When I first became vegan it was the beginning of December, so it was less than a month before I was faced with two family Christmas dinners. My family wasn't used to vegans. Foodies, chefs, butchers, and hunters sit around our table. So to say that this didn't go over smoothly at first is putting it lightly.
Me going vegan was the big news, so I was asked a million questions, to which I desperately tried to sputter responses. I fumbled over my words, couldn't remember the facts, I didn't know the answers to many things, and I constantly felt like I had to defend myself. It was kind of the worst, but I made it through, and I made a mental note to be more prepared for next time.
Whether you are a new to a vegan lifestyle, or you have been vegan for many years, the holidays can be tough. You're out of your comfort zone, and into the festivities with relatives and friends who are bound to be curious. Not to mention that there will likely be a large meal centered around a turkey, ham, or a roast of some kind.
I do have good news for you, it gets easier! As time passes, your family will start to realize it really isn't just a phase, you haven't died of protein deficiency (and are likely looking and feeling great), and that you really don't crave meat. My mom now always makes sure there is plenty for me to eat, and my family is more or less used to it. I still get the questions, but now they come from a place more of interest than of judgement.
I have learned how to navigate the holidays pretty well by now, and I hope no one has to be the stumbling mess I was at first. So to help you out, here is my guide for How to Survive the Holidays as a Vegan.
1. Prepare for the Questions.
Especially if you are a new vegan, but even if you aren't, there is often an endless stream of questions. Some totally reasonable, and some pretty ridiculous. While you don't always have to know the answer to everything, it can be helpful to prepare in advance for some of the questions you are likely to be asked.
Common questions are: Where do you get your protein? Iron? Calcium? Why did you go vegan? What about "humane", "organic", or "free range? While you don't need to give a full on lecture, it's a good idea to have some quick basic answers to these questions. Here are some quick answers to nutrition questions, and here are some answers to common ethical questions.
That said, it's ok if you don't know all of the answers. Don't feel like you have to try and recall some statistics you heard, instead just direct them to more information. Try saying "I don't remember exactly, but I highly recommend watching the documentary Forks Over Knives", or recommend what movie, book, or person influenced you, or tell them you can send them more information later. (I love sending people information!)
2. Bring a dish everyone can enjoy!
Cooking vegan can be challenging for someone who isn't used to cooking that way. Don't expect the host to make everything vegan. I always bring a hearty dish that everyone is welcome eat, and if all else fails you will be able to eat all on it's own and still feel satisfied. If you feel like putting in the extra effort bring a dessert as well. Desserts often aren't vegan by default, but trust me, show up with Easy Vegan Pumpkin Pie, Gingerbread Cupcakes or Salted Caramel Maple Nut Clusters and no one will have a problem scarfing those down.
3. Offer to help the cook.
First off, be clear to the cook about what you can and cannot eat. Many people don't know what veganism is exactly, so being clear is helpful.
It's also a great idea to offer a hand in the kitchen to help prepare the meal. This is not only a good gesture, but it means you can help veganize a lot of the meal taking the stress off of the host, while making sure there will be plenty of options for yourself.
I bring vegan butter substitutes such as Earth Balance, non-dairy milk, and vegetable broth with me, so that I can help veganize things easily. Many side dishes are practically vegan with a few substitutes. If you are able to bring your own recipes here are my 8 Traditonal Thanksgiving and Christmas sides made vegan.
4. Be enthusiastic and supportive about any little effort people make.
They don't eat bacon for breakfast anymore? That's so awesome!!!!
They only eat chicken. That's great!! The cows will be happy to hear that.
They didn't put cheese on the salad so you could eat it? Take a big serving and be super thankful (even if it's a lame salad).
If you start telling people what they are doing isn't good, they probably aren't going to try any harder. Any little step is a step in the right direction. Be encouraging and supportive and you might just find yourself surrounded by awesome vegan cousins. (I know I am now!)
5. Don't turn your nose up at the turkey.
Sure it might not be the prettiest sight in your mind, but telling people that their food is gross isn't going to make them jump on the vegan bandwagon. If anything they will probably take offense and run in the other direction.
