I hate cooking. I now have to deal with vegan potluck.
April 13, 2018 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Please tell me what, if anything, I can find at a Trader Joe's that's standardized vegan that I can just buy and reheat or whatever without having to cook it myself and/or nitpick the crap out of the ingredients to make sure they're absolutely 100% animal free.

I have a volunteer job where we have to have potlucks. I hate cooking so I pretty much just buy bag o' chips, bag o' cookies, order a pizza or Chinese food or get a frozen lasagna and consider it good. Usually this is fine.

Years ago we had a vegan on my shift and it was a disaster. Every week someone screwed up and got something that secretly had some sort of animal product in it. I do not know the secret codes for "this has animal product" in it, which apparently there are a lot of, and fucked up often. I bungled up the vegan food I tried to make. It sucked and most of the time the vegan (or everyone because to be honest, the vegan just brought fruit every time) went hungry.

Now guess what, there's another vegan here and fuck if I know how to make them anything, but I also don't want to actually COOK anything. I really don't want to stress out for hours per week trying to do this and failing anyway again, and since I hate cooking even on a good day this is worse. Hell if I know what to provide for dinner. Or dessert either.

Is there like, anything standard I could just buy at Trader Joe's (nearest hippie food joint) that's considered safe for vegans that I don't have to stress out and worry about? Dinners and desserts are needed most, I assume I can just buy fruit as a side dish and consider that safe. I'm NOT looking for recipes, I pretty much just want bag or box o' something that doesn't involve my screwing up its preparation or oh noes, has secret animal product in it.
posted by jenfullmoon to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Field roast vegan sausages, sliced diagonally
Jar of peppadew peppers, open and drained, slice if you feel like it
Sauteed sliced onions

Toss together and heat.

Serve with mustard.
posted by jennstra at 1:41 PM on April 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Hummus and pita bread / corn tortilla chips / crackers
Salsa and chips
Big platters of assorted fruits already cut / diced, etc
Trader joes has great vegan sausages / chorizo that essentially just get sizzled in a pan or make it fancy like jennstra's suggestion (which sounds great)
posted by machinecraig at 1:49 PM on April 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Anything on this list.
posted by dizziest at 1:50 PM on April 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

If you're gonna go the bag of chips route, a lot of chips are vegan including the sweet chili flavour Doritos.
posted by noxperpetua at 1:51 PM on April 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

You know what everyone always eats at potlucks? Grapes, cut up melon, strawberries and baby carrots. (Not, I mean, together.) People think to themselves, "oh, that's boring, I should bring a delicious snack food", and then everyone else brings Super Salty Caramel Bars or whatever and people are desperate for fruit.
posted by Frowner at 1:55 PM on April 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

I searched Trader Joe's for "vegan". Does heating in the over count as cooking? The Chickenless Mandarin Orange morsels is tasty and filling and not too weird for people unaccustomed to vegan food. You could serve it on a bed of either regular rice or cauliflower rice. Not sure how to ge the plain rice but I know you buy bags of cauliflower rice and heat them in the microwave.
posted by metahawk at 1:55 PM on April 13, 2018

I admit that I haven't looked for vegan food at TJ, but I think their vegan stuff is labeled "vegan." Every store is a little different, but I bet if you walked in and told a staffer what you're looking for, they'd bend over backwards to help you out.
posted by bunderful at 1:57 PM on April 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Nuts, such a great selection. Or all those different bags of trail mix they're next to. More tasty than chips IMO.
posted by Rash at 1:58 PM on April 13, 2018

I'm not vegan but I looked over the TJ's vegan list and I eat the Vegetable Fried Rice together with the Asian Vegetable Stir-Fry with Beijing-style Soy Sauce all the time.

Both are packages in the frozen section and take about 5 minutes in the microwave. Maybe bring some extra soy sauce but that's a filling and savory meal.
posted by lalex at 2:04 PM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's those stir fry vegetable egg rolls on the TJ Vegan List, and I think, if you were to bring those, they'd be a big hit. Just microwave them, put them on a platter, and go.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:07 PM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

The frozen Meatless Meatballs are very good and can be a simple crockpot meal -- either as spaghetti and meatballs (just use plain marinara sauce with no cheese or milk products) or old-school sweet-and-sour. Or you can microwave them with marinara sauce, bring along some hoagie-style buns, and have meatball subs! (Have mozzarella on the side for those who want it, but it's fine without.)

