Changing what’s on the holiday plate

In the last week I have had a few people approach me to let me know they are having their first plant-based Thanksgiving. You have no idea how over-the-moon excited I got when I heard each say that. OVER. THE. MOON.

Now, that said, while it’s super exciting to hear that people are choosing to make this change, I also know how overwhelming the holiday season can be. If we like it or not, the holidays are rooted in strong traditions that revolve around food that contain animal products. While I do not want to go into it here, research has proven that “breaking traditions” or “going against the societal norm” is difficult and stress-inducing, and that’s just on normal days – nothing like the holidays. Because of this, the holidays can easily push people back to the familiarity of eating animal products simply because that individual doesn’t know how to work around breaking the food traditions during the holiday season.

What I hope to share here, beyond my personal holiday menu, is to offer up some thoughts and ideas to help you on your way to creating a beautiful, kind holiday meal set to impress any and all your guests. If you are the guest and are asked to bring a side dish – go for it. Show them how delicious and decadent kind eating can be.

The disclaimer: before we get too far into this, these foods are NOT whole food, plant-based. While that’s how I choose to prepare a good number of my regular meals, I toss it out the window at the holidays. It’s a processed foods kinda day. It’s the holidays – don’t judge *laughs*

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With that said, I want to call out that not all holiday traditions are bad and by keeping those not rooted in animal cruelty you will help keep the overall “feel” of your holiday even though you are making some big changes to the menu.

You will see on my menu there are letters after some of the foods. This is one of our family traditions carried down from my childhood. Each year every guest gets to choose a food they want at the holiday meal. There are the standard items no one has to ask for, like mashed potatoes, dressing, and corn – but all the extras after those are personal requests. As you can see here, my grandson asked for baked beans. My son and oldest daughter asked for apple pie while my youngest daughter asked for deviled potatoes… and so on and so forth.

What I hope anyone looking at this list can see – the food will be in abundance. We sacrifice nothing, literally and figuratively, when it comes to the holiday meals. I’m sure we will be eating for DAYS after the actual holiday has ended … and it will be delicious each and every time the leftover containers are pulled out.

At the top of the list are the three main dishes I will be serving in lieu of a turkey: a “meat” pie, portabello stuffed pies, and steak bites.

NOTE: The steak bites are linked to Amazon Smile … but I normally buy them at the grocery store. I just included the link to show you what they looked like.

Going through my menu, I think there are some key callouts to making your holiday meal work

