How to cope when a vegan comes for Christmas dinner

There are a few reasons why you might end up having to accommodate someone on a vegan diet this Christmas: you’ve invited someone new to your dinner, or maybe a regular guest has changed their diet since last year. Perhaps someone has just been diagnosed as being lactose-intolerant. Whatever the reason, you now have to make food that this goddamn person will eat, and you’re not sure what to do. This brief guide will see you right.

Don’t panic!

Number one: don’t panic! You won’t need to make two versions of every single thing, or spend hours in the kitchen concocting weird ersatz foods out of of bizarre ingredients. Promise.

Contact your vegan guest

Not a necessary step, but a really good idea. Vegans are used to not being catered for: as such, they are very good are making their own plans. This might involve eating before arriving, or bringing a dish or two of their own. Either way, discussing your plans with them will save you both from any misunderstandings, and maybe even save you some effort if they’re planning to bring something.

The components of a typical Christmas dinner

Now, you don’t need me to explain what a Christmas dinner consists of, and besides, every family is different. However, it’s worthwhile breaking it down into its components and dealing with them one by one. For me, Christmas dinner involves

  • Centrepiece
  • Veg
  • Dessert
  • Drinks

Centrepiece

On one hand, this is the easiest food component to deal with. On the other, it will likely involve you cooking something extra. How do you replace turkey in a Christmas meal? All major supermarkets now have vegan centrepieces for Christmas and most have a number of options, from nut roast to Tofurkey to veggie Wellington. See what’s available in your regular supermarket, and just pick something. If you want to go the extra mile, this is where talking with your guest would come in useful — you could mention a few of the options available and then ask them what they would prefer. Whether you contact them or not, there’s no need for anything fancy or even Christmassy — just regular veggie sausages would be fine.

Veg

My Christmas dinner spread is relatively sparse: roast potatoes, sometimes mash, parsnips, carrots. I cook fewer things to make things less stressful, but you do you. This is where you can save the most effort: you don’t have to double up and make “vegan potatoes”, “vegan carrots” and so on; all veg can be cooked just fine without animal products, and most veg recipes are already vegan. Here are some ideas:

  • Roast potatoes: simply use oil instead of animal fat. If you still want to use something luxurious, you could use coconut oil, though I don’t think it makes much difference.
  • Mash: replace the milk with any non-dairy milk (oat milk and unsweetened soya milk have the most neutral flavours) and replace the butter with a non-dairy butter, margerine or oil.
  • Potato croquettes: these are generally vegan when shop-bought.
  • Roast carrots and parsnips: again, roast in oil. If you want a honey substitute, you could use agave nectar. Dark agave nectar is better than light, but both are fine.
  • Brussels sprouts can be roasted in oil no problem.
  • Boiled veg: there’s nothing wrong with some carefully boiled or steamed veg, tossed in some vegan fat and well-seasoned.

Some non-veg easy wins include Paxo stuffing and Bisto onion gravy.

Other side dishes are doable, but there’s no need to make extra vegan dishes for the main meal. Remember, not every dish needs to be vegan. If there’s one vegan potato dish and one other dish, that’s great.

Dessert

Again, just head to your local supermarket and pick up anything you see in the freezer department. A cheap but nice vegan ice cream is Swedish Glace — vanilla ice cream goes with everything, and non-vegans won’t notice the difference. Fruit and nice ice cream is a fine dessert.

Other nice ice creams can 100% be enjoyed on their own, for example Jude’s and Ben & Jerry’s both do vegan ice creams that are high quality. Vegan Magnums are available as well. There are often lots of other, fancier options available, too many and supermarket-specific to list here. Use your judgement: pick whatever you think looks most appetising!

The only thing I’d warn against is getting something gluten-free: in my experience, desserts that are everything-free and try to please everyone are often the poorest-tasting desserts going.

Drinks

Rules of thumb: most spirits are vegan, most wines are not vegan, and beer and cider can be either. So if your guest drinks spirits, you’re in luck! Rum, gin, vodka, you name it — batter in. Mixers are almost always vegan as well.

For choosing wine, most supermarket websites have a “Vegan” filter when searching, so you can see all vegan wines together. This is easier than looking at the label of every single bottle.

For choosing beer or cider, you probably already have an idea of what brands you normally buy. The easiest way to check individual drinks and brands is to punch the name into Barnivore. Barnivore is database of over the vegan-friendliness of 50,000 drinks. It contains all kinds of alcohol, not just beer and cider, and it’s free. I’ll often use this in the supermarket to quickly check if a certain alcoholic drink is vegan or not.

Snacks

Not part of the main meal, but often people are in your house for many hours, and snacks are busted out later on in the evening. What snacks to serve to vegans? Here are some ideas that don’t involve any effort:

  • Nuts: salted peanuts, dry roasted peanuts, tree nuts, any nuts!
  • Many crisps are vegan, in particular ready salted (always) and salt & vinegar (most of the time).
  • Crackers, oatcakes, breadsticks
  • Hummus, salsa

Summary

So now you know how to cater for any vegans that are coming to your Christmas dinner, and the advice above also apply to most dinners and parties. If you make even half the effort suggested above, your guest will have a great meal and will really appreciate the trouble you’ve gone to. Thanks for caring.

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