I can also attest that the Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower is really good -- best if you have access to an oven, though, so it gets crispy.
posted by halation at 2:11 PM on April 13, 2018

They list all their vegan food: https://www.traderjoes.com/dietary-lists/vegan
What I was going to suggest is not on there though— the Thai Vegetable Gyoza are super good, and grabbable with no utensils needed, which is always nice for a potluck.
posted by sometamegazelle at 2:16 PM on April 13, 2018

Not Trader Joe's but the Daiya New York Cheezecake is REALLY good. You can keep it frozen before the potluck. Just refrigerate to thaw for a few hours before serving. It's small so you may want a few. They have a store locator but honestly, it's been at stores that aren't on the list including Harmon's and Smith's so you may want to just call or check your local vegan freezer section. (You will also want to keep the label out because honestly I wouldn't know it was vegan and gluten free by taste or looks.)
posted by Crystalinne at 2:19 PM on April 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you have access to a freezer, one of trader joe's mochi ice creams is vegan (should be labeled as such), and they have regular vegan ice cream and ice cream sandwiches too (also clearly labeled). Ben & Jerry's and Hagen Daz now both have vegan ice cream lines too. So, basically, ice cream for dessert if that's not a logistical nightmare.

If you want cookies, trader joe's brownie crisps are vegan and delicious. I think the vegan rice krispie treats would go over well too.

For savory foods, it's very hard to go wrong with hummus and other dips like baba ganoush. The only possible non-vegan stuff that could be in there is yogurt/sour cream, so you shouldn't need to do any major detective work beyond a quick scan of the ingredients. Then add baby carrots/cut veggies and some crackers from the vegan list (do follow the vegan list for crackers, there's always sneaky dairy in crackers).

Fake meat is weirdly divisive among vegans. Lots of us love it (I do and would be so psyched to go to a random potluck where someone showed up with field roast or vegan meatballs), but a lot of people find it too creepily meat-like, so that's a know-your-audience sort of thing.

Also, if you want to update with where you are/what restaurants you have available, we can probably give you some take out suggestions too.
posted by snaw at 2:20 PM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

for stupidly simple but will totally get eaten, oreos. they're vegan, and everybody loves them
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:06 PM on April 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

Just want to emphasize that guac, hummus, etc. often DO contain yogurt in certain varieties, and it may not be called out in very large print. I've been burned by that before because for some reason my friends really like to buy the one yogurt-containing dip from Trader Joe's instead of the 6 other dairy-free kinds next to it on the shelf.
posted by serelliya at 3:23 PM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you’re ever really stuck for a vegan dish for a potluck, bag’o chips is fine. Just get unflavored. Ingredients will be potatoes, oil, and salt (potato chips) or corn, oil, and salt (tortilla chips). Hummus sometimes has dairy (WTF?), but I’ve never seen salsa that wasn’t vegan.

Also, I’m not sure how many years ago you’re talking, but it’s probably easier now since more things tend to be labeled as vegan.
posted by FencingGal at 3:41 PM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recommend going to the freezer section in Whole Foods or Fresh Market. The former has a bunch of forms of vegan Quorn and/or sausage that you can incorporate into recipes (put some marinara sauce over Quorn cutlets; make shortening-and-soy-milk-based biscuit dough to go with the sausages), or you can just serve it as a dish by itself. The latter has some really nice frozen appetizers.
posted by amtho at 3:51 PM on April 13, 2018

May I suggest scrapping the "potluck" format? You obviously find it stressful and difficult to deal with (there is a palpable resentment of the vegan employees in your question, I have to say). And speaking as a vegan-inclined vegetarian, this is exactly why I never participate in office potlucks. Omnivores misunderstand and resent vegan restrictions, the vegans and vegetarians feel simultaneously like they're burdens and like they're being told "piss off, we don't care about you" by their coworkers, and everybody winds up stressed and underfed.