  • Butter
    • I think the biggest replacement needed for these types of feasts is butter. Personally I like Earth Balance vegan butter but there are a lot of different options out there now. I have used several different brands and quite frankly, any and all would work.
  • Milk
    • Non-dairy milks are great substitutes but I won’t even pretend that there is no difference from their cow-based counterpart. There is. I’ll be open in saying that for me and my family, we prefer using oat milk in anything savory. Unsweetened coconut milk is a close second. In fact, I would lean towards unsweetened coconut milk for mashed potatoes and the unsweetened oat milk for everything else.
    • A major bonus for sweets is using soy milk. Depending on what you are making, vanilla soy milk can be a great replacement to add a new level of sweet to something like puddings or cakes/icing.
  • Sour Cream and Cream Cheese
    • I personally have not found any whole food recipe to make these two things the same or better than store bought. I buy these products when needed. My favorite sour cream is Tofutti (link to Amazon Smile but I do just buy it at Kroger). There isn’t anything wrong with the other brands – I just find Tofutti Sour Cream to have the thickness that I’m looking for with sour cream.
    • For cream cheese, I have not been too picky in the brands I find. In truth, I think I end up buying the Kroger Brand plant-based cream cheese. I’ve never tried to make a ‘cheese ball’ with it BUT I have make pinwheel appetizers using it and it always turns out well.
  • Cranberry Sauce
    • The cranberry sauce I have used since the dawn of time is also accidentally vegan (I checked the website a few years ago and may have gotten a little over zealous in my excitement). Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce is historically vegan. I have never made a from-scratch cranberry sauce so I’m not sure how it would be veganized … or even if it would need to be in the first place. I was raised on jellied Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and I will just stick to that.
  • Devilled Potatoes
    • If you have never tried devilled potatoes, I think you need to make some tonight. They are a great table placeholder for devilled eggs, which are obviously not vegan.
    • I got this recipe from Midnight Munchies and More and while I do tend to tweak things, I remember the original was super tasty. I will link you to the recipe here BUT I will say if you are offended by cursing, do not watch the video.
  • Egg Replacement
    • Eggs are prevalent in many foods, especially when baking. The good news is there are so many natural and store bought egg replacers out there that do just as good a job as “the real deal.” I did a TikTok video sharing some of my favorite egg replacers (its pinned at the top of our video list).
    • Looking at the menu, I will most likely use flax seed to replace egg in the dressing and I will be using unsweetened applesauce for all the baked goods excluding the pumpkin pie. I don’t know what I’ll use for that because in all transparency, I have yet to find a good vegan pumpkin pie recipe that is the same or better than my non-vegan version.
    • If you happen to know of a vegan pumpkin pie recipe that is out-of-this-world delicious, please email me a link … seriously.
  • The Cheesy Rice
    • It will be very cheesy and very vegan. But how? Its only 3 ingredients: rice, butter, and parmesan cheese. The first two are covered but the parm? Follow Your Heart has a GREAT parmesan cheese replacement and I will use it in copious amounts with no shame. None whatsoever.
    • Another brand of vegan parmesan I have used is Go Veggie. While I can get Follow Your Heart at Kroger, I had to order Go Veggie off Amazon Smile. I think it would work just as good as the other.
  • The dreaded casseroles
    • Oddly, this year, I do not have corn casserole or green bean casserole on the menu (although I add them now since I have basically given myself a craving for them). But just because its not on my menu doesn’t mean it can’t be on yours.
    • The challenge with these types of casseroles is making the cream of mushroom soup. I have yet to find a vegan version on the grocery shelf, but thankfully it can be made at home (with lots of elbow grease… because there is a LOT of stirring). The first recipe I ever made was from Midnight Munchies and More (can you tell I love that website). She did a recipe for green bean casserole and that opened my eyes to the fact that I can just make my own cream of mushroom soup using oat milk.
    • Of course, some of these casseroles use sour cream, which I’ve already addressed.
  • Pie Crust
    • I can make a mean pie crust …. but the recipe I was taught as a child has crisco in it. lard. That obviously doesn’t bode well these days BUT that does not mean that you cannot have rich, creamy, sweet desserts at your holiday table.
    • Honestly, it was about a decade ago that I began to question my sanity because every year I would fight my family recipe, making a huge mess all over the counters, just to find out that most folks only really care about what’s inside the pie. The crust just gets the pie stuff to your plate. That’s when I started using pre-made pie crusts from the store. There is no shame in not making a homemade crust from scratch (that was a personal mantra the first few years I went to store bought crusts).
    • The mass majority of pre-made crusts do have lard in them BUT there are some brands that do not. Those are the ones I stick with. Keep in mind that lard will not be listed in the allergen space so you really do need to read the ingredients list.
    • If you do choose to make your pie crust from scratch, like everything else – there are vegan recipes on the internet and they are pretty much just as simple as the homemade crusts that have lard. I just choose to spoil myself with the convenience of a store bought crust.
  • Marshmallows
    • There isn’t anything on my menu that requires marshmallows, yet – but its important to call out that marshmallows are not plant-based. Not the regular ones, at least. Of course, in the spirit of all things plant-based, there are vegan marshmallow brands. The only brand I have ever used is Dandies, and while I usually buy them at the store I have also purchased them off Amazon Smile. The Dandies marshmallows have responded like regular marshmallows in everything I’ve used them on, which includes rice krispy treats and s’mores made at one of our fire nights.

So let’s talk about the main dish. I listed our three wonderful possibilities (because those are the three I chose this year) but there are other things like Shepherd’s Pie, Pot Pie, and Wellington that all have amazing vegan recipes all over the internet. You could dabble in the world of seitan, making cutlets or some sort of holiday stuffed roast. I have even read that some people have made lasagna as their main dish. You could go with a big pot of vegan stew or whatever else you want to showcase.

On top of all these wonderful homemade options, there are several premade options you can find in the grocery store. Now, I will say this: before you buy one and drop it in the middle of your guests, you will want to try them for yourself ahead of the holiday. I did this a couple years ago and quite frankly, I was not a fan of either of the products. I don’t want to call them out here, by name, simply because there were several people online raving over them. So I think it was just a matter of taste buds. I would rather you try them for yourself than to take my word on it and potentially miss out on something you would otherwise enjoy.

With all this said, I am excited to see the pictures come Thanksgiving from my friends who said they were going to be plant based this year. I love seeing what other people create and being inspired by their creativity in the kitchen. If you have questions, please do comment! If you end up with a plant based Thanksgiving, I would love to see what you put on the table.

Much love and Many Blessings from Willowbrook.

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