You've just finished making your meal plans for the holidays and just returned from the grocery store when suddenly you get the news you were afraid of...
Someone's invited a vegan over for dinner!
Ok, maybe we're exaggerating... but really not by that much. For many people, this can fill them with anxiety, especially if you haven't catered for a vegan before. You want to be a thoughtful host and make everyone feel welcome, but on the other hand, how can you not run yourself ragged trying to keep everyone happy!?
Fear not! It's entirely possible to host a vegan for the first time and to have a really positive experience. We ourselves have been guests at family and friends’ homes for the holidays, and from our perspective it's always been a relaxing -- and delicious! -- experience.
Overall, do relax. There's no need to be walking on eggshells around your vegan guest. Most vegans that accept your invitation to dinner will be ok with anything you can offer them and have been in this situation before. They have much tougher skin than you might think and have had to answer many questions from people regarding their lifestyle. They know what they're getting into.
Hosting a vegan for dinner isn't all that different than welcoming a guest that has any different lifestyle to yours. Or a food allergy 🙂 It all comes down to asking questions, presuming positive intentions, kindness, being flexible and willing to adapt.
Here are 10 tips to help you plan the perfect holidays dinner.. with a vegan guest!
1. Know what a vegan is
Many people may confuse vegan and vegetarians. Someone who is vegan is a person who does not eat any food derived from animals and who typically does not use any other animal products. This includes the most obvious culprits like meat, seafood, fish, dairy and eggs, but it also includes other items such as honey, gelatin, carmine (it is a red food coloring made from beetles and is sometimes called cochineal or E120), etc.
Most people who identify as vegan are doing it for one or more of the following reasons.
- they want to avoid animal suffering;
- they are looking to lighten their impact on the environment;
- they are doing it for health reasons. Perhaps they are at high risk of heart disease or have been prescribed a plant-based diet for health reasons by their doctor;
For the purposes of this article, we'll focus more on those that are vegan for the animals, but of course these tips could apply to any vegans.
2. Decide how vegan you want the meal to be
When the time comes to prepare your menu, you'll need to figure out how vegan you want to go. Let's say your spread will be the traditional Turkey, mashed potato with gravy and stuffing, and dessert.
One option is to make a couple of dish just for your vegan guest. Maybe a tofu dish, a creative salad and vegan ice cream for dessert. However, while this option will be welcomed by most vegans, for others it might make them feel a bit left-out. Again, vegans are used to this and knew what they were getting themselves into, but it's still something to take into consideration.
Another option is to just make the entire meal vegan. After all, this way ensure everyone can eat everything. However, preparing a plant-based feast for the first time can be a bit daunting, and you really need to think that all the other guests will be opened to this.
You might also consider to make (or buy ready-made) plant-based versions of most or all of the traditionally non-vegan food you'll be serving. However, making 2 sets of dishes would be very time consuming and expensive, so we don't recommend this course of action.
As a middle ground, you could just veganise some of the side dishes (see tip #5). Most vegans would be completely happy with this. After all, who really needs to have 15 different items on the plate! And often it's the side dishes that are the most exciting!
Vegans are used to having to made do with boring salads or pieces of fruit, so they will be super appreciative of your efforts. Just make sure to make plenty!
3. Talk to your vegan guest before-hand
Trust us, your vegan guest will be used to being the only vegan in the room. Whether you know them or not, it might be a good idea to have a chat or exchange a few emails, so you can get on the same wave length.
Do clarify what vegan means to them. Some vegans are very particular about wine and beer (yes, some of these drinks are not vegan) while others aren't too bothered about it. Check if they have any likes and dislikes or allergies. Most vegans will graciously eat anything plant-based that's put in front of them, where as others might be a bit pickier. If you know they can’t eat cashew nuts, you’ll know not to make a delicious nut roast. Most people aren't born vegans, so not everyone loves any vegetables you can throw at them.
You can also discuss them bringing something to the dinner. Most vegans will happily bring something for everyone to try. Even if they don’t cook, they can certainly pick something up which will make everything a lot easier.
It might be a good idea to go over the menu with your vegan guest, to make sure there's something on there for them. Vegan will be able to spot a non-vegan item or ingredient probably better than you can, as it's not new to them. If you have sweet potato pie on the menu, for example, the vegan will probably ask if there are any marshmallows in it, which are probably not vegan.
4. Don’t discuss veganism or the wonders of meat-eating at the table
It’s really normal to want to ask questions about someone’s lifestyle, but during dinner might be the time to put a pin in it and find a another, better time to ask them. If you have guests who are coming that you think might start a line of questioning or argue one ethics over another, it could be fruitful to have a friendly word with them beforehand. Vegans are very much used to being questioned about veganism, especially during meals. But while they are used to such questions, your other guests may not always be prepared for the answers.
We'd recommend waiting after dinner to ask questions about veganism. Questions asked at the right time and in the spirit of really wanting to hear the answers will usually be welcomed.
5. Veganise everything that can be easily veganized
The good news is that there are many of the traditional holiday foods that can be easily veganized with some simple swaps, to the point that your non-vegan guests won't be able to tell the difference. You can veganize mashed potatoes by swapping the butter, cheese and milk for vegan versions. Cornbread can easily be veganized by adding an egg replacer, gravy can be made with vegetable stock, and the stuffing, usually vegan anyway, can be made in a pan rather than in the turkey. Most veganized side dishes
6. Substitute the turkey
Getting rid of the centerpiece turkey for something else is a big ask, but it can also be fun to try something new and get those creative juices flowing! If you decide to go that way, we've got you covered with another post about our favorite alternate recipes, and another one on the best roast substitutes that you can buy from the supermarket or order online.
7. Think about where to put the turkey
This one could be important. Ask yourself if you really need to have the turkey on the table and carve it there. If not, then great. You can just plate everyone dishes separately and serve them one by one.
But if having the turkey-and-carving at the dinner table is an important, non-negotiable part of your holidays tradition, then do consider seating your vegan guest as far away from the turkey as possible. For them, they won't be looking at a delicious centerpiece but a sad, dead animal, and as they won't be helping themselves to it anyway, it's best to give the prime seating spots to others.
8. Ask for help and don't worry!
If it comes down to crunch time in the kitchen and you are panicking, then put the vegan to work! Most vegans are good cooks -- they've had to fend for themselves more than a few times -- so they may not mind helping at all. They may very well love helping you with your vegan dishes and giving you a few tips along the way!
9. Quietly tell the vegan which dishes are plant-based and which aren't
You can do this at the start of the meal when people are busy seating themselves. The point here is to try and not make too big a deal about it.
On the other hand, if you worked hard to veganize some dishes and are proud of how it turned out, then by all means do announce it to everyone. Otherwise, it's best to not bring too much attention to your vegan guests, who is just trying to relax and enjoy the dinner like everyone else.
10. Try what the vegan brings
If your vegan guest brought something, then make sure you try it and let them know what you think! No worries if it's not your cup of tea, but honestly, you might be surprised. Especially if it's vegan cheese or a dip, you might be pleasantly surprised!
There you go! 10 tips to help you welcome your vegan guest. The main thing, really, is to not stress too much about it and, especially, don't be scared of making mistakes! A genuine error born our of really trying will always be forgiven by your new vegan friend 😉
Now, we'd love to hear from you! Do you have any questions? Ideas? Do you agree? Let's have a discussion in the comments below. We'd love to hear from you!