Ten Ways To Welcome Vegetarian Dinner Guests
Planning and serving a vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving dinner is easier than you think! Even though the Thanksgiving meal traditionally focuses on the turkey, the meal actually offers many options for vegetarians. Many traditional favorites are already vegetarian (cranberry sauce, anyone?) or can be made vegetarian with a few minor alterations.
Here are ten suggestions to help you prepare a delicious dinner for all your guests and make everyone feel welcome around your table.
- Ask questions. Don't just wonder what your vegetarian guests eat, ask them! Vegetarians are used to being asked about their diet, what they eat, and why. As long as you aren't being confrontational or demanding ("Can't you eat turkey just this once?"), they'll be pleased to answer.
- At a minimum, ask what type of vegetarian your guests are. For instance, vegans don't eat eggs or dairy products, but ovo-lacto vegetarians are ok with both.
- Let them help with the cooking. Your guests don’t want to be a lot of trouble or cause you extra work. In fact, they'll probably be eager to help out by bringing a favorite dish or two to share with everyone.
Let them! It's less work for you and makes your vegetarian guests feel like less of a bother. If you really feel strongly about cooking the whole dinner yourself, ask them to share a few recipes and follow the ingredient lists exactly.
- Serve using a buffet table. With a family-style dinner where dishes pass from person to person, it's easy to play "spot the vegetarian." You start to feel pretty conspicuous as the one person at the table passing the turkey, stuffing, ham, or whatever without serving yourself any. But with a buffet, the atmosphere is more relaxed. All guests are concentrating on the beautiful display of food and not what anyone else is eating.
- Label the dishes. Vegetarians hate to play the picky eaters who suspiciously poke through dishes looking for hidden tidbits of meat. It's even worse to ask repeatedly: "Is there meat in this? What about broth?" Avoid that awkwardness with place cards that contain the name of the dish and the appellation "vegetarian" when necessary. Also note dishes that are sugar-free, gluten-free, or low-salt. It's a small touch that helps all your guests safely enjoy the meal.
- Don't be tempted to cheat! Please resist the temptation to slip "just a little chicken broth" into the dressing or add some pork to flavor side dishes. It's disrespectful to your guests. At a minimum, it will make them angry, and it could make them ill. Making a mistake is one thing, but deliberately deceiving your guests is not acceptable.
- Substitute vegetarian ingredients when possible. Use a non-dairy margarine or plain Crisco instead of butter. Soy milk can easily replace regular milk in many recipes. Instead of stuffing your turkey (which carries food poisoning risks anyway), bake the dressing separately in two pans: one using chicken or turkey broth and one using vegetable broth. Use crumbled soft tofu in place of cottage cheese.
- Serve a protein. Include some filling dishes that have a non-meat protein source. Fortunately, you have many options here. Serve anything soy. Add a can of beans to your pasta salad, or offer a bean-based main dish or soup. Replace the ground beef in a dish with veggie "ground beef" crumbles. Cheese and eggs are protein sources, but vegans avoid them. The taste and quality of "fake meat" products varies widely; ask your guests for suggestions if you'd like to serve them.
- Offer lots of side dishes but not just fruit and salads. Include a casserole and several dishes with a variety of sauces and seasonings. Often, the vegetarian guests are the easiest people to please because they're open to trying new dishes, spices, and preparation methods.
- Watch for hidden meat-based ingredients. Read labels carefully on canned, boxed, or other prepared foods. Check the soups for meat broth. "Seasoned" canned vegetables usually include pork. Other animal-based ingredients include honey, gelatin, whey, rennet, and sodium caseinate. Remember: if you're hosting vegans, you need to check for milk and egg ingredients as well.
Keep in mind that most vegetarians are very flexible and accommodating about food. They have to be. Nobody expects – or even wