The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Making Food for Non-Vegans: Winning Hearts to Veganism

Posted on April 04, 2017 by The VRG Blog Editor


By Anna Lam, VRG Intern

One of the best ways to convert those you know to veganism is to cook for them. People (especially those who’ve eaten the Western diet all their lives) are so accustomed to meat being a part—nay, the main part—of their meals, that gathering around the table for an all-plant foods meal seems an entirely foreign idea to most. If your goal is to convince those around you (like your friends and family) that a vegan diet is a healthy, tasty, and sustainable diet, it’s a little demanding to suddenly require them to drastically alter their eating habits or to do so in order to accommodate your own. Mindsets can be obstinate, so changing mindsets must be a delicate process. That’s why whenever I visit my family, I make sure to at least offer to cook meals or help cook them. If I have it my way, I completely commandeer the kitchen just to make my being vegan not a burden for others. This way, they don’t feel they are pressured to accommodate me, and I can open their eyes to the bountiful kingdom of plant-based foods that we can all enjoy without another creature suffering for that enjoyment. I’d like to share some of my own tips, as well as meals I’ve prepared for non-vegans, in the hopes that other vegans might consider doing the same.

My immediate family is a family of six. So, if I can help it, I make sure they are eating vegan (and eating well) when I’m home. It helps that my mom doesn’t like to cook, so she always lets me have free-reign of the kitchen. The goal is to make delicious, healthy, and cruelty-free food, because it helps when both parties are happy: the people who are not eating animals and the animals that are not being eaten.

My tip number one is to show your loved ones that they are not missing out on anything by eating vegan. And the better you know your audience, the easier it is to make them see how being plant-based really isn’t all that difficult. My Dad loves red beans and rice, so I made it a point to cook that at least one night when I was home. My little sister loves boiled potatoes, so I made that as a snack for her when she came home from school in the afternoons to tide her over until a vegan supper. In short, focus on making and emphasizing the things they can still eat, and don’t remind them of what they can’t. My brother loves smoothies, so I made him a vibrantly-colored smoothie bowl in the mornings and put the effort into making them as attractive as possible with lots of yummy toppings. My parents live in the South and have developed a taste for Southern cooking, so one night I veganized traditional Southern foods such as cornbread, black beans and rice, and collard greens.

My second tip is not to conflate veganism with “clean-eating” if you don’t have to. For many, the vegan lifestyle ultimately is a lifestyle of compassion, with the welfare of animals being the primary reason for our continued forgoing of animal products. When I cook for my family, I try to make food that is quite tasty, which means that I’m not afraid to use some oil or salt or refined flours in my dishes. I don’t want my family to associate veganism with tasteless, bland food. That makes going vegan seem a lot less appealing to those not quite willing to make the switch yet. This, of course, also more or less depends on your audience. My family regularly consumes food with oil, salt, and refined flours, so to remove these ingredients, which tend to make food taste better for some, and animal products, might be too much to give up all at once. Eating vegan shouldn’t feel like sacrificing good tasting food. If making vegan food healthy helps sell your message, by all means cut the salt and sugar. But otherwise, the goal should be showing people that they don’t have to use animal products in their dishes in order to meet their daily tastes and needs. Granted, it’s important to eat healthy foods—I don’t want to diminish that point. So, while you’re at it, you might consider talking about and incorporating better-for-you alternatives to what is typical in a Standard American Diet. Focus on finding the happy medium between having an awareness of what you’re consuming and allowing you and those you’re cooking for to enjoy food. Remember that it’s possible to still take care of your body without depriving yourself of the occasional brownie.

Below is a meal plan of dinners I prepared for my family and a Saturday potluck with friends. I put careful thought into each of these meals, considering what I felt like would be most appealing to my family and friends’ tastes. This, I think, was crucial and made my efforts a success. My parents reported that they are happily continuing to eat vegan dinners, and staving off their consumption of animal products during the day. My dad said he was more comfortable eating a meal of all plants now, and my mom told me that she thought the taste of real sausage seemed weird to her now. They’ve begun to share recipes with neighbors and friends. It could be in the not-too-distant-future that a single vegan turns into a family of vegans, which could turn into a community of vegans. But it’s these small, initial rippling successes that make such endeavors of mine worthwhile, and why I highly recommend similar efforts on the part of other vegans looking to gently spread the message of compassion without shaming and heaping guilt on others, and instead using small but deliberate actions to make a big difference.

Hoppin’ johns with rice
Cornbread flapjacks
Collard greens
Seitan ‘ham’

    Red beans with turmeric brown rice and Tofurky kielbasa
    Cauliflower wings (

    Taro bao
    Steamed garlic with coconut oil and garlic
    White rice
    Japanese sweet potatoes

    Pasta salad
    Roasted vegetables

    Fried Tofurky kielbasa with caramelized onions
    Baked potato fries
    Fried cabbage with cannellini beans
    Mushroom ‘bacon’

    Vegan chili
    Brown rice
    Chips and salsa
    Green salad

Finally, I would encourage other vegans to not underestimate the power of cooking a meal for others. Sure, it’s a fun pastime for myself and I get a kick out of sharpening my kitchen skills, but I also do so with the aim of improving the currently deplorable and abject conditions of animals. When my dad said that he felt good about saving a few animal lives by abstaining from meat, I knew they were finally getting it. So, helping in the kitchen is a great way to unburden the people you love with the task of preparing vegan dishes, especially if they’re unsure of how to do so. And, ultimately, it’s a great way to show your loved ones that you care about them and that you care about the animals too.

For more advice on how to deal with family and friends when talking about vegetarianism, visit

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