There are about one thous-zillion blog posts offering vegan holiday menus. But what about vegan food for the days before the holiday?

Here’s the scenario: My husband and I travel yearly to New York for Christmas with my parents. Because it’s about a 12 hour drive, we stay for several days. During this time, we don’t do our own cooking. My father could be the chef at a four star restaurant, so I would no more think about taking over his kitchen than I would the controls of a turbo jet. My mother is a huge baker, and likes to prepare meals ahead of time. Every year, they ask what they should make for us, and I’ve suddenly realized that I’ve been less than helpful. In trying to not be “demanding,” eating whatever they come up with on their own, I’ve actually created more work for my parents. And because we end up eating not at all like we usually do, we end up lethargic and cranky—not a recipe for holiday fun.

If you’re a vegan or the relative of a one, this probably sounds familiar. Here’s my advice to change things for some gastronomic success this year.

How to Feed Your Vegans When They Come to Visit:

  1. Actually Serve Vegan Food.
    • There are all sorts of “hidden” animal products in packaged food that your vegan will turn up her nose at. Things like whey and gelatin are not vegan. PETA has a pretty extensive list that you can find here. You’ll soon find you have to check everything, even veggie burgers. This can get pretty overwhelming when you’re not used to it, so you might want to stick with making whole foods for meals and asking your vegan to bring her own snacks.
    • Find out what your vegan considers vegan. Strictly speaking, vegans don’t eat any animal products, but some vegans are stricter than others. I eat honey, but only organic sugar. (Sugar that’s not organic is processed with animal bones.) Your vegan might not care if something has “2% or less” of a non-vegan product in it. Others will never trust you again if you serve them “may contain ::insert animal product here::”
    • Another consideration is preparation. Making pizza and peeling off the cheese does not make it vegan. Making meatballs in sauce and straining out the meat does not make it vegan. Why not? Animal products were still bought and used, and oils and fats still remain, even if you try to take it out. I’m not going to flip out if you use the same spatula on my pancakes as on everyone else’s, but check with your own vegan to see what she thinks.
    • Whatever you do, don’t undermine your child’s veganism. I really hope that you do not need this last piece of advice, because it would never occur to you to be less than honest. But if your child is newly vegan, you might be harboring some secret desire for her to change her ways. Remember, it may take a lot of willpower for her to follow her new diet, and you need to practice some willpower too. Enough said.

2. Make a Square Meal.
Serving food that is actually vegan is enough of a bother to an overwhelmed cook who thinks of change as trouble rather than as a culinary adventure. But vegans need more than food that is just vegan. They need a square meal, and what they tend to get is… well, I don’t know what shape it is.

squaremealcollage

This is what happens when you take the meat away from your meal and serve it to a vegan.  So how can we make sure that vegans get a complete and nutritious meal?

  • Start anew. Instead of finding a non-vegan meal and taking things away to make it vegan, find a meal that is already vegan. Recipes created by vegans for vegans are more likely to be complete than recipes that are “accidentally” vegan.
  • Eat what your vegan eats (or at least think about it). If you really want to make sure you are serving a satisfying meal, eat only what your vegan eats (not what your vegan eats plus a pork chop). If you find yourself reluctant to “limit” yourself to her meal because there is not enough protein/calories/deliciousness, chances are it’s not a full meal. Vegans doing it right find a whole new culinary world open to them—just the opposite of limitations!
  • Serve protein. Beans are good, but you can also stop being afraid of soy. Perhaps you’ve tried tofu before and found it rubbery and gross. Not all tofu is created equal, so try higher quality brands like Wildwood and Twin Oaks. Tempeh might seem even more esoteric, but this fermented food is preferred, as it naturally lacks the anti-nutrients that make it necessary to consume only cooked tofu. Anti-nutrients?! Sounds terrible! Don’t worry, they can be found in many plant foods– just cook your tofu (or ferment it!) to release the health benefits. If you’ve been avoiding the soy because you’ve heard it’s bad for you and will give you man boobs, think again. The negative hype has been driven by the (un) “Wise Traditions” folk, who actually advocate in the direct face of findings (lard is healthy, anyone?)
  • Take away simple carbohydrates. For the most part, vegans get plenty of carbohydrates because they eat so many fruits and vegetables. Serving rice with a baked potato or garlic bread with pasta is overkill—pick one.

3. Think twice About Restaurants.
While many restaurants have meals that happen to be vegan, often those dishes don’t have much protein. An additional problem is that they might not have enough calories either. This happens when omnivores, not used to the extra fiber in a vegan meal, find the dish filling. Friends are amazed when the watch me eat, saying I can really “Pack it in,” but the truth is, I’m not eating any more calories than they are—just a larger volume of food. If you do want to go to a restaurant, ask your vegan for ideas—not just to agree to a certain restaurant.

4. Solicit Recipes.
It’s okay if you don’t want your vegan bumbling around your kitchen looking for the double boiler when you have a full stove top and two casseroles in the oven. It’s much easier to share recipes than it is to share a kitchen, especially over the stress-filled holidays. Here are some recipes that I recommend to keep your vegan well fed and happy:

scrambled tofu

  • Breakfast: Peter Berley’s Scrambled Tofu – If you’re using a higher quality tofu (you’ll know because you won’t need to press it), you’ll need to up the spice content quite a bit, as when you buy regular tofu, you’re actually purchasing quite a bit of water. I love to jazz up my scrambled tofu with veggies like carrots and spinach.
  • Lunch: Save the Tuna Salad – Serve this on Ezekial Sprouted Grain Bread, usually found in the frozen section of the natural foods aisle, with an apple and some greens, and you’re good to go.
  • Lunch: Taco Salad- Doesn’t everybody know how to make taco salad? Some delicious non-GMO tortilla chips, chopped greens and tomato, black beans simmered with onion and garlic, homemade guacamole, and whatever leftover grain you have in your fridge, maybe some marinated tempeh if you’ve got to use that up, too.
  • Lunch: Garlicky White Bean Stew– This is easy and delicious. The secret do-not-substitute ingredient is the smoked paprika! Oh, and use white butter beans, not lima beans. Eww. Unless you’re one of those lima bean lovers. You weirdo, you.
  • Dinner: Isa’s Chickpea Piccata– This recipe really only serves two, so double it for guests.
  • Dinner: Lentil & Kale Shepherd’s Pie with Roasted Garlic Potatoes– I loved this dish back when I could eat lentils. Ah, if only I had known, I would have gorged on this before Heron was born. That, and chocolate. You’ll have to make some vegan substitutions– use non dairy butter like earth balance and unsweetened almond milk, and make sure your Worcester sauce is sans anchovies.
  • Dinner: Vegetable Paella – I often make spicy kidney beans with tomatoes to serve alongside, but if you’re feeling lazy you can just dump some chickpeas right in the pot.
  • Dinner: Angelica’s Kitchen Marinated Tofu Sandwiches– I get cravings for these sandwiches, especially when I go overboard on the fresh rosemary.

If this all sounds like too much, remember that you don’t have to do any of it. Your grown daughter knows how to cook. And if she doesn’t eat well for a week or so, she won’t perish. At the very least, though, perhaps these suggestions will ease any worry about your vegan’s diet. The way I eat at home exists in a whole different paradigm than how I eat when I’m traveling. So don’t worry if you’re not serving your vegan a square meal. That doesn’t mean she’s not serving herself one.