Every year, I get more and more questions about people that have vegetarians and vegans coming to dine with them at the holidays. I’ve been doing a vegetarian Thanksgiving for 22 years, and I’m happy to share my tips. It’s not as hard to feed a mixed diet crowd as it may seem. You don’t have to completely change your plan to make both the meaters and the vegetarians happy.
This time of year is a little bit different because you may not cook for vegetarians full time, but a lot of times you’ll have somebody who may have a dietary preference coming to your meal. Here are my top tips for making it an enjoyable holiday for all:
1. Figure out what your vegetarian Thanksgiving guests do and don’t eat.
A lot of people still get confused about the difference between vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, and pescatarian. There’s so many now eating styles now, right? If you’re not sure, check out this video. Just remember, if they say they’re vegetarian, they may or may not eat eggs. Just ask what their guidelines are as far as what they do and don’t eat.
2. Consider vegetarian takeout.
If you’re someone who needs to make everything by scratch, I understand that pride because I love that feeling of making something and seeing it successfully completed. However, if you’re not used to cooking for vegetarians, it may be easier to pick up a vegetarian main dish from a local restaurant.
My mom was an amazing cook, but when she had not yet figured out how to cook for me (when I’d only been vegetarian for a short time), she’d order half a sheet pan of my favorite restaurant cheese tortellini. I think part of that was because she loved the rolls, but it really did take on some stress for her.
3. Buy a premade vegetarian roast.
Now at a holiday, there’s always sides. A vegetarian can definitely make a meal out of sides, but it’s nice to have a main if possible. Many people default to Tofurkey as a pre-made vegetarian option, but to be honest, I’ve never met a vegetarian who likes it. It has a kind of hard, rubbery taste.
Today, there are many better options out there. Vegetarian holiday roast is the way to go. They have them at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and even some regular grocery stores. They’re called holiday roast. Gardein makes a great one.
Places like Whole Foods also make special vegetarian Thanksgiving main dishes in their in-house deli sections, but if you’re going to do that, make sure to do it in advance, because they usually need a little lead time.
4. Make it clear which foods are vegetarian.
Let the guests at your celebration know what’s going on. You don’t need to single out the vegan or the vegetarian, but it could be as simple as setting something aside for them and saying, “Here, this is the thing I set aside for you.”
You could also label the food. That’s kind of fancy for a family meal, but it’s an option.
Here’s a personal example. I went to a football party about a month ago and my friends made queso. They just left a little bit out that didn’t have any meat in it, and I completely appreciated it. It’s as simple as saying this is what has meat and this is what doesn’t.
It’s also on the vegetarian or vegan to ask, “Hey, what’s in this or what’s going on with this?” “Does this have meat in it?”
5. Most recipes can be altered to accomodate both groups.
One easy way to alter a recipe that you might be making anyway is if it has a broth in it. For example, some stuffing and casserole recipes have chicken or beef broth. You can easily make that with vegetarian broth. Of course, you’ll need to leave some stuffing out of the bird, but it’s that easy.
Another example is if you’re making a pasta that has meat in it, leave out a portion without the meat, and add the meat at the end. Give that to everybody else and then the meat-free version to the vegetarian. You don’t have to make a completely separate meal for the vegetarian. You can make little tweaks that make it work for everyone.
6. Both meat eaters and vegetarians should have reasonable expectations.
I don’t know how the people that are coming to your meal are, but I think that both sides should have reasonable expectations. I think the vegan or vegetarian just wants to have that feeling that they know there’s going to be things for them to eat. But they also should not be demanding that the whole meal be changed around to accommodate them. That’s not fair. On the other hand, if they show up and they’re invited to this event, and there’s absolutely nothing for them to eat, that’s not cool either.
If your Thanksgiving meal is potluck style, try to encourage people to bring a couple of meat-free sides or maybe throw one or two in yourself. That way, the vegetarian is not contributing and then getting nothing in return because they can’t eat anything else. That can get a little frustrating.
7. Ask the vegetarians to help you help them.
As a last resort, if it is getting too difficult, if you are not used to cooking for vegetarians, if you’re having trouble finding recipes, or if the people who are coming to your celebration are being overly picky…at that point I would ask for more guidance. It’s okay to say “Why don’t you provide me one or two recipes that will work for you?”
There are so many recipes out there and I think you’ll be fine. It doesn’t have to be rocket science. Just have some things that the vegetarians can eat. Like I always say, every recipe is adaptable. When you look at a recipe, ask yourself if it can be made with meat and without meat. In many cases, you can leave the meat out and then add it at the end for everybody else. That way, you won’t need to make separate recipes.
To get started, get vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes here.