Chances are you probably ate turkey at one point in your life, so don't forget where you came from. You don't have to ooh and aah over it if you don't want to, but rudeness will never win the game. If someone makes a joke about it to you, or asks if you want some, just keep it simple and say no thank you.
6. Vegan talk at the table is a no no
For some reason as soon as you sit down to dinner, this is the same moment that people love to ask you why you don't eat meat. While you may be eager to talk about it, this is not the time to bring up slaughterhouses, heart disease, or deforestation. If they ask, just tell them you would be happy to discuss it with them when you aren't eating dinner. They will get the hint.
7. Make New Traditions
It might be a little upsetting to you or your family that you wont be taking part in some of your families traditions. Be empathetic about it. If your mom always made the best casserole, then let her know you love it, and ask her if she can help you make it vegan.
It's never too late to start new traditions. My family Christmas has changed quite a bit over the years, we now have a lot of Chinese members of our family, and every Christmas we have a dim sum course. Nope, it's not what Norman Rockwell painted, but trust me when I say, we all eagerly await this new tradition. You can always create new traditions, and sometimes it's the new traditions that are even better.
8. Celebrate the season
The holidays aren't really about the bird in the middle of the table. They are about family, tradition, getting together, and the season. To make your dinner table festive, you don't need to serve meat. Instead bring in the foods that are in season. If it's Thanksgiving, serve pumpkin, squash, apples, beets, and decorate with gourds. If it's Christmas, fill your table with cranberries, apples, oranges, potatoes, preserves, and decorate with poinsettias and holly. Your table will look great and feel very festive with the abundance of colour and the harvest.
9. If you're up for it, host it yourself!
One way to ensure you have a gorgeous vegan feast is to make it yourself! I know not everyone would be up for this, but if hosting is something you are comfortable with, this could be the perfect way to show your family how delicious, hearty, and satisfying a vegan meal can be.
Instead of a turkey feature a Puff Pastry Wrapped Lentil Loaf, or a Pumpkin & Lentil Shepherd's Pie, and make all the sides vegan. If people bring dishes, ask them to be made vegan, or send them a recipe to follow so they know how. Decorate the table, put on some music, and host the best holiday party ever!
10. Be happy, healthy, kind, polite, and have fun!
Don't forget that the holidays is a time for celebration, family, food, and love. I suggest not talking about your veganism unless you are asked about it. Now is not the time to convert people, it's the time to celebrate. Keep it light, joke, and if someone keeps pestering you, change the subject or go talk to someone else. it's not about meat eater vs. vegan. It's about all of us enjoying time together. Overall be the happy, healthy, kind, polite, and the fun vegan that you are. Enjoy the company, offer to help out, be grateful, and if all else fails, have a cocktail!
If you have any tips, comments, success stories, or horror stories, share them in the comments below!
Thank you for this post. I’m mentally preparing for attending a non-vegan celebration, which naturally makes me sad, but your article is a great reminder that there are many ways to look at this opportunity. And that some will lead to better outcomes than others! I appreciated reading others’ comments as well. Wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving.
Sam Turnbull says
So happy it helped, Tracie 🙂
Love your helpful infogram!
Thank you Kari!
I love this! I am 14 and I want to go vegan but !y dad won't let me. My mom is OK with me being vegan. My dad is always asking if I will eat this or that. I try my hardest to eat vegan when ever I can if anyone has any advice I would love to hear it! Thank you for the blog post.
Sam Turnbull says
You're most welcome, Mikayla! How come your dad doesn't want you to be vegan? Is it for health reasons, the inconvenience, or another reason? If you let me know I would be happy to try and help out. 🙂
The reason is because my dad has heard a lot of bad things vegans have said about God and Christians. I come from a Christian family, my dad is the youth pastor at my church. Thank you for trying to help me. I eat vegan whenever I can. I have had lots of put down by my friends brothers and my friends for wanting to go vegan. Thank you for the help and being so kind to me. God bless
Sam Turnbull says
Oh interesting. I have lots of good resources for your dad about Christians and vegans. Check out this article Why all Christians Should Go Vegan, here are 11 Bible Quotes That are Telling you to Go Vegan. Adam and Eve were vegan. In Genesis 1:28-29, God tells Adam and Eve that he was giving them “every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit” to be their food — and that’s it. And of course, we all know "thou shalt not kill"- there is no subtext that says unless it has four legs, or fur, or feathers, or scales. I hope that helps!
Thank you for your help! In the bible it says that God told Peter to " rise up, kill, and eat". That shows that God made meat clean for us to eat. But as you know, I don't want to eat meat. And the killing part, as my dad would say, it is talking about abortion. I will try to go as vegan as I possibility can this holiday season. Thanks for the help again. God bless☺
Sam Turnbull says
You're most welcome! Respect for all of gods creatures seems logical to me! Glad I could help.
Hi Mikayla. The verse about Peter rising and killing and eating the meat is about sharing the gospel with the gentiles which God made clean also. Just read a little farther into the story and you can see for yourself. Also, as a Christian, I think of the garden of Eden. Before the first sin all animals, beasts ate plants. They were vegan
Sara- The Organic Dietitian says
It can be tough surviving the holidays with any special dietary requirements. Even if you just like to eat real food it can be a challenge. It is an important topic. Thanks for writing this.
You're very welcome! So happy you enjoyed it 🙂
So my family (husband and 2 children) have asked to not be part of the dinner for Christmas with his family. (My mother and family is hosting a Vegan Thanksgiving) We do not mind coming over afterwardsfor fellowship, dessert and presents. However they blew up and said that it's bs and ridiculous and they can't believe that it's more important that I not be there then to just deal with it. I have brought dishes and basically cooked everything last year but no one ate any of it. I had my children who weren't vegan at the time try everything and they wanted more. So I know it tasted great if my kids were willing to eat it. They have never accepted me or anything that I have ever done. I have been part of the family for 14 years now. Still I'm the outsider.
Sam Turnbull says
Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that, Noreen. It can be very hard when your family doesn't understand. You will always have support and love from the vegan community! 🙂
Thanks Sam, that graphic is great! I was a vegetarian for 15 years before becoming vegan a few years ago. My family was perfectly fine with vegetarian, but once I became vegan it was like the sky was falling. The funny thing is that most of my family while not vegan, will eat up anything I bring to holiday meals. I can personally vouch for the puff pastry lentil loaf, as BOTH were gone after a family meal. I've brought delicious salads with roasted vegetables that were the first thing gone from the table... I still have that one cousin that thinks it's funny to ask if I'll just go out and graze on the lawn, but everyone else just waits to see what I've brought this year :). My husband's family on the other hand is SUPER resistant to healthy food (which is what they view all vegan food as).
Thank you! Happy you enjoyed the post. Haha thats so weird that vegetarian to vegan was such a big difference to your family. You're so extreme!! Haha. It's awesome that they never seem to have a problem devouring the vegan recipes tho. That's so funny about your husband's family, why do people assume healthy food is gross!? I will never understand that!
Definitely wise words Sam. I have 2 sisters who are ex-vegans, so they understand the "why." And we have a gluten-free niece whom we all adore. So, our dinner will have lots of options. I only asked they leave me some "clean" potatoes. Gotta eat.
Thank you Bethery! It sounds like you have a pretty understanding family. That's awesome!
One gentle caution I'd offer to anyone who is a committed vegan and about to attend a dinner with parts of the meal contributed by other people: there are people who will think it's funny to try and trick a strict vegan into eating something containing animal ingredients. For those vegans among us with allergies, it can make a festive occasion a miserable experience. For non-allergic vegans, it's still an ordeal. So if passive-aggressive Aunt Ethel, who always rolls her eyes at your vegan diet, suddenly offers you a slice of her "vegan" Christmas pudding (made with suet), well, you've been warned!
Oh that's terrible!!! Why are people so mean!? Thanks for the heads up Eya! I don't think anyone has tricked me into eating something not vegan yet... At least I hope not!
