Vegan Survival Guide for the Holidays

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by Alena Schowalter
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This Vegan Survival Guide for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas offers our top tips from food to gifts and conversation.

Family gatherings and dinner parties can feel like walking on eggshells for many of us — even more so if you’re the odd one out.

Especially the holiday season can be a tricky time when you’re following a specific diet or lifestyle. You are the one not indulging in the same traditional meal like everyone else or you subconsciously make others feel guilty for their lifestyle choices just by being different.

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Especially for new vegans, family dinners and holiday celebrations are very intimidating.

It’s one thing to put only plant-based foods on your table when you’re at home and in charge of your food — but asking a dinner host to offer vegan food for you is what can trip you up. 

Here are our top vegan holiday survival tips for new or seasoned vegan, speaking from 10+ years of our own experience.

table with vegan meatloaf, roasted brussel sprouts, plant-based mashed potatoes and vegan brown gravy

Vegan Survival Tip 1: Mindset & Preparation

We always have to start with ourselves. Our intentions and preparation are the foundation for creating a happy holiday experience for everyone!

Consciously Choose Invitations

Many of us have a hard time saying “no”. But when special situations arise, when you feel overwhelmed or like something is just not right for you, this is the exact answer you have to give.

If you don’t want to travel across the country for a stressful dinner, if you have two or more invitations for the same day or you don’t have the nerve to be confronted with that exhausting relative again, you can skip the event.

Consciously under-schedule and leave some space in your schedule for downtime.

It’s also wise to take into consideration where you’ll have the easiest time to enjoy vegan food and which hosts or party guests will be very close-minded or give you a hard time.

Speaking of the dinner host, if they don’t know about your current dietary preferences, be sure to tell them in advance so you can figure out together what food will be served (more on that later).

Education & Conversations

Since there will probably be some conversation around veganism, it’s a good idea to have some basic answers in your mind. 

What’s your personal reason for choosing this lifestyle? How do you get your protein and is there life after cheese?

Discussions around diet can quickly get heated, so it’s important to keep your answers short and sweet while standing your ground (easier said than done, right?).

Now is the time to get out a good vegan book or watch an inspiring plant-based documentary again to reinforce your lifestyle choice. Our article on the top reasons to be vegan is a great place to start, too!

Hosting A Vegan Dinner

If you’re in charge of the get-together this year, congratulations! No matter if it’s just your immediate family because you’re keeping things more intimate and simple, or if everyone is coming over to your house, this is your chance to make plant-based dishes shine.

From store-bought and ready-made vegan roasts (common brands include Gardein, Field Roast and Tofurky) to delicious homemade centerpieces that look beautiful like a lentil-stuffed Wellington.

No need to even mention that everything on the dinner table is fully vegan but try to create a well-rounded menu that just happens to not need any animal products to be tasty and satisfying.

So, this is the time to move to the vegan holiday food part!

wooden board with colorful fruits and vegetables, hummus and vegan cheese

Vegan Survival Tip 2: All About Food

Even though veganism is an ethical lifestyle, the biggest impact this choice has on our daily lives comes down to the food on our table.

Dead animals are, unfortunately, oftentimes the centerpiece of any holiday feast. One way to make this experience easier for you as a guest is to ask for the meaty main dish to remain in the kitchen where everyone can go get their serving — while the dinner table itself offers the plant-based side dishes.

Equip the Host

Many people don’t really know what vegans can or cannot eat (no Grandma, not even fish!) — so the first step to ensure you can indulge in some plant-based goodness during Christmas is to educate the host on what should not be in your food.

Non-Vegan Ingredients

  • Any kind of meat like beef, pork, poultry, turkey, lamb, game meat etc.
  • Fish, shellfish, eggs, and food made with any of these like mayonnaise
  • Dairy milk and all food made with them (check labels for milk powder, casein, caseinate, rennet, whey and lactose)
  • Cheese, cream cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, yogurt, ice cream, butter, ghee
  • Honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, gelatine (mostly in desserts)

This may seem like quite a handful, but many staple foods are actually fully plant-based, such as veggies, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Many classic side dishes that are served on Thanksgiving or Christmas are either already vegan or can easily be made vegan to be more inclusive!

Swap the butter for margarine or oil, use plant-based milk instead of dairy milk and make sure to cook with vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Find a list of more genius vegan food swaps here

For a full list of vegan foods or grocery items as well as a printable overview of non-vegan ingredients on food labels, grab our freebie below.