If it's a matter of "we're having a meeting during a mealtime and want to ensure that everyone gets fed" then BYO/brown-bag works way better, in my experience. If it's a matter of trying to ensure that everyone involved feels welcomed and nourished, it doesn't work if the organizers are coming from a place of feeling that having a vegan on the team is "a disaster".
posted by Lexica at 4:16 PM on April 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

I admit it: yes, I'm resentful. I don't want to be and it's not nice of me, but when you don't love cooking, anything that ups the food difficulty level is stressful. I know I misunderstand the dietary stuff and I have my own baggage about cooking/providing others with food from growing up (I associate cooking with screaming, judging, and never getting it right, I'm the girl who can't even make fucking Rice Krispie treats without bungling them any more) that are getting so triggered when I have to deal with anything harder than just vegetarian restrictions. Potluck isn't going to end though because we're working all night long and the food options are either limited or just plain closed depending on time of year. I am the only person here who has a problem, though. Everyone else loves to cook and is totally cool and froody with cooking vegan style. I'm just an asshole.

However, this list REALLY helped. Like hoo boy, this is so much better than previously. Thanks, y'all.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:29 PM on April 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Nobody ever just brings salad to potlucks, and I (not veg*n but low-carb) am always so grateful when there's just some damn salad. 1-2 bags of salad, any bottle of dressing that has a V on the price label on the shelf (there is a tiny icon you can find on food packaging if the producer has applied for the certificate, but tj's additionally puts a black square box with a white V on the shelf label, it's very helpful), throw in a tub of cherry tomatoes and/or a cucumber if you're feeling generous. Usually any extra tomatoes will get used up on the hummus/dips.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:42 PM on April 13, 2018 [10 favorites]

I think you just need a standard boring go-to you figure out once and then never worry about again. Hummus and chopped vegetables or tortilla chips or pita chips. A trip to the salad bar at a regular grocery store, where you just load up on chopped vegetables and lettuce into a plastic carry-out thing and then maybe a bottle of vinaigrette (check for cheese) and you're set. Olive oil and ciabetta rolls. A bunch of berries you buy and throw together in a bowl. Dark chocolate with salt crystals. Tortilla chips and guacamole. That sort of thing -- let others do heavier lifting. Tons of stuff is vegan and likeable--I think you just need to find the least annoying thing you can purchase and...purchase that. And don't judge yourself about how it could have been better or different. Just go for simple.

I really relate to this btw; in my family it is 'gift giving'. It is very, very fraught and button-pressing, so I really do understand how bad it chafes to feel like you are being set up to be judged and fail. For me, there is a whole 'womanhood' thing in there (I haven't had a lot of conversations with guys about what they think they'll bring to potlucks...if they bring anything it's like they hunted then roasted a wild pig based on a family recipe from five generations past.) But the thing is, you really just need to buy chips and salsa and this other stuff is sitting there in your head, just hanging out and being torturing:

I know I misunderstand the dietary stuff and I have my own baggage about cooking/providing others with food from growing up (I associate cooking with screaming, judging, and never getting it right, I'm the girl who can't even make fucking Rice Krispie treats without bungling them any more) that are getting so triggered when I have to deal with anything harder than just vegetarian restrictions.

Lastly: Also a lot of people consider Oreos vegan, dependent on how critically one views all facets of the production process. You might want to go ahead and ask the people involved because lordy if you just have to buy a thing of Oreos now and then -- what a score!
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:14 PM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

The TJ's Meatless Meatballs are really great. So is their basic marinara jar sauce.

I would put the meatballs and sauce in a crockpot, cooked spaghetti on the side. People can serve themselves. Enjoy!
posted by jbenben at 5:19 PM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another thing you can do if you live in a big/diverse enough place is find a vegan restaurant that you can pick up from or that delivers, pick something off the menu that is in your price range and shareable, and just get that. Just screenshot the menu description and stick it to the container and call it good.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:35 PM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I love cooking but get really annoyed and resentful at obligatory work potlucks. Sometimes a coworker will make an offer to take care of a significant potluck component if others will help cover the expense, and whenever this happens I happily throw money at them and stop stressing. So maybe there's a cook-happy coworker who would be thrilled to take your $$ and make something extra? Just a thought.

