How do you plan holiday meals with the market being so overly directed at meat eaters?

How do you plan holiday meals with the market being so overly directed at meat eaters?

Ask Annika! 

How do you plan holiday meals with the market being so overly directed at meat eaters?

What would your holiday menu look like?

For me the holidays are, as for many others, one of my absolute favorite times of the year to cook, bake and eat.  When I became vegan, this sentiment was actually ramped up even further as I became passionate about and committed to finding plant based recipes and dishes for a rich and wholesome meal that I could also be proud and excited to share with others. Weeks and sometimes months before the holiday season begins, I begin crafting my menu. I’ve now had two vegan Thanksgivings and Christmases and never felt like being plant based took away any of the culinary flavor or spirit of the holidays I had grown accustomed to all my life.

So much of the marketing for the food industry is directed towards consuming animal based products. The more you become accustomed to a plant based diet, the easier it is to adjust your habits and look through all the marketing.  I am always hopeful and glad to see more promotion of plant based eating and this area of advertisement is growing. One of marketing’s key purposes is to sway our opinions to become consumers but there’s not a thing the meat or dairy industry could pitch that would have me craving what they produce, though I recognize that they are all operating on overdrive to get consumers to crave and purchase their products.

Got Milk? Might not be doing you much good?, Aaron E. Carroll, NY Times

10 Things I Wish All Americans Knew About the Meat and Dairy Industries, Dave Simon,  Free from Harm

Have we been milked by the dairy industry?, Anne Kingston,  Macleans

Statement on Milk Industry’s ‘Get Real’ Campaign, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Whitewashed: How Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods, Eat Drink Politics

The Truth behind “Humane” Labels, Farm Sanctuary

Close to the Bone- The Fight Over Transparency in the Meat Industry, Ted Genoways, NY Times

Vegan is Going Mainstream, trend data suggests, Elizabeth Crawford, Food Navigator

During the holiday season, it is quite common that you will feel pressure from family and friends alike to consume traditional dishes that have meat and dairy in them. If you have recently transitioned to a vegan lifestyle or a plant based diet this can be an especially difficult time.

After my photos and menu tips below I’ve also included an extract from my 2015 Holiday Column in Vegan Health and Fitness magazine. This piece focused on tips for a vegan holiday and addresses some of the stresses you might feel during that period and communicating with friends and family  to avoid or prevent uncomfortable or even divisive moments.

Not every region has stores that market to vegan consumers. Currently where we live it’s really easy at local stores to find, for example, multiple vegan roasts around the holiday time, as well as all sorts of other vegan products and goodies. But before living in this town, we lived about 40 minutes north and while the local grocery stores definitely had a fair amount of  mainstream vegan products, there was a significant difference to what the shops there carry.

Because that area wasn’t as vegan friendly, I spent a lot more time in our kitchen than I did grabbing snacks and quick meals out and the result was becoming a lot more comfortable cooking a wide range of dishes as well as really experiencing my passion for cooking and food in general grow tremendously.

So my strategy for dealing with the heavily meat and dairy based marketing is to ignore it and go about my business of trying to make the best plant based dishes I can.

My holiday menu includes all the familiar dishes of this festive season- wild rice, mashed potatoes, root vegetables, salad, cranberry jelly, gravy, apple and pecan pie.

I have also explored several of the vegan roasts on the market. The roast may be one of the central areas to really dive into researching, particularly if you are celebrating with others who are not vegan and want that alternative.   This list and this list offer a pretty comprehensive run down of vegan roasts available on the market. Some stores start selling them months before the holidays begin. My absolute favorites (and I’ve tasted nearly all of them) are the Field Roast ‘Hazlenut Cranberry Roast En Croute’ and Gardein’s ‘Holiday Roast’.   I think it’s a great idea, if you have the opportunity, to buy one or a few of these roasts before the holiday season begins and find out which one you favor.

I hope anyone reading this who is interested in having a vegan holiday or in bringing more plant based energy to their family feasts can get benefit from some tips and suggestions below.


My first Thanksgiving meal as a vegan

Gardein Holiday Roast

Homemade vegan Shepherds Pie (many great recipes online!)

Portobello Mushrooms stuffed with Minnesota Wild Rice, Shallots, Tomatoes & topped with Crispy Sage

Cranberry Jelly

Tomatoes and Parsley with Olive Oil and Sea Salt


 Christmas 2014


Christmas 2014

My spread for Christmas in 2014 was much like Thanksgiving’s with a few new ingredients added.

Macadamia Nut, Basil & Olive Oil Spread

Arugula with Grape Tomatoes, Grapeseed Oil & Sea Salt

Grilled Asparagus

Minnesota Wild Rice with American Parsley & Shallots

Steamed Brussel Sprouts drizzled with Hazelnut Oil

Gardein Holiday Roast with Cranberry, Kale & Wild Rice Stuffing

Pacific Organic Jellied Cranberry Sauce

Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Sea Salt, Black Pepper & Earth Balance Buttery Spread

Basil Leaves


My first attempt at vegan pecan pie- many great recipes online!


For Thanksgiving last year, we ordered vegan pies from a local bakery.  A lot of bakeries are getting savvy with veganizing dishes and I like the option of ordering desserts from a bakery on holidays when I might want to focus all my kitchen energy on the savory dinner.

I recently baked an Apple Crumble that I think would be a fantastic dessert baked a day or two in advance of a holiday feast.


I was obsessed with this Butternut Squash Purée from the first time I made it and I will be happy to include it at all my future holiday feasts.