That just happened to me. Wish I had read this warning earlier. I moved to a vegan diet for health reasons, specifically headaches. Apparently the Easter Bread is made with loads of eggs and milk. I've had a headache since Sunday afternoon. 🙁
Oh that's awful Susan! I hope you feel better soon 🙂
Eya: I'm sorry you've had bad experience with carnivore hosts. When I have vegan friends over, I make sure I check with them and I do a lot of ratatouille, baked squash, veg soup, vegan pizza (although getting vegan cheese is difficult to get here sometimes) and bread without milk, butter or eggs. We do have a problem with protein as I have an allergy to nuts and all things from the lentil and bean family (we don't bring any into the house), but my friends always assure me they won't die if they don't get any for a day or two. I know that I don't cook vegan as fabulously as they might, but I try my best. I am ashamed to hear that anyone would deliberately offer you something that might make you ill.
Sam Turnbull says
Ana, thanks so much for being such a gracious host! Just some info you might find interesting, all whole plant foods contain protein. So yes, beans and nuts contain protein, but so do all other vegetables, fruits, and grains. It's actually impossible to be protein deficient unless you are calorie deficient (starving) in which case you would be deficient in all nutrients. It's so funny to me that we are all scared of protein deficiency yet I don't think any of us have ever met a single person who has gone to the hospital for it! Haha. I recommend out of interest checking out the book Proteinaholic or even just this little video which is a study of vegetarians and protein. 🙂
First off, thanks so much for this post, loved it! We just became vegetarian and are transitioning slowly but surely into veganism. I have a 2 year old and a 4 year old. The 4 year old remembers eating meat and asks for it sometimes. We talk a lot about why we don't eat meat and have gotten him meat substitutes, which he loves! Overall he's really excited to be a vegetarian. We are going to my parent's house for Christmas (our first after going veg). My family is concerned that without meat our kids won't get the nutrients they need . We know that my folks will accommodate us as well as cook their own meat, chicken, fish etc. Which is fine, we don't need them to change. BUT now our son is asking them if he can eat meat when he goes to their house. This is hard for me. I don't want to make food forbidden because I do want him to stay veg long term, but I also hate the idea of him eating it. I know it'll be available and he'll ask. I've heard other bloggers say that they would let their kid eat it in other homes, just not theirs. I fear that if he keeps tasting it elsewhere he'll want it more plus it'll confuse the message we are sending. But I don't want him to feel so restricted that he wants to rebel later. Thoughts? Thanks so much!!
Yay! Glad you loved the post.
For your question, I am sure you are well informed that a vegan diet based around whole foods is actually an ideal diet for children. You can read more about that here. I understand your family's concern, because we have all been raised to believe that we need animal protein in our diets, but of course this isn't true. People who raise their children vegan often get criticized by other for "imposing their values on their children". Well that's what parenting is, isn't it? If you are religious, you think exercise is important, you love dogs, you think green is the ugliest colour... Whatever your beliefs how big or small, you are raising your children with these values. What the children choose to do when they grow up is completely up to them. They could become an atheist, couch potato, dog hating, green loving kid for all you know! Haha.
I don't have children yet, but if I do I will for sure raise them vegan, if they grow up and become meat eaters, that sucks, but there isn't much I can do about that. I can't tell you what to do about whether you allow your son to eat meat at your family's home or not. That is completely up to you and your family, but just know that it's totally ok to impose your values on your children, that's what parenting is. I think you will find this podcast helpful by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau that talks about raising vegan children. I hope that helps somewhat!
We get around this by celebrating the holidays on our own. 🙂 We've sort of created our own tradition by taking our RV out over Thanksgiving (and Christmas on occasion).
I also have a question regarding Earth Balance (and similar spreads). While I know it isn't as healthy, isn't all margarine technically vegan? I ask because Earth Balance tends to be quite a bit more expensive than traditional margarines.
I love that you created your own tradition!
No, most margarines contain dairy in one form or another. It's sometimes listed as whey. Not only are they not vegan, but they often are made with hydrogenated oils and contain cholesterol. Earth Balance is non-hydrogenated so while of course any kind of margarine isn't going to be super healthy, it's not toxic to your body in the same way as regular margarine. Hope that helps!
Thanks. I knew most margarines were not healthy, but I didn't realize they contained whey. Thanks for clearing that up.