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Vegan-Friendly Sides

If any of these are likely to be served by someone else, you can talk to them ahead of time and ask if they can make an easy food swap so the dish is vegan-friendly and can be enjoyed by everyone at the table.

Delicious Vegan Christmas Dinner Recipes

Apart from the traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas side dishes we just listed, there are some specific recipes we’d love to share with you!

You can either bring some of them to a social gathering (let the host know about your plan!) or share them with the person in charge of cooking — they might want to prepare some of these delicious holiday recipes for everyone to enjoy.

Offer to help them prepare the food to make things less stressful or let them choose a vegan side or main meal you can bring!

Find our hand-selected lists of the best vegan Christmas dinner recipes, Christmas breakfast choices as well as the best plant-based Thanksgiving ideas below.

Once vegan food is on the table, people often get curious about what “vegan” tastes like and want to try some of it! Luckily, one of the best ways to convince others of this lifestyle is to share some delicious food.

Find more ideas in our collections for New Year’s Eve recipes, vegan appetizers and vegan party foods!

Eat Before You Go

If you cannot be sure that there will be vegan food for you to eat at the dinner table, just eat a small meal before you go.

While it’d be much nicer to enjoy delicious plant-based dishes together with your loved ones, not everyone is fortunate enough to be surrounded by open-minded people.

This tip is especially helpful for new vegans who don’t want to tell everyone and their sister that they are now vegan or ask for “special food” to be prepared for them. 

If you’re prone to temptation and might steer off your dietary path during such festivities, you should also load up on some plant-strong food beforehand.

There’s also the possibility of skipping the food part at the dinner altogether and arriving a bit later to share a bag of vegan cookies in the living room while singing carols or unwrapping gifts.

Vegan Survival Tip 3: Ethical Gifts

You’ve probably received a couple of warm Christmas sweaters or woolen socks from your family during the holiday season — but now that you’ve said goodbye to wool, dairy chocolate truffles and leather belts, what should you do?

Non-Vegan Gifts

  • Clothes, textiles or jewelry made out of fur, leather, wool, feathers, down, pearls or silk
  • Beauty items and body products that have been tested on animals or contain ingredients such as beeswax, carmine or lanolin
  • Homeware made with bone china and candles made with beeswax
  • Food containing meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin, whey, ghee or lard
  • Beverages that have been filtered through egg whites or fish bladder

This might seem a bit overwhelming at first and please don’t think you have to be perfect from the start or are never allowed to make any mistakes! 

It can be a good idea to share this list with anyone who wants to give you a gift this year so they know what to avoid. Or just go ahead and share with your friends and family a couple of items that would be perfect to give to a vegan!

Best Vegan Christmas Gifts

Our extensive vegan gift guide is brimful with cute, accessible and conscious ideas for your loved ones ranging from fashion to wellness and beauty, books, kitchenware, workout gear, games and all things vegan food of course!

We personally love to keep things minimal when it comes to gift-giving and choose only a few items that we know the giftee will love.

You can also donate to a vegan organization or animal sanctuary in their name, gift your time or make some easy DIY edible gifts!

Vegan Survival Tip 4: Social Aspects & Travels

If you’re stressed out more about the social aspect as a vegan than the food itself, here are our top tips especially for you!

Conversations About Veganism

As soon as everyone sits down at the table and you’re not eating from the meaty mains or get served “special food”, questions will start to arise. That’s okay, veganism isn’t the norm in our society and people are curious.

The best way to handle these situations is to be confident in your decision and reason for being vegan — combined with a relaxed attitude, this can go a long way in others bugging you a lot less.

Having a few good answers ready (remember tip 1, preparation?) that represent how you feel yet don’t go much into detail is a good strategy! Make sure you don’t talk about the horrors of factory farming while others are eating animal products, though.

It can be a fine line to walk, staying true to your opinion yet not being a downer or causing others to shut down and become defensive.

Even though you can see “behind the scenes” and recognize the lives that were sacrificed for all these eggs, dairy products and meat — most others cannot.

Being a shiny example of a happy and healthy vegan is what sways non-vegans the most. Have them try your delicious plant-based food, hand out actual recipes if you’re asked for it or list all of the delicious meals you can have as a vegan!

Let others know that this is not just a phase and understand that they can feel threatened by you going vegan which makes them question their own choices.

Here’s a list of the most common arguments against veganism and how you can reply to them!

Best Vegan Comebacks
Two women hugging each other, one of them with Christmas gift in her hand

Connecting Beyond Food

This time of year is about taking some days off to spend with those who mean the most to you, right? Yup, it’s not really about the butter toffee popcorn.

