As someone who’s been vegetarian for almost two decades, I’m no stranger to the look of panic in hosts’ eyes when they hear about a dietary restriction. It’s easy to feel like holiday foods are off limits when you’re avoiding animal products; comfort foods can often be full of cream, dairy, and lard, all things that vegans have to stay far away from. But the truth is, whether it’s substituting a few ingredients in a family favorite or discovering something new and delicious, there’s a whole world full of festive and nourishing foods that are amenable to a vegan diet. For years now my long-suffering mom and I (but mostly my mom) have worked together to find fun, tasty vegan alternatives to slip into the traditional holiday fray, and the truth is there have never been more options! If you’re looking for easy ways to have a vegan (or vegan-friendly) Thanksgiving, check out a few of these products and recipes!
Vegan Recipe Substitutions
A simple substitution is all it takes to make many dishes vegan friendly. For many recipes that require butter, you can replace it with olive oil or Earth Balance’s vegan buttery spread. This can vegan-ize many of your favorite sides from mashed potatoes to brussels sprouts with no extra work included.
If your favorite Thanksgiving food requires cheese, many brands offer tasty vegan alternatives in almost any form you could need. Vegan brands Daiya and Follow Your Heart are available in most grocery stores. Both offer plant-based shredded and sliced cheese and even parmesan-style flakes that can enhance any queso, dip or baked good. When you’re shopping, be mindful of cheeses that are labelled lactose-free or casein-free but aren’t labelled vegan; these cheeses are usually made with real milk but are processed to make them safe for people with lactose allergies.
Gravy is a Thanksgiving necessity, and luckily there are plenty of ways to make it vegan-friendly! A popular vegan substitute has always been the tried and true mushroom gravy. If you’re not the biggest fan of the taste of mushrooms, though, you still have meatless gravy options! For a ready-made alternative, Road’s End Organics and Tofurky both offer rich, savory gravy with no animal by-products. If you prefer to make your own gravy, Imagine No-Chicken broth can make the perfect base. Simply mix some corn starch with cold water and slowly mix it into a boiling pot of the broth until it reaches your preferred thickness and you’ve got gravy that’s just as tasty as the original.
You can make vegan stuffing from almost any stuffing mix (as long as it doesn’t already have meat or dairy in it) by mixing it with vegetable stock and vegan butter. If you want it to be even closer to the original, you can use Imagine’s No-Chicken Broth in place of vegetable stock.
If you’re looking to go the homemade route for a vegan take on traditional stuffing, try this vegan country bread stuffing recipe from Delish or this vegetable walnut stuffing recipe from I Love Vegan. Cauliflower is also a popular low-carb substitution in vegan stuffings; this vegan cauliflower stuffing recipe from The Hidden Veggies isn’t just vegan but gluten free, paleo, and keto-friendly as well!
As a vegetarian I held off for years on trying Tofurky and now I am filled with regret because every product they make is tasty, perfectly seasoned, and filling. Tofurky’s range of products can provide a protein to fit any Thanksgiving menu you have. Tofurky’s most popular Thanksgiving offerings are roasts filled with either wild rice or vegan gravy and each make a perfect vegan Thanksgiving centerpiece. If you ‘d prefer a ham-style protein, they’ve got you covered as well with an ale glazed ham roast.
If you’re looking for a more neutral protein base to season yourself, seitan, Gardein strips or Quorn fillets are all chicken-adjacent in flavor and texture and can be prepared to fit perfectly into your Thanksgiving plans. Likewise, Nature’s Prime offers soy proteins that can be flavored for any dish and come in a variety of sizes to fit your purposes.
If you’re looking for a more extensive entree, My Quiet Kitchen has a recipe for a seitan loaf you can make using tofu, some seasonings, and a food processor.
Vegan Thanksgiving Sides
If the holidays always get you in the mood for a pot pie, you don’t have to abstain just because you’re vegan. Raised Gluten Free and Alpha Pot Pie both make tasty, flaky plant-based pot pies that will look good in any Thanksgiving spread.
If you’ve mourned the loss of biscuits after cutting out dairy, Minimalist Baker’s recipe for vegan biscuits will be a lifesaver. This recipe remains permanently at the top of my metaphorical recipe box. It always produces tasty, flaky biscuits that can keep for weeks in the freezer. Just remember not to let your vegan butter reach room temperature while you’re preparing them!
Mac and cheese was always one of my favorite sides growing up; luckily, going vegan didn’t mean having to say goodbye. Annie’s, Amy’s, Daiya, Sweet Earth and Field Roast each have their variations on vegan mac and cheese, meaning you’ll never have to miss out on this iconic side.
If you can never get enough potato in your life, I Love Vegan’s recipe for duchess potatoes, made with creamy non-dairy milk and chives, will make the perfect upgrade to your Thanksgiving table.
Soups can make a warm and light addition to a meal but many can contain chicken or beef stock; Imagine’s Creamy Tomato Basil and Creamy Butternut Squash Soups are both warm, delicious, decadent and completely vegan.
A proper Thanksgiving is never complete without the sweet stuff, and there’s an abundance of vegan treats to round off your meal. Thanks to makers like So Delicious, Oatly, and Ben & Jerry’s extensive non-dairy collection, you can get all your favorite ice cream flavors in vegan form.
For an easy ready-made dessert, Daiya’s vegan cheesecakes are always a crowd favorite. Trader Joe’s cinnamon rolls are also 100% vegan!
Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without pumpkin pie, and luckily you won’t have to miss out with this beautiful vegan version from Delish. Many store-bought pie crusts aren’t vegan because of their lard content, but Trader Joe’s frozen crusts are totally vegan-friendly and can save you the labor of making a crust from scratch. You won’t even have to skimp on the topping, thanks to Reddi Wip’s almond milk-based whipped cream.
Eating plant-based doesn’t have to be a hassle, and it certainly doesn’t need to add any extra stress to your holidays. Keeping a few of these substitutions and recipes in your back pocket is an easy way to make sure everyone’s taken care of at Thanksgiving; you might even end up starting a new family tradition! Whether you fall in love with seitan as a protein or realize dairy-free dessert is the way to go, there’s a vegan Thanksgiving food out there for everyone.