Holiday Survival Guide for Vegans

Ditch the holiday stress with this Holiday Survival Guide for Vegans!

Gear up for those pesky questions you’ll inevitably be asked, learn how to prepare meals in advance, AND get recipes for outrageously delicious holiday meals that everyone (yes, everyone!) will love. 

The holidays can be a stressful time for anyone. But they can be especially stressful for vegans. 

There’s the endless stream of questions about where you could possibly get your protein from, the not-so-subtle encouragement to “have just one bite” of Aunt Carol’s mincemeat pie (gross), and pretty slim pickings when it comes to dishes sans meat and dairy. 

Thankfully, this Holiday Survival Guide for Vegans is here to help you prepare for the questions and comments while still enjoying all kinds of flavor-packed and indulgent meals. Even the omnivores in your life will love them (and ask for the recipe)—I promise!

And while I can’t promise that your uncomfortably weird uncle won’t pull you into an aggressive conversation about the wonders of his raw meat diet, these five strategies for surviving the holidays should help make family meals much less stressful. 

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be ready for a holiday season that’s full of #goodvibesonly and legitimately excellent food.

Table of Contents
1. Plan ahead
2. Be prepared for questions
3. Bring some of your own food
4. Make sure it’s indulgent
5. Think outside the box

creamy vegan spiced eggnog in glass mug on a table with holiday lights.

1. Plan ahead 

As with most things in life, having a plan in place around the holidays can prevent disaster from striking. 

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Being prepared might include the following: researching highly-rated vegan Christmas recipes you want to try, testing new recipes before the big day, texting family and friends to see what dishes they love the most, writing out a killer menu you will all love, and planning for multiple trips to the grocery store… all done days or weeks before the dinner.

Pro tip: If you plan on serving new recipes at your holiday meal, be sure to schedule in time to test them in advance.

The last thing you want to do is play with unfamiliar recipes on the day, only for them to flop. Don’t be that vegan who promises a “meatloaf that tastes just like meat” only to deliver a soggy brick of lentils. No time for testing? Stick to the dishes you already know and love. 

And if you care about having a stellar multiple-course vegan menu, volunteer to host the holiday dinner. Yes, it’s more work, but it also means you’ll get to eat and thoroughly enjoy every part of the meal. 

Suggested timeline

To help you prepare for hosting your big dinner, follow this suggested timeline:

  • 2 weeks (or more) ahead: Start researching recipes for every part of the meal, from appetizers and salads to mains and desserts.
  • 1 week ahead: Begin testing new recipes you’ve never tried before. Print out the recipes so you can take notes on what flavors or ingredients need tweaking. 
  • 5 to 7 days ahead: Write down your finalized menu and grocery list.
  • 3 to 5 days ahead: Do your best to finish all of your grocery shopping. Triple-check the list to make sure you didn’t forget anything because a December 23rd supermarket line at 5 pm is nobody’s idea of fun. 
  • 1 to 3 days ahead: Prepare the recipes that can be made ahead of time, like vegan gravy. Keep them in the fridge until it’s time to reheat and serve. You can also do some veggie prep (chop all the onion and carrots, etc.) or make any other components that don’t need to be made fresh (e.g., vinaigrettes and dressings). Now is also a great time to finish any last-minute trips to the grocery store. 
  • The night before: Get your beauty sleep! You’ve got a busy day tomorrow. 
  • On the day: Get up early and start cooking! You can always reheat some of the dishes before serving. This way, you can actually enjoy your company AND the food.

If you’re looking for vegan main dishes that can be partially made ahead of time, I’d recommend:

  • Vegan Wellington: You can bake the mushroom loaf and wrap it in puff pastry 1 to 2 days ahead of time, then refrigerate covered; bake it off on the big day. 
  • Vegan Moussaka: Assemble all three layers, then cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days. On the big day, bring the dish to room temp for an hour or so, then bake as instructed. 
  • Pumpkin Ricotta Stuffed Shells: Make the pumpkin ricotta 1-3 days ahead of time; 1 day ahead of time, make the bechamel sauce, cook the pasta shells, and stuff the pasta with the pumpkin ricotta. Refrigerate separately. Assemble on the big day. 
  • Lentil Shepherd’s Pie: 1 to 2 days ahead of time, make the lentil filling and steam the cauliflower and potatoes; refrigerate once cooled. 

2. Be prepared for questions

Oh, the questions and comments. If you’ve been vegan for more than a hot minute, you’re probably used to these, but the holidays bring out these questions and comments in full force. Some will be harmless and roll off your back, while others may feel a little more personal. 

The best thing you can do in this situation is muster up some empathy for their lack of understanding and prepare your answers ahead of time. 

Some of the most common questions you’ll hear are, “Where do you get your protein?”, “Don’t you miss the taste of meat or cheese?” or “Why can’t you just have one bite? It’s the holidays!” Having your responses locked and loaded in your mind will make you feel more confident in the moment, making these conversations less stressful. 