If you want to make sure the vegan doesn't go hungry, maybe keep a jar of peanut butter in your desk just in case (assuming they don't have nut allergies). Or tip them off. Multiple other questions on the green about potlucks have multiple responses from people with specific dietary needs who bring their own food and don't rely on the potluck ... so this vegan might have a different approach from the last vegan.
posted by bunderful at 5:42 PM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you go with peanut butter, I’d suggest getting some Ritz crackers, which are vegan. It’s shocking how hard it is to find vegan sandwich bread, though French bread is usually OK.

Also, googling “accidentally vegan” will result in lists of regular grocery store items that are vegan.
posted by FencingGal at 6:05 PM on April 13, 2018

Dude, the vegan is probably used to having to fend for him/herself. Have them bring a main dish that will get them through the night, have other people bring veggies that are probably good for them anyway. Bread products/crackers can be kept in cabinets indefinitely, so nobody needs to bring those specially for the potluck.
posted by amtho at 6:16 PM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Pita and hummus with a cut veggie platter would be easy and cooking/prep free, honestly. I'd stay away from the pseudo-meats - unless you know this particular vegan likes them, I would hold off. Some brands can be... rough... on the uninitiated, especially three or four hours into digestion.
posted by Crystal Fox at 6:36 PM on April 13, 2018

The Trader Joe's bottled green/white tea (with a hint of mint) is really good. Add a bottle of the Trader Joe's low calorie lemonade and people can mix to their own taste. Also paper plates, cups, disposable utensils, and bags of ice are usually good contributions to a potluck when you don't cook.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:24 PM on April 13, 2018

BTW, since vegans are people, some of them are going to be assholes, but I’m over the moon grateful when someone goes to the trouble of providing vegan food. And I keep larabars in my desk so I won’t go hungry.

Trader Joe’s caramel corn is vegan. Mix it with peanuts for a fun treat. The speculoos cookies are vegan, and they’re really tasty.
posted by FencingGal at 7:26 PM on April 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

If you go to your local Trader Joe's and tell an employee you're looking for vegan food, they will hand you a printed list of all the vegan items in the store. Or at least, my Trader Joe's does.
posted by waffleriot at 8:49 PM on April 13, 2018

for stupidly simple but will totally get eaten, oreos. they're vegan, and everybody loves them

Note that on Planet TJ these cookies are called Joe-Joes and they're available in a variety of trendy, seasonal flavors.
posted by Rash at 8:59 PM on April 13, 2018

You are really stressed about this.
Are you trying to meet the dietary needs and preferences of everyone else on your team or just the vegan? Any gluten free people? Diabetic? Paleo? This gets complicated FAST.

It also seems the entire team is dissatisfied with the outcome of non-vegans attempting to make a well-rounded vegan spread.

Talk to your team and figure out what EVERYONE wants and needs. It’s likely not every dish needs to be vegan considering this is just one teammate. Maybe try to let the people that understand how to build a vegan meal and enjoy those meals put that together and then you can bring your lasagne like you used to.
posted by littlewater at 9:09 PM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

There was recently an entire Ask on vegan food at Trader Joe's.
posted by missmary6 at 9:12 PM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

It’s likely not every dish needs to be vegan considering this is just one teammate.

No, but by contrast it's also super shitty to be expected to cook for a potluck and then realise that the only thing you can eat is the thing you brought yourself. If there's not a significant common ground to people's needs, I would go with the brown bag plan that Lexica suggests.