Field Roast Grain Meat’s Hazlenut Cranberry Roast En Croute

Easily one of my top favorite store-bought vegan roasts


This was my “holiday sampler” last year, made several months before the holidays even began.

I wanted to make sure I had the dishes just right, saving me from a lot of experimentation or recipe research during the busy Autumn season.

Butternut Squash Puree

Slice of Field Roast Hazlenut Cranberry Roast En Croute

 Buttery Mashed Potatoes with Grape Tomatoes


When the holidays rolled around, I served the above with cranberry jelly, roasted brussel sprouts and pecans and wild rice.

In the 2015 Holiday issue of Vegan Health & Fitness magazine, my column was all about not only surviving as a vegan or plant based eater during the holidays but thriving. Below are some of the tips I shared in the column for both going to feasts and parties as well as tips for hosting a vegan at your dinner party or event. Enjoy the article in full here!


Make a dish

This is probably the first thing anyone will think of to be prepared as well as be a friendly guest! You don’t need to be a master chef but it is a great idea to test recipes ahead of time if you can. Veganize a family favorite to share how your family’s beloved dishes can also be delicious vegan style.

Order or buy a dish

I love cooking and baking but always like to know where the go-to spot is for delicious vegan baked goods or dishes locally. Some people are pressed for time or simply want to buy something professionally prepared to take to a feast or party. If you are going to another city to celebrate, put in the time beforehand to research where you can order a fabulous vegan pie or a grocery store where you can pick up one of the different varieties of delicious vegan holiday roasts on the market.

Bring your favorite vegan beer, wine or other beverage

If you drink and plan to share, bringing your favorite vegan beer and wine is a great move. I love spreading the word about the website Barnivore and using it to check whether various wines or beers are vegan friendly. It’s a great resource to turn others on to as well!

Let your host know ahead of time if possible

Letting your host know ahead of time can allow you to gauge how prepared they might be to accommodate you. You might find that the host has numerous other vegan guests planning to be in attendance and is excited to accommodate everyone. Or you may find that your host is really not clear on what veganism is, giving you the opportunity to prepare as you see fit.

Be open and prepared for questions

Feasts, parties and other gatherings can be a pivotal moment to share important information about key moments that compelled you to go vegan but can also hold the potential for uncomfortable or even contentious questions or discussion points. Offering to have talks with people and share resources (literature, stories, documentary tips, etc) with them later if they are curious to discuss vegan issues can be a way to relay a willingness to communicate. I talk about veganism quite a lot and am still learning to balance a sense of openness to discuss vegan lifestyle with a healthy ability to set boundaries when I need to.


To make this piece more inclusive, I have included some tips for non-vegans to aid in being more receptive and prepared.

Understand that veganism is not ‘just a diet’

Some non-vegans view veganism as just another diet and restrictive form of eating. Understand that while some are primarily vegans in the way they eat (and perhaps not an entire lifestyle), many are vegans in more ways than just dietary. Also, for vegans there are no “cheat” moments. Holidays are not a time for us to say, ok, I’ll have that slice of meat “just this once.” Understanding this might help any host not feel rebuffed when a vegan guest will not cede to urgings to eat something “just this one time.”

Surprise them with a vegan centerpiece dish

One of the most touching stories I ever heard was from a longtime vegan friend of mine whose non-vegan family surprised her at Thanksgiving by forgoing a turkey completely and instead having a vegan holiday roast as a centerpiece. This is a beautiful and inspiring story of a family acting from a place of great compassion and I know for my friend this was a momentous occasion. Be inspired by such stories and even if you are not ready to have a vegan centerpiece, see how you can incorporate other vegan dishes on the menu.

Consider it a culinary adventure

It is standard to have many vegetable sides at the holidays but consider veganzing them so they can accommodate everyone. Many tasty holiday favorites- wild rice, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts and more- can be prepared with absolutely no dairy and taste absolutely fantastic. Google recipes with “vegan” added to get tips on how vegans cook up their holiday favorites. In doing all this you might also find that you already prepare many of your holiday dishes vegan style, which will be fun news to share with your guests!

Consider the little things

Something as small yet thoughtful as having non-dairy creamer for a coffee drinking vegan guest can be really appreciated. My favorite is Califa brand’s Almond Creamer but there are many others to choose from. Another great small consideration would be to shift to vegan butter for your dishes. Earth Balance products can be found in most grocery stores and their buttery spreads and baking sticks are popular items for vegan baking and cooking. Any accommodation you make for your vegan guests is an effort of thoughtfulness for their comfort and ability to enjoy your feast or party even more!

*            *            *

Last Spring my husband, son and I stayed with my in-law’s on the West coast for a week during our transition to the Northeast.  My in-law’s are not vegan and I was nervous about how some of the discussions might go. There were definitely some awkward moments at first but I recall coming back after one day out in the city with my son and there they were baking up a vegan pizza- for the first time!  I definitely don’t mean this in a narcissistic way, but I am positive that they tried that out because I was there.  It was a great bonding experience and although they are indeed experimental foodies, I think this was their first time making a vegan pizza and indeed, it was delicious!  So this wasn’t during a holiday but is an example of a family gathering moment that could be tense or difficult food wise but turned out to be a moment of great discovery and bonding (in addition to the vegan beer tasting we had at their house together the day before!).  Their actions meant a great deal to me and I let them know that.

If you are vegan or eat plant based a lot of the time, feel free to share this with friends or families you may be spending the holidays with.

Ask Annika is a space on this blog  devoted to fielding questions about vegan ethics, transitioning to vegan lifestyle, plant based diets and related issues. Send in your questions here

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