COVER Photo: Ella Olsson / Unsplash

During this holiday season, as I think about how I’ll celebrate with my family around the dinner table, I have a special appreciation for the work that our food service innovation team does: This unique team helps people around the world access healthy, delicious plant-based food, and consequently decreases demand for meat, reducing the number of animals born into inhumane factory farming conditions.

By working with the largest food service companies—including ISS Guckenheimer, Aramark, Sodexo, Fresh Ideas and HHS—that serve millions of meals at hospitals, grade schools, universities, military bases and correctional facilities, our team has helped these companies commit to make 50% of menu offerings plant-based by 2025. In 2022 alone, we persuaded more than 88 companies, school districts, universities, hospitals and other institutions to adopt policies for reducing meat usage and serving more plant-based foods.

Our food service innovation team is also a source of inspiration for planning holiday menus that are not only delicious but aligned with humane values. This talented group compiled some tips and tricks to help everyone have a delicious holiday season without harming animals.

  1. Equip your kitchen with plant-based staples

Keeping staples like plant-based butters, milks and cheeses on hand makes swapping out ingredients easy.

Most side dishes are simple to adapt by replacing dairy butter or milk with non-dairy alternatives. Consider making all your side dishes vegan so everyone at the table—including those with milk allergies or lactose intolerance—can enjoy them. Offering plant-based versions of familiar dishes is a great way to introduce your friends and family to more humane options.

One of Chef Alicia Bell’s family favorites is bourbon whipped sweet potatoes. The dish is simple: Roast sweet potatoes and then whip them up with fresh orange zest, bourbon and a little plant-based butter, then top it with a pecan, brown sugar and thyme crumble. Bell, a program manager on our culinary team, calls this delicious dish a plant-based variation on the classic sweet potato casserole.

  1. Begin with dishes you know you like

As the holidays approach, start experimenting with the dishes you already love, swapping out animal proteins with beans, lentils, legumes, vegetables and grains. For example, white beans can replace meat in soup, or you can use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth in your favorite stuffing recipe.

The HSUS food service innovation team trains chefs at university cafeterias in plant-based culinary tips and tricks. Rutgers University set up a vegetable carving station as part of its plant-based Thanksgiving menu. Kathleen Kastner/The HSUS

  1. Start a conversation about plant-based meals

If you are hosting a dinner with guests who don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy, don’t be shy about asking in advance what they like. By asking about their preferences, you’ll show that you respect and recognize their dietary choices and want to accommodate them, even if the whole meal isn’t plant-based. You can also ask them to share a recipe they love, which is a good way to learn from friends and family.

If you’re juggling lots of recipes for your holiday meals, you can also take the easier route: Grocery stores increasingly offer premade plant-based roasts that simply require time in the oven, and you can dress them up with an easy plant-based gravy that everyone will savor, whether they’re vegetarian or not.

  1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

For the holidays or anytime, it’s OK to start to go plant-based gradually—and, thankfully, it’s easier than ever to do. You might start by making one day per week completely plant-based, or one meal per day, and then grow from there. Many restaurants and fast-food chains now offer plant-based meals, so it’s simple enough to try a new dish on the go.

  1. Make good use of hundreds of plant-based recipes online

Our food service innovation team creates distinctive meals for major food service companies that serve institutions such as colleges, hospitals, schools and more across the country, and our chefs often share their recipes. You can find many of those recipes here.

Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy and humane holiday season.

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