How to be vegan in a non-vegan family

Not many of us were raised in completely plant-based environments If you’re the only vegan in your family, you might be having trouble navigating food and feelings. 

Now look. I know that what you want to do is yell, “OMGGGGGGG just make me vegan food”. This is probably not the way to go.

So here are some ideas on how to be vegan in a non-vegan family.

Be helpful

If you want to convince someone that the food you’re choosing to eat isn’t going to be a hassle for them, then why not try to alleviate the hassle? Cooking, shopping, planning, learning and teaching are all skills you can use to help around the house and show your family it’s all going to be ok.

Bake something yummy

Family favorites can be veganized by using soy or oat milk in place of milk, vegan margarine in place of butter, and commercial substitutes in place of egg. Or, explore online and find a vegan recipe to make something completely new! My two favorite sweet treats right now are these chocolate chunk gingersnaps and chocolate pudding.

Cook a meal for everyone (even the non-vegans) in your family

Do you like cooking? Prepare a meal for your family. This way, you can simultaneously show them how yummy vegan food can be and take a bit of the burden off the usual meal-maker.

Don’t like cooking? No worries. This doesn’t have to be something elaborate. 

Why not try pasta with white beans, red sauce and spinach? Grilled tofu and vegetables over rice? Bean salad over greens? You can make pancakes with milk and egg substitutes, or find a recipe online that is vegan.

Cook or bake with your family

If people in your family like to cook, invite them to make something with you. You can chat about vegan foods and techniques, and who knows? If they’re curious, they might want to explore with plant-based eating too. There’s nothing like the kitchen to get conversations going.

Do some of the grocery shopping

Either go along with the usual grocery shopper, or go on your own. Grab vegan essentials. Offer to pay for some if you can.

Meal plan 

If your family already regularly eats any meals that are already vegan (or close) point this out and suggest them for coming weeks. Find new recipes that you think your family might enjoy, decide which items need to be purchased, contribute this information during the planning process.

Be chill

I know it’s hard to be chill when people are eating animals around you, don’t seem to be trying to understand you, and are just generally Not Getting It. 

The thing is, being outwardly frustrated rarely serves to:

  • make people want to keep an open mind;
  • create a pleasant environment; or
  • get you what you want.

Also, you have to live with these people.

So, be chill.

Try to ignore the meat eating

I know. I KNOW. But if you regularly make faces, or make gagging or puking sounds, you will merely damage your relationship with your family and not make any progress in getting them to understand your viewpoints.

Smile at teasing, if you’re a teasing family

This advice won’t sit well with everyone, but some families thrive on lighthearted teasing. If this is your family, and some of the teasing is centered around your veganism, try to roll with it. “Steer into the skid.” 

Of course, if you find the teasing upsetting, be sure to be honest about it. Find a neutral time and explain that your veganism isn’t something you enjoy being teased about.

Explain your decision with neutral words and compassion

When explaining to your family your decision to eat a vegan diet, use neutral language. Try not to tell them that they are wrong for their own eating choices; instead focus on why it’s important to you.

 (Yes, you may think they’re wrong; saying this will just shut down the conversation and decrease the chances for future discussion.)

Remember, you used to eat those same items as well, before your decision to eat vegan diet. So be compassionate towards your family.

photo of girl wearing a hoodie and yelling

Don’t try to change anyone’s mind about their non-vegan eating

Unless someone asks, don’t show them videos of calves being removed from their mothers, or stats about factory farming. 

Explain, if asked, why you made these choices for you and let them be curious if they want.

Eat yummy food you enjoy, and let them continue to be curious if they want.

Have answers ready for common questions

If you’ve been vegan for any time at all, you’ve been asked a bizarre question or two. “Where do you get your protein?” “Vegan diets are just a bunch of junk food.” “If you were stuck on a desert island, would you eat an animal if you had to?” 

(Amazing how often vegans seem to be getting stuck on desert islands. Guess I’ve been lucky!)

Have brief answers ready for the questions, and then go about your business. 

Don’t feel you have to get into an in-depth conversation just because someone asks, but of course feel free to be expansive if you’d like and someone genuinely seems interested.

And of course, be prepared to reassure your parents that you are, indeed, just fine nutritionally.

text: Be prepared to reassure your parents that you are , indeed, just fine nutritionally

Be prepared

Have you ever been caught at a restaurant with no vegan options other than dry salad? Ever had a family meal where you ate only the bread? Ever gone looking for that one snack, only to find it was all gone? Let’s see if we can avoid all of that!

Have a stash of protein for meals

If you can convince your family to make the side dishes vegan, consider keeping some easy proteins available to add to make a complete meal. 

Cube and cook a block of tofu: this can stay in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a week. My favorite is to cube the tofu, and sauté in oil plus soy sauce and sriracha. This should make 2-4 servings, depending on your appetite.

Slice and cook a package of tempeh; this likewise can stay in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a week. An 8-ounce package can make 1-2 servings, depending on your appetite.

Keep cans on beans on hand. Once a can is opened, store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.

Keep fake meats on hand. Remember, these should be used within a week of opening, plus before the expiration date.

Yes these are literally my snacks.

Have a stash of snacks

Keep vegan snacks handy. Keep them in your room if there is a risk of someone else eating them all, and there being none when you need them.

Research restaurants

Take some time to look into local restaurants, plus restaurants along travel routes and at travel destination. When your family is considering eating out or getting take out, you’ll be ready with a suggestion. 

And if the restaurant chosen isn’t exactly what you want, at least you’ll know in advance what options are available to you.

Bottom Line

If you want to not only survive, but also show your family that being vegan is fun, yummy, healthy, and easy, try these things:

  • be helpful, by taking on some cooking, planning and shopping
  • be chill, by using neutral language and not being reactive
  • be prepared, by having meal proteins, snacks, and restaurant knowledge ready to go!

About the Author

Sarah Skovran, RDN LD ACE-PT, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, ACE certified personal trainer, mom of a teen athlete, and is mostly vegan. She writes about sports nutrition, plant based eating, and adolescent nutrition at Plant Powered Teens, and sees in-person clients at her private practice in Maine.

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