Although a delicious feast is oftentimes the main event, let’s not forget that it is more important to appreciate one another, stay connected and create lovely memories together.

Remember that you weren’t born vegan and perhaps even mocked the idea of veganism at some point. Your family might be afraid that you as a whole person could change or you could see them in a bad light.

Appreciate any effort your family makes, like not putting cheese on the salad, more veggies being served or even the coco whip right next to the dairy-based whipped cream. You can say an extra special thank you, compliment the chef and take a second helping of the vegan food!

This not only creates a loving atmosphere but also ensures that others try to offer vegan food again the next time.

Vegan Travel Tips

While this is not relevant to everyone or every year, we still wanted to share some tips around holiday travels.

We have found that most airlines nowadays offer vegan meals which you can book in advance — but still, we’d suggest you take some portable vegan snacks like oat bars, fresh fruit, overnight oats, tortilla chips or noodle cups with you.

At the airport or any city you’re staying in, there are probably common restaurant chains that offer vegan options. Find our full guide here!

There are also all-vegan hotels or at least vegan-friendly hotels and restaurants you can book. We personally love to stay at Airbnbs that have a kitchen so we can take care of our own food.

We hope that our vegan holiday tips and survival guide have been helpful to you! What are your struggles, wins or experiences? Share with us in the comments below and don’t forget to mention your favorite vegan holiday meal!

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Hi, I'm Alena Schowalter — a Certified Vegan Nutritionist who has been a vegetarian since childhood and vegan since 2012. Together with my husband, I founded nutriciously in 2015 and have been guiding thousands of people through different transition stages toward a healthy plant-based diet. I enjoy discussions around vegan ethics, walks through nature, and creating new recipes. Read more about us here.


  1. Thanks for this blog post.
    I am not vegan but hear how and why people are vegan and good it feels.
    Changing a diet to vegan or paleo or whatever diet I find is hard to get to, changing habits on diet is the biggest issue I am finding and reverting to poor habits. Like your article suggests I find if I am prepared I can eat and stick to my diet. The times when I stop planning and thinking forward is when I lose. Writing down when I will prepare meals is the only way, otherwise I just do not do it. The saying of ‘failing to plan then plan to fail’ resonates her for me.

    • Hi Kris,
      I am glad you liked the post. We have quite a few articles on how people’s lives improved by adopting a whole food vegan diet and it’s actually about more than just body weight or preventing diseases in the end :)
      We sure are all creatures of habit and just like your current diet is the result of many years or decades of eating a certain style, you need to get used to a new diet step by step. We love to refer to the term ‘crowding food out, not cutting it out’ since it can be a delicate matter for our brains to suddenly restrict many types of food you were used to, which can then result in uncontrollable binging.
      Another great tip is to just buy the healthy stuff and have it lying around, cook your food in bulk for the next several days. It’s an easy thing to do when it comes to rice, beans, potatoes, lentils etc.
      Maybe this additional info helps you a little!
      Let me know if you’d like to get some further guidance and just send me an email.
      All the best,

  2. For me, being vegan is a non-issue that I don’t feel the need to explain to anyone. I live in a family of big meat eaters and when we have family gatherings, I make sure to bring things I can eat and share with others. They don’t want to be left out any more than I do so I try to make it as easy as possible. So I may not eat as much as I would have had I been a meat eater, but YAY for me! No unwanted pounds packed on during the holiday! As far as discussions go, I simply do not talk about it. People feel the need to challenge things they don’t understand and frankly, holiday gatherings are not the place. I simply tell them we can discuss it further once the party is over if they still want to know. I make no excuses or light remarks. It’s deep for me, being a vegan. Some people will never understand and continue to confront. I shut it down right away, politely of course!
    My children worried about me at Thanksgiving. I was the only one who didn’t feel like throwing up from eating so much. I even allowed myself some vegan apple crisp for dessert. That’s a BIG deal for me as I usually forgo desserts.
    All in all, it’s a personal decision and hopefully people will learn to stand up and not be harassed by the decisions they make. Individuality is what makes the such an interesting world!
    Merry Christmas!

    • Wow, thanks so much for sharing this, Cristy! I agree with everything you wrote and have lots of respect for you – my family lets me and my husband cook for everyone most of the time when we’re over and my mother in law makes so much effort to prepare delicious plant-based meals for us.
      I cannot even imagine what it must be like for you and how you’re handling this really shows your awesome character and heart :)
      Wishing you and your loved ones happy holidays xx


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