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Spread Holiday Cheer With These Festive Vegan & Vegetarian Holiday Meal Ideas

Give wellness gifts this holiday season by sprucing up your menu with meatless options. Learn about mock meats, plant-based swaps, and recipe ideas.

Spread Holiday Cheer With These Festive Vegan & Vegetarian Holiday Meal Ideas

The holidays are one of the cheeriest (and busiest) times of the year. Let's help you take one thing off your plate, with no-hassle vegetarian and vegan meals that even meat-lovers will drool over.

More people are going vegan or vegetarian than ever before. Even carnivores are enjoying more plant-based foods. A 2020 Gallup poll found one in four Americans is cutting back on the amount of meat they're eating. 

Here are just a few reasons to include meatless options in your holiday meal planning:

  • According to Harvard Health Publishing, compared with meat-eaters, vegetarians tend to consume less cholesterol and fat and more vitamins E and C, magnesium, dietary fiber, potassium, folic acid, and phytochemicals. That's an excellent way to promote some holiday health wellness in your household.
  • Research presented at the 2020 European Congress on Obesity found it costs around $2 less per day to be vegetarian. More veggie items can help you save at the dinner table.
  • Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are downright delicious! The flavor options and colorful food combinations you can create are endless.

If you're the type of holiday host who plans on having big gatherings for diverse groups, adding some meatless options to your menu is like giving wellness gifts to your guests. Spread some cheer with these plant-based holiday meal planning ideas.

1. Veggie "meat" course

Let's start with the star of most people's meals: the "meat." Whether you serve ham, turkey, roast chicken, or even a decadent surf and turf for your holiday get-togethers, there's a plant-based swap for that.

Head to your grocery store's meat section and the freezer aisle to find vegan options for your guests' favorite meats. You can find just about anything in plant-based form, including:

  • Beefless tips
  • Vegan smoked ham
  • Chick'n tenders
  • Turk'y patties
  • Vegan fish filets
  • Veggie loafs and roasts
  • Meatless sausages, meatballs, and burgers

2. "Cream"-y sides

Creamy sides exude a sense of holiday coziness. They have a warm, filling quality that keeps you coming back for more.

We're talking:

  • Creamed spinach
  • Mashed and scalloped potatoes
  • Green bean casserole
  • Mac n' cheese
  • Creamed corn

Go ahead, grab seconds! When you swap plant-based milks and butter alternatives for the regular dairy-filled ingredients, you can save calories while you enjoy that comforting dish.

For milk swaps, we recommend unsweetened soy milk for savory dishes. It doesn't taste as distinct as almond or oat milk, so it blends in easily with other ingredients.

For "butter," some spreads are made with olive oil, some with avocado oil, and others with other types of mild flavorings. If you have a preference, go for it, but you typically can't tell a huge difference.

For dishes that call for cheese, head to your grocery dairy section for shredded cheeze, which also saves you time shredding your own.

Keep in mind that vegan cheeses tend to take longer to melt. Factor a few extra minutes into your cook time when you're using a cheese alternative.

For recipes where you're just swapping milk and butter, proceed as usual.

3. Throw-all-your-veggies-in-a-pot soup

In cold winter months, a piping hot bowl of soup instantly soothes. As an appetizer, side dish, or main course, vegetable soup keeps guests warm when it's cold outside.

Another holiday treat? Soup's incredibly easy to make. You can use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Soup's also a great way to use leftover pantry grains.

Follow these easy steps to scrumptious soup.

  • Dice up your veggies. Anything will do! Cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, onions, celery, leeks — whatever's in your crisper begging to be used. Go for a medium dice, about an inch across. For hard vegetables like squash or potato, you can dice smaller. Add leafy greens, like spinach, toward the end. You can also use frozen veggies like corn or peas.
  • Sauté chopped veggies in butter or olive oil for 8-10 minutes
  • Add any spices you like: garlic, salt, and pepper for the basics. For a kick, add oregano, cumin, paprika, or chili powder.
  • Once veggies are soft and smell ahhhh-mazing, add 4 cups of vegetable stock, plus any frozen veggies you're using. For "cream"-y soups, add soy or coconut milk. 
  • Now, add grains like rice, farro, or barley
  • Simmer the soup for an hour. Taste to make sure the veggies are soft.
  • Mix in any leafy greens
  • If you want a thicker soup, whip your creation with an immersion blender. 

There you have it! Your very own unique soup creation that cuts down on food waste in your kitchen.

4. Sweeten up with plants

Don't forget dessert! Some of the most common swaps for holiday desserts include:

  • Plant-based milk instead of regular. You can go for sweetened almond milk for an extra kick.
  • Plant-based butter alternatives
  • Coconut cream (whip it up) or aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas, whipped) instead of whipped cream
  • Flax egg instead of a real egg. Mix 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed meal with 3 Tbsp water, then thicken up with 15 minutes in the fridge.
  • Dark chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate chips
  • Coconut cream instead of heavy cream

Most other baking ingredients are vegan, but there are ways to use plants to add more nutrition to your desserts. 

Try swapping white flour for almond flour. Make your own at home by pulsing raw, slivered almonds in a food processor to ground them evenly. Or substitute half of the amount of granulated sugar you need with pureed naturally sweet fruits, like bananas or dates.

Keep in mind, because baking is such a precise art, you may want to stick to vegan- or vegetarian-specific dessert recipes to avoid any unexpected results.

Make plant-based dishes a new holiday tradition

Cooking plant-based foods can be a great family bonding experience. Kids can learn about all the nutritious goodness in the ingredients they're using. Your creations might become new favorites for years to come! Whatever's on your menu this holiday season, we hope you have a blast in the kitchen and make some new memories.