I never get to make dessert for a potluck because I'm vegetarian and have to cook a main dish or risk that dessert is the only thing I can eat. This is a shame because I make AMAZING desserts.
posted by Cheese Monster at 10:42 PM on April 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

Thank god for Trader Joes, but for a more long term solution, because you said the last time this was a major issue was years ago and it's an ongoing event, is there anyone on your team who would want to be in charge of the potluck who can be the weekly kitchen/dinner manager? You sound so stressed out by this, and also like you're being given the emotional burden of an event that your entire workgroup is kind of failing to organize, not just you. It seems like there's a lot of unnecessary confusion about figuring out meal planning for a group that everyone on the team is kind of fudging, but you feel like you've failed way out of proportion to the issue or your role in it because it's an abuse trigger. Is there someone on your team who could take on the job of planning this stuff so you don't feel the responsibility for both bringing a workable contribution and making the entire dinner go smoothly, either for this vegan or the next person who has a gluten or lactose intolerance or a nut allergy or whatever? Someone who either loves cooking for groups or loves spreadsheets? I suspect this entire situation would be easier if there was someone you could fill into an email/spreadsheet box as your potluck requirement, like your teammate's is "I am vegan," "I hate cooking and can't/won't do it, send me to get dessert/snacks from TJs" and just have them send you out to the store every week to get a specific product you wouldn't need to choose or worry about. I'm sorry, ugh, you can tell that I already want to be in charge of your workplace potluck. But, seriously, I see you kind of taking the emotional hit for this potluck being "a disaster" when that should fall on everyone in the group, not just you. Good luck with TJs, which will provide super easy stuff that everyone will love you for bringing, and good luck finding an Alison Hendrix if you want to go that route.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:18 AM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Brownbagging seems like it would really simplify things. I would bring it up with the team lead or the team, depending on how the decision needs too be made. "Any objections to trying brownbagging instead of potluck next week? Sometimes people with specific dietary needs have trouble getting enough to eat even when everyone is trying to cook the right stuff. Brownbag would mean everyone can bring whatever they need to keep going, but we can still eat together (if that's an important component) and anyone who wants can still bring something to share."
posted by bunderful at 6:22 AM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

The packaged precooked steamed lentils from the refrigerated produce section (in a box), mixed with the jarred bruschetta (from the... jar section?), makes a yummy vegan lentil dip! I wanted to post this yesterday but wasn't 100 percent sure that both ingredients were vegan. But I did a Trader Joe's run today and lo and behold, they are! Filling, proteiny, looks like you made something exciting because no one thinks to mix those two things together. I'm a fan.
posted by sunset in snow country at 10:08 AM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Popcorn with nutritional yeast, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder
posted by winterportage at 12:50 PM on April 14, 2018

I'm a super picky vegetarian bordering on vegan. Company potlucks never think of me, and openly mock me. I bring my own food to eat later. I assume your vegan does the same. So...don't worry about it.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:43 AM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Talking to anyone about it, brownbagging, expecting the vegan to bring her own food, getting someone else to take care of it, etc. is not an option. There's three people on the shift, she wants to do the potluck and not just eat by herself, it's exclusionary not to, and I am a total asshole if I don't go with that. Not negotiable. Even I don't approve of me being shitty on this topic.

That said: the vegan list at TJ's REALLY helped. I just bought $50 worth of stuff off the list (though the "dessert" is going to be very sad come the day) and served up the vegetable fried rice last night and it worked! Everyone was happy! And then later on someone else on another shift came in and asked "how am I supposed to come up with vegan food" (I gather there's at least one other shift with this issue), I told them about the list and the vegan herself was all, "I never heard of that!"

"I think you just need a standard boring go-to you figure out once and then never worry about again.... I really relate to this btw; in my family it is 'gift giving'. It is very, very fraught and button-pressing, so I really do understand how bad it chafes to feel like you are being set up to be judged and fail:"

Yes, now I've got that down. And yeah, I TOTALLY HAVE THAT ISSUE WITH GIFT GIVING TOO! Don't even get me started on "you don't like anything I give you, you don't want anything you can tell me about but you definitely want something, you don't approve of cash or gift cards because those don't show love and effort but you'd better spend at least $100 on me" shenanigans. Followed by "I'm going to gripe about what you got me being shitty to all my friends afterwards." :p
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:53 AM on April 18, 2018

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