Emilie @ Emilie Eats says
This is great!! My family has always known I eat healthy, but when I went vegan, it was a whole different thing. My mom and immediate family are super understanding and accommodating, but recently at a family dinner, I had a few awkward moments where I felt like I had to defend myself. Can't we all just eat what we want? It's not like I'm sitting at the dinner table condemning them for their choices. Let's all just enjoy the spirit of the holidays 🙂
Thanks Emilie 🙂
Yeah the truth is, that when we say we are vegan, we are kind of making people face what their diet really is made of. It may not be our intention, but the word vegan is pretty powerful. I think that's why people tend to get defensive, or make jokes about vegans. They don't like being faced with the truth. That's why I always try to keep it as light and fun as possible. If people want to argue about it, or be mean, then I will leave the conversation and go have a cocktail with someone nice. 🙂
Angie S says
The graphic is WAY cute and you offer some solid advice.
This Holiday season will be the first we've celebrated since becoming vegan. We host one gathering and usually attend two. The one we host will have all vegan offerings, and one attendee is going to bring a turkey for her and others to enjoy - no problems there!
The other two are a potluck affair and while the Hostess's have inquired as to what they're supposed to do, we've told them our choices regarding food aren't something they need to worry about, and that anything they do to adjust is a wonderful thing! They've even asked me to share some recipes that we'll be making for our gathering, showing interest and not irritation!
I'm very much looking forward to how this plays out!
Thank you so much Angie!
It's sounds like you're off to a super great start! I have the same approach, assure people that they do not have to go out of the way for me, but if they do make something vegan, well that's so super awesome of them!!! Keep a positive and easy spirit about it all, and you may just inspire people without even realizing it. I hope you have an awesome holiday season 🙂
Angie S says
Many of our friends and relatives are struggling with health issues, and we were as well. They've seen first hand the improvements in our health and my MIL has recently made the jump, along with two friends!
I've always enjoyed cooking, but this new adventure has really made it fun again!
Thanks for a great resource Sam!
Thats so great to hear Angie!! Thanks for sharing your story. I'm glad you enjoyed my article 🙂
My first Thanksgiving where I was vegan was about 3 years ago. It was awful. I tried to steer them to my way of thinking and it was a disaster. I have come to hate going to family functions. There is always a beautiful salad but it has cheese or bacon in it. I feel they do it on purpose. So this year I am taking something that I can eat and share with everyone. Most likely they won't even try it but it is their loss. In the past I have taken vegan desserts and always get some kind of negative feedback. Fortunately at Christmas it is just my hubby and kids so I control what we eat but still make turkey and the fixings for them:)
Yeah, it can be rough. Not everyone is super supportive or understanding. That's why I think the best way is to lead by example. If you bring a delicious main and dessert that everyone can eat, (even if they don't like it or try it), you can enjoy it and you have a good time. Regardless what they prepare you can be happy enjoying your own dish. It's nice that you get to have a stress free Christmas at least!
I love the post. Great advice. Also, by showing that we are cool with eating the way we have chosen, are healthy for doing so and can still partake in the family gathering and dinner other people may see how this can be doable. This very fact may intrigue them into learning more in addition to the tasty dishes you make to share. Great advice Sam, keep up the good positive message!
As an aside, I have been veg for so long that I don't really get asked any questions anymore. My older brother who is a hunter even has taken a greater interest in food and now makes more creative dishes and more healthful ingredients. He's not veg himself but making more of an effort than 15 years ago and this happened without my once putting pressure on him. I just do my thing and when people ask for the recipes I happily share them.
Thank you so much Delia! Yes, we definitely aren't going to convert everyone, but being a positive inspiration can help make little changes if nothing else. My dad will never be vegan, but he has cut out most dairy from his diet, and feels better for doing so, so that's something! When he makes popcorn he will even use Earth Balance so I can eat it 🙂
So happy you enjoyed my post 🙂
Good advice, and cute graphic! Keeping things light is definitely key to maintaining one's sanity this time of year.
Thanks EC! So glad you found it helpful, and yes I agree, keep it light and have fun!