Vegan Options for Thanksgiving Dinner

Written By: Christina Newberry

Reviewed By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Registered Dietitian

Last Updated on:

If you’re vegetarian or vegan – or you have a loved one who is – you might be wondering what to serve for Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, after all, is the traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. In fact, turkey is so popular at this time of year that 46 million turkeys will be served for Thanksgiving alone.

So, what are the options if you want to make Thanksgiving a meat-free meal, or just offer some vegetarian or vegan options for your guests? From hearty vegan side dishes all the way to vegan “turkey,” we’ve got you covered in this post.

Vegetarian and Vegan Options for Thanksgiving Dinner

Imitation Turkey

If you don’t want to serve turkey, but you feel you’ll really miss the presence of this holiday staple, you can serve a meat-free imitation turkey, either purchased or home-made:

  • To buy: did a review of four top imitation turkey roast brands. Evaluating the brands on appearance, meatiness, and overall taste, their top pick was the Gardein Stuffed Turkey Veggie Roast, with the grand-daddy of all imitation turkeys, Tofurkey, coming in a close second. Both brands are available at Whole Foods and online. A quick call to your regular grocery store will confirm whether they carry these options.
  • To make: The Farm Animal Rights Movement’s Compassionate Holidays webpage offers a recipe for “Tofu Not-a-Turkey” approved by actress Alicia Silverstone. It features a cornbread stuffing cooked inside a six-pound tofu roast basted in sesame oil and soy sauce. You can find the full recipe on their website.

Alternative Main Course

If you’d like a hearty and festive main dish that works for vegetarians and you’re not fussy about it looking (or tasting) like a turkey, there are plenty of suitable options. Here are our top three picks.

  • “Neat” loaf (vegetarian): I was introduced to this recipe in high school by a vegetarian family, and it was tasty enough that my meat-eating family didn’t complain when I made it. Mix two beaten eggs, 2/3 C milk, 2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, and 3 slices of crumbled fresh bread until the bread disintegrates. Add 1 chopped onion, 1/2 C shredded carrot, 1 C shredded cheddar, 2-3 C cooked green lentils (start with 1 C dry lentils), mix well, and pack into a 9 x 5 loaf pan. Top with a spread of 1/4 C brown sugar, 1/4 C ketchup, and 1 Tbsp mustard. Bake 1 hr at 350 degrees and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
  • Veggie tofu curry (vegan): With rich flavors and the opportunity to use whichever vegetables you like best, a Thai or Indian curry served with rice is a delicious and hearty main dish that can also serve as a side for the meat-eaters at the table. Try adding squash or sweet potato to make the dish seasonally appropriate.
  • Vegan chili: You can use a traditional chili recipe and substitute vegetarian “ground-round” meat replacement for the ground beef, or use a vegetarian recipe that incorporates hearty vegetables like yams for a rich texture and flavor.

Pile On The Sides

If you and most of your guests eat turkey, the best option for the vegetarians and vegans at the table is to provide plenty of side dishes. This is how things work in my family, and I’ve certainly never gone hungry at a holiday meal! The traditional Thanksgiving side dishes are mostly vegetarian and can be made vegan with a few adjustments. Here are the top things to keep in mind if you’re using side dishes to feed your vegetarian guests.

  • Stuffing: Even stuffing with no meat in the recipe will not be acceptable to vegetarians if it’s been cooked inside the turkey. Put some aside to cook in a ramekin or small caserole dish for your vegetarian guests. Since the stuffing won’t be moistened by the turkey drippings, add a little vegetable broth to keep it moist while cooking.
  • Green bean casserole: Traditional green bean casserole contains dairy ingredients. That’s fine for vegetarians, but if you’ve got vegans coming to dinner, try this vegan version instead.
  • Sweet potato casserole: This classic dish includes eggs and dairy ingredients. To make it vegan, use soy yogurt and coconut milk instead, as explained in this recipe.
  • Pumpkin pie: Not quite a side, but the classic Thanksgiving dessert. There’s a vegan recipe here that uses soy milk instead. It must be made the day before to allow the filling to fully set. (That’s probably a bonus on a busy cooking day!)

The Bottom Line

If you’re serving a vegan Thanksgiving or you’ve got vegetarian or vegan guests coming to your table, don’t panic. The key is not to get too stressed out about what’s on the table – it’s who’s around the table that really counts. Just accept everyone’s dietary choices and make sure there are enough options for everyone and you’ll be sure to have a joyous feast.


seasonal celebrations, Thanksgiving, turkey, vegetarian


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