Now that Memorial Day has passed, it is almost summer and that marks the beginning of summer barbecues and picnics. Meat-eaters love nothing more than cooking their burgers and hot dogs on an open grill and sitting down to a spread of mayo-filled salads and slaws. For a vegan, these events can be downright difficult and alienating. We can’t stand the sight or smell of the meat cooking over the flames. There never seems to be anything we can eat since almost everything contains animal products. We end up awkwardly or angrily standing among the other guests, holding a plate of salad and explaining where we get our protein from.

With a bit of extra planning, barbecues and picnics can be a lot more tolerable and even enjoyable. Take some advice from the following tips and you’ll be better able to handle your summer outings sweat-free:

1. Bring Your Best Vegan Hot Dog, Sausage, or Burger

We are long past the day when a veggie lover had to put their Portobello mushroom cap on the grill next to the hamburgers (not that Portobellos aren’t delicious). There are over a dozen brands of store-bought vegan burgers, hot dogs, and sausages and they are actually delicious. If you prefer, make your own vegan burgers, sausages, or hot dogs. You can make Roasted Beet Burgers, Eggplant Burgers, Hoisin Black Bean Burgers, Quinoa Veggie Burgers, Tex-Mex Burgers, Jackfruit Philly Cheesesteaks, or Vegan Italian Sausage. Bring enough for you and a bunch of your friends who might want to sample them. Guests may ask to try our food whether it’s because they are curious about plant-based food or interested in a healthier choice. It’s a golden opportunity to show our meat-eating friends that we aren’t being deprived one bit.

Tips for Surviving Summer BBQs and Picnics When You're Vegan

2. Bring Your Own Dishes That Everyone Can Enjoy

A cookout filled with guests is a perfect place to showcase delicious vegan food. Most people wouldn’t dream of coming to a party empty-handed and neither should you. Every barbecue and picnic needs more than just burgers and franks – there should be plenty of other main dishes, sides, salads, and desserts. Show off amazing vegan entrees like seitan or tempeh ribs, vegan “fish” and chips, taco bowls, or grilled Buffalo tofu po’ boys. Bring some corn on the cob, potato salad, quinoa salad, or roasted vegetables. Show your sweet side with some yummy cupcakes or a chocolate, caramel and peanut butter pie. Wow everyone with a vegan cheese plate. Bring enough for a crowd, but even if no one else eats any of it (which will never happen), you’ll have plenty to feast on.

Tips for Surviving Summer BBQs and Picnics When You're Vegan

3. BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverages)

When it comes to the question of “is it vegan?” many people don’t even think about the drinks. Not all beer and wine is vegan, even if it’s organic. The safest route is to bring a few bottles of a brand you know and love. Besides the booze, you might want to bring your own soft drinks if you want to avoid all the syrups, sodium, and artificial sweeteners. Quench everyone’s thirst with a delicious drink like this Hibiscus-Cherry Cooler.

Tips for Surviving Summer BBQs and Picnics When You're Vegan

4. Offer to Help Cook Something

No, I am not suggesting you help cook the meat. I am suggesting that if you want to have some control over what happens on the grill, you can put on the cook’s hat for a dish or two. After all, who knows better than a vegan how to grill vegetables so that they are irresistible? Impress everyone with some veggie kabobs, grilled avocados stuffed with roasted tomatoes, or grilled artichoke and quinoa lettuce wraps. How about setting up a pizza station? Grilled pizza is amazing and the toppings are endless: caramelized onions, figs and arugula; eggplant, pesto and mushroom; or a zucchini and a vegan Béchamel sauce. After trying any of these, the guests will be lining up to kiss the vegan cook.

Tips for Surviving Summer BBQs and Picnics When You're Vegan

5. Remember it’s a Party, Not a Protest

You were invited to the BBQ or picnic because your friends like you and want to enjoy your company. A friendly party or get-together is not the place to be judgmental or preachy. Don’t stand by the grill making comments about the smell of dead flesh. Don’t try to make the other guests feel guilty or uncomfortable. Sure, if someone asks you about why you are vegan, tell them! Let them know simply your reasons for choosing to be cruelty-free. If they want to know more, they will ask you. Explain your position while offering them a delicious bite of some charred eggplant dip. Remember, you can’t change anyone’s mind if they avoid you or tune you out (or never invite you again). People are more likely to listen to what you have to say when you express it with kindness and respect.

Tips for Surviving Summer BBQs and Picnics When You're Vegan

6. Throw Your Own Summer Bash

In the end, the most we can do when we attend someone else’s party is make the best of it. That’s why it’s a great idea to host your own summer BBQ or picnic. If it’s your party, you can make the rules. It can be a completely vegan event and a prime opportunity to demonstrate all the plant-based options out there. You can decide to furnish all the food and drinks yourself or you can set up a list of acceptable dishes and brands that others may contribute. You might even share your favorite vegan BBQ and picnic recipes with your guests and get everyone doing some vegan cooking.

Summer outings that involve food can be hard for vegans but if we take some control over the situation, we can make it a lot easier. Bringing our own food and drinks, offering to help cook, demonstrating incredible vegan food, hosting our own parties, and just being friendly and patient can make those summer get-togethers a breeze.

Lead image source: Quinoa and White Bean Burger