If you’re vegan for ethical reasons, try to gently explain that this is not a diet (without sounding holier-than-thou) and that choosing to not eat animal products is a decision that’s not only important to you but one you’re perfectly happy with. Try to keep things short and simple, unless of course the other person seems genuinely interested in hearing from you. If that’s the case, babble away, my vegan friend!

3. Bring some of your own food

If you’re not hosting the dinner, you should still plan to whip up a couple of dishes. The host will always appreciate it when you offer to bring a dish or two to the big holiday dinner. It takes away some of their stress and helps to complete the meal, plus you get to enjoy some of your favorite foods. Win-win-win!

Ask your host in advance what types of dishes they need, then start researching recipes.

I recommend bringing one or two recipes that work both as a main and a side dish. For example, cauliflower steaks and lentil stuffed butternut squash can serve as hearty, filling, and vegan-friendly mains for you but also as vegetable-forward sides for others.

4. Make sure it’s indulgent

The holidays are all about indulgence, so keep that in mind when planning a holiday menu, especially when cooking for non-vegans. 

Vegans already have a bad rap for “healthifying” dishes and adding kale everywhere it doesn’t need to be, so don’t be that vegan. I promise that if you bring your cauliflower “mashed potatoes” with almond milk and olive oil, you will only be setting back the cause of veganism. Instead, bring some seriously good vegan mashed potatoes made with miso butter and roasted garlic, and (metaphorically) wow the pants off of your family and friends. 

Here’s a stretchy-pants-worthy holiday menu everyone, vegan or not, will love:  

Not only are these recipes packed with crowd-pleasing flavors, but most of your guests will not be able to detect they’re vegan. The only comments you’ll receive are, “Are you sure that’s vegan?!” and “Send me the recipe, pls!” 

5. Think outside the box

As much as I love holiday traditions, some classic holiday recipes are a bit lacking in flavor (why is green bean casserole still a thing?). Bring some excitement to the table by thinking outside the box! 

Breathe new life into traditional dishes with new flavor pairings or ingredients, or whip up entirely new dishes using seasonal ingredients.

Use these examples for inspiration:


Now that you’re armed with conversation talking points and a whole host of fantastic vegan recipes, go forth and enjoy the heck out of the holidays!   

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7 comments on Holiday Survival Guide for Vegans

  1. Lynn Horton

    Hey, Nisha – there’s not (necessarily) meat in minced meat. I love you site and your recipes and your sunny approach on your videos to the vegan life. But I was taken aback by that “gross” you wrote after mentioning minced meat. Sweet meats is a lovely old English terms for the ‘meat’ of fruits – i.e. nuts, dates, figs, etc. Yes, my Irish granny’s minced meat used to include suet as its fat in the figgy houshmi she made for her filling. But that’s easy to cut out, as I do in the years when I need *exactly* that taste on my Christmas cookie plate. Check out the many vegan minced meat recipes online. Merry merry, Nisha, and the happiest New Year. LH in Toronto

  2. Mimi Knight

    I’ve been a vegetarian for 55 years or so and vegan for close to 5 (yes—I’m old)! I make lots of your recipes and have never been disappointed. I made your vegan Wellington for Thanksgiving and was seriously impressed! I toyed with just making my regular gravy but decided to go with yours (the red wine sold me). I’m so glad I did! It’s now my go-to. I also love your sense of humor. Thank you!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Mimi, we’re so happy to hear that!! :) Thank you so much for being a member of the RPL community. We are glad you love the recipes!

  3. Deb

    This just reminds me how blessed I am to have the support and inspiration from my non-vegan extended family and friends at the holidays. My nieces are continually helping me plan menus and cook and I get only sporadic jokes from my silly and wonderful brother. And my dear friends think about separate and coordinated/similar meals for me when they’re cooking and my book club buddies bring mostly vegan dishes to our potlucks. I am truly lucky.
    But you inspire me with this post and give me ideas for the future, so please keep it up. Every recipe of yours is simply stunning and I always look to you first for ideas and recipes. You’re the best on the internet.
    Happy Holidays to you and yours, Nisha!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      It’s amazing to hear you have such a supportive community/family, Deb! It warms our hearts to know you enjoy the RPL recipes. Happy Holidays! :)

  4. Margot

    Nisha, you inspire me as always. Thank you so much for your content.
    I have a friends christmas dinner coming up, where everybody brings one dish. only my dish will be vegan… I am so tired of not being able to enjoy everyone else’s efforts, effort they evidently did not put in for me. But.. my own dish will be super scrumptious (and by a recipe of you) so at least I will have an extremely tasty dinner. Let’s see If I can tempt somebody to try my dish!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Margot, we appreciate you for being a loyal RPL reader! We have faith you’ll be able to get some of the other dinner guests to try what you make and that they’ll be thoroughly impressed! Cheers and merry Christmas :)

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