Cooking for a Vegan: It’s easier than you think

Show Them Some Love

If you’re reading this article, you might have a vegan friend, colleague or family member coming over. Maybe you’ve known the person was vegan for a while. Maybe you just found out. In either case, I applaud you for doing research that will help you cook for your vegan guest. That says you care and that means a lot. Pat yourself on the back, because whether you realize it or not, many people don’t even try to find out what to cook for a vegan family member or friend. The person just shows up and there is nothing they can eat except carrot and celery sticks….maybe a salad.

Melody's Chickpea Tostadas

Melody’s Chickpea Tostadas

You’ve taken a great first step. The next thing you should do is ask your guest a few questions:

  1. Is there anything in particular that you enjoy eating at these types of events? You could even ask them to give you a recipe.
  2. Do you eat soy?
  3. Do you eat gluten?
  4. Do you eat honey?
  5. Do you have any food allergies? (this is a good question in general)

Those five questions will let your guest know that you care as well and believe me…that’s a big deal. Here’s something to keep in mind as you try to fight frustration and irritation while facing this challenge: Many vegans did not stop eating animal products because they didn’t like the way they tasted. They didn’t stop eating animal products because they wanted to be difficult guests. Many vegans stopped eating animal products because they learned something so horrific, so earth shattering, that they knew that there was no way they could ever eat animal products again with a clear conscious. We are considered ethical vegans. It violates our personal code of ethics to consume animal products. For us it’s an issue of wrong and right. This stance makes our lives difficult, particularly in social situations. So, we sincerely and immensely appreciate any concern and steps taken by others to consider our needs.

Okay, enough of that. I just wanted to make sure you had an idea about where your vegan guest might be coming from and encourage you to continue being thoughtful as you select something to purchase or cook for him or her.

What Vegan Really Means

That word carries a whole lot of stigma. I’m not exactly sure why, but it does. Because of this, people have different ideas about what it means, when it comes to what vegans eat and don’t eat. I’m going to stick to the food-related definition.

Someone who follows a vegan or plant-based diet does not eat any animal products. Animal products include

  • Beef
  • Poultry (chicken, duck, etc.)
  • Lamb
  • Venison (and whatever else people hunt)
  • Fish (including shellfish)
  • Animal secretions (eggs, milk, honey [this is controversial for many])

Vegetarians are different than vegans because vegetarians eat animal secretions. I suspect that they generally have an easier time in social situations because of this seemingly small difference in diet.

As a progression of that list, vegans don’t eat foods that are made with animal products. These include foods like:

  • Cheese
  • Chicken and Beef Broth
  • Yogurt
  • Butter
  • Gelatin
  • Many products labeled vegetarian (interesting, huh?)

Okay, so we’ve covered the items and categories of food that vegans don’t eat and you’re probably wondering….What’s left?

What Vegans Eat

These are all items that you could cook for a vegan.

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Beans (includes products made with the soy bean)
  • Grains (includes rice)
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

Also, most dried pasta does not contain animal products. Keep in mind that the key to awesome cooking is usually in the preparation, which usually (hopefully) includes amazing seasoning.

There are no limits in the seasoning/spices aisle. The condiments aisle is usually pretty safe as well, since most of these items contain very few ingredients and they usually don’t include animal products. I’m talking about things like ketchup, mustard and vinegar. You’ll have to check the label for salad dressings, even those that are labeled as vinaigrettes. The truth is that it’s not a bad practice to read labels anyway. I won’t jump on that soapbox. I’ll stay focused.

I realize that that list looks really short, but let’s take a look at traditional dishes that are actually already vegan.

Foods That Are Already Vegan

Remember that vegan doesn’t mean the food has some kind of special ingredients or properties. It just means that it doesn’t contain animal products.

Check out this list of foods that you could cook or provide for a vegan:

  • Pasta with marinara sauce and veggies
  • Pasta with lemon, garlic and tomatoes
  • Noodles with peanut sauce and veggies
  • Hummus/bean dip
  • Falafel (without tzatziki sauce)
  • Salsa and chips
  • Salad with a vinaigrette
  • Sweet potato or russet potato fries
  • Bagels
  • Rice
  • Roasted potatoes
  • Baked potatoes
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Corn/bean/vegetable relish
  • Sorbet
  • Oatmeal (made with water)
  • Many snacks – Fritos, Pretzels, Potato Chips, Oreos

Easy Vegan Substitutes

What you may not know is that this is a great time to be a vegan. There are a ton of substitutes in many common supermarkets for animal based products. In addition to the items listed, specialty stories like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s will have a nice variety of quality meat substitutes as well. Morningstar makes a pretty good vegan veggie burger that would be perfect for a cookout. And So Delicious ice cream is a favorite among many vegans!

FoodSubstituteRecipe Ideas
MilkSoy Milk, Almond Milk, Hemp MilkMashed Potatoes
ButterEarth Balance SpreadBaked potatoes, mashed potatoes, apple pie, candied yams, sauteed/grilled vegetables, popcorn
Mayonnaise Vegenaise, NayonaisePotato salad, coleslaw
CheeseFollow Your Heart, DaiyaGrilled cheese sandwich
BrothVegetable brothVegetable and bean soups
HoneyAgave nectar
Cream CheeseTofutti cream cheeseBagels with cream cheese

If you purchase one of the products listed above, you should consider using what’s left in the container for your family instead of sending the partially used container home with your guest. You can cook a few meals that are a little healthier and taste the same. It’s true!

Veganize It!

Since you’re now armed with the knowledge that cooking for a vegan can be a lot easier than you realized, let’s look at a few more dishes that can be easily made without animal products. Some are linked to recipes.

Show off Your Culinary Skills

If you’re cooking for a vegan and you have pretty good skills in the kitchen, you might want to try some of these recipes. Your guest will be really impressed and you might just discover a way to make Meatless Mondays interesting. Note: Some of these recipes may include special ingredients that you may not find at a local supermarket.

Pat Yourself on the Back Again…

…if you read this entire article. I know it was long, but I wanted to give you enough information and resources to inspire and encourage you to cook a dish for your vegan guest that would not only please them but be easy for you. Share any ah ha moments you had while you read this article in the comments below.

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  1. Michelle says

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Changing my diet has definitely opened my eyes to a whole new world of food. It’s crazy how limited my cooking was and I didn’t even realize it. I quickly and often find myself going down rabbit holes on the internet looking for a vegan ___ recipe! It’s really fun to experiment in the kitchen and then share the food with people. More times than not, they never would have guessed it was vegan. People have interesting views about “vegan” food and it’s exciting to open their eyes too :) My dad calls it planting seeds.

    I’m glad the article wasn’t wordy :) If you haven’t already, please check out my YouTube channel. I do a lot more there these days, but usually post the recipes and videos here as well. I may have missed 1 or 2.

  2. Michelle says

    You’re welcome, Kay! There’s definitely a learning curve, but it’s well worth it. I’ve tried more foods since I changed my diet and cooked vegetables I would have never considered before!

  3. says

    Thanks Michelle, for the information on Vegan diet–my son had mentioned becoming a vegan; this information will be a great introduction for him to see what it is all about.

  4. Adelle says

    Thank you for such great info. Easy to read, very informative, yet not wordy….even though you thought it was long!

    Lots of my friends have recently become vegan. For some, it was for a greater variety from their gluten dairy free meals due to intolerances and allergies.

    We don’t have allergies in our family and as vegetarians we were able to make simple changes to accommodate our gluten dairy intolerant friends. (Well, my husband does have a significant reaction to macadamia nuts snd avocado, but it really dosnt impact the family!) Then all of a sudden I felt left behind!!!

    My friends were making fabulous vegan food. Scrumptious savouries and deliciously amazing desserts! Actually, unbelievably gooood food. Interesting, full flavoured VEGAN food!

    So I began to broaden my search. I was hungry for vegan ideas. Hungry to know how to make light fluffy cakes, moist rich ‘butter’ cakes, tasty savouries, freezeable savouries, presentable savouries, food I could take (with pride) to potluck(!), food my kids would love, food that would be healthy, higher in protein, low in processed carbs….. You get the picture!

    I’ve found some wonderful blogs so far, but as it’s still early days, I’m still searching. Your blog is most exciting and informative. Well done. I can’t wait to try your recipes. I read your story and applaud you for the steps you’ve taken in your journey. What an inspiration!!

  5. Michelle says

    Thanks Beth! It’s so good. If you haven’t tried it before, you’re going to like it.

  6. says

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Betsy! Yes, you can make all kinds of delicious goodness without animal products :) Once you factor in the sugar, I’m not sure if it’s technically healthy, but I’d say it’s health”ier”

  7. Betsy says

    I really enjoyed this article! I’m glad to really get a clear understanding on what is/is not Vegan. And poundcake, wow?!?! I might have to try that. Surely it is healthier the vegan way!

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