Published 7:00 AM EST Nov 30, 2019
It won’t surprise food lovers to hear that healthier fare is having a moment. In fact, a report from food delivery service Grubhub showed that plant-based eating is a top trend in America; even fast food chains are jumping on the meat-free train, with Carl’s Jr. partnering with Beyond Meat and Burger King adding a Whopper version of the Impossible Burger to the fast-food giant’s menu (currently at select U.S. locations).
And there are plenty of good reasons to veer toward veggies. A plant-based diet (which emphasizes minimally processed foods made from plants, sometimes including small amounts of seafood, poultry and dairy, but usually little or no red meat) has loads of benefits: reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer, along with increased brain health. It’s also a solid choice for those who want to score points with Mother Nature, since cutting back on our meat consumption reduces our environmental footprint and helps combat climate change.
If you find yourself hosting a holiday gathering with some vegetarian or vegan guests and have never cooked a vegan dish in your life, don’t worry — plenty of other people have, like Whitney English Tabaie, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian, nutritionist and founder of WhitneyERD.com, as well as the pediatric nutrition platform Plant-Based Juniors. She’s made her vegan lentil loaf for the past three Thanksgivings. “Everyone, meat eaters included, loved it!” she says. But if that’s not quite what you’re looking for, the world is your (vegan) oyster, says Tabaie. “If you’re stumped on what to make, just Google ‘vegan’ before any classic holiday dish, and you’ll find tons of animal-friendly options.” And even if you have an absolutely incredible vegan dish as your main dish, she suggests having more than just that one veg-friendly item on your table.
Kathryne Taylor, author of the vegetarian cookbook Love Real Food and creator of the popular vegetarian cooking blog Cookie + Kate (cookieandkate.com), agrees. “To be honest, I’m content eating side dishes at holiday dinners,” she says. “Turkey is boring, and I don’t have any interest in a vegan meatloaf, since I didn’t like meatloaf to begin with.”
However, Taylor has plenty of crowd-pleasing suggestions. “You could make a hearty vegetable lasagna with vegetarians in mind, for example, and everyone could enjoy it. I also love layered platters with whole grains and beans, roasted vegetables and a fresh sauce or herbs,” like the roasted carrots with farro, chickpeas and herbed crème fraiche recipe on her website. “Technically, they’re composed of a couple of side dishes, but the combination looks purposeful and beautiful,” she says.
Once you’ve gone to the effort to offer a veg-friendly dish, Tabaie has one more recommendation. “Make sure to let your plant-based guests know which dishes contain animal products, so they don’t have to ask you about every dish before they take a bite. That can get annoying for everyone.”
If you find yourself feeling a little veg-curious this holiday season, go ahead and get creative in your kitchen. “Vegetarian cooking can be completely satisfying,” says Taylor. “They can also be more exciting (and colorful) than conventional diets. Eating a variety of whole foods is key, and you can get plenty of protein from beans, eggs, tofu and dairy.”
And even though it may seem exciting to go all in on plant-based eating once you realize just how good it can be, Tabaie urges people to take it slow. “Try easing in with a Meatless Monday or even a one-meal-a-day option where you go plant-based for a specific period of time,” she says. “Good health is not all or nothing.”
Recipe Ruiners & Simple Swaps
There’s little more frustrating than making a dish specifically to accommodate a guest, only to learn that you’ve used an ingredient they don’t eat. So, before you say, “Soup’s on!” make sure you know some of the common ingredients that make dishes nonveg-friendly — and get the scoop on some swaps you can make instead. Just be sure to read up on how to adjust measurements when swapping out one ingredient for another, as it’s not always a 1:1 ratio.
Use: “Lentils and walnuts combined in a food processor can be a great substitute for ground beef,” says Tabaie. “And mushrooms have a meaty texture, so they’re an awesome replacement for beef in many recipes.” You may also find that beans work well as a substitute, adds cookbook author Kathryne Taylor, who likes to use black or pinto beans in recipes with a Mexican flair, opting for chickpeas in Mediterranean recipes.
Use: Vegan “eggs” can be made using a tablespoon of ground flax seeds or chia seeds with 2-3 tablespoons of warm water, suggests Tabaie.
Use: It depends on what type of dairy you’re trying to replace, but there are countless vegan milks, plant-based yogurts and dairy-free cheese options on the market. Just make sure to pay attention to whether it’s flavored or not.
Avoid: Chicken stock
Use: “Substituting vegetable stock for chicken or beef is a great option in soups, stews and risottos,” says Taylor.
Use: Applesauce or mashed banana in baked goods, or a vegan butter substitute for spreading on rolls and such.
Use: Agave nectar or maple syrup.