any case, the fun is to influence the full spectrum of plant-based or vegan recipes and learn what vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians are loving right now.

Another tip for success: Allow non-vegans to bring their favorite dish, and make sure to announce it so that vegans know this casserole or stuffing is actually one with sausage. You don't want someone to feel excluded and that means meat-eaters may want to bring their favorite traditions as well. Just explain in advance to all the guests how you've divided the meat from the vegan dishes. As in, "This table is for vegan dishes, and this table is for non-vegan dishes!" Anyone who is vegan won't want to get confused and will want to stick to their plant-based options. Believe it or not, the vegan dishes are going to be the most popular.

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Get your family on board for a vegan feast

When planning your vegan Thanksgiving, let your loved ones know that they will be coming to a vegan feast. The idea is not to surprise them as they walk in the door – but to let them bring something that they will be happy with while embracing new traditions. Jessica Seinfeld has written an amazing cookbook, Vegan, at Times, which has 120+ vegan recipes that remake the classics and get creative with new traditions. One of our favorites is her Vegan Macaroni and Cheese, which is better than the traditional recipe.

You can show them the menu in advance so Mom knows her beloved string bean casserole will be served, just without the usual dairy ingredients. Another alternative is to just put the sweet potato casserole on the table and don't mention that you used vegan marshmallows and dairy-free milk. What's the big?

For how to get your family to embrace a vegan Thanksgiving, check out your ultimate guide to throwing a Thanksgiving the whole family will love.

For more great ideas of recipes to serve at Thanksgiving this year, see these 25 vegan holiday recipes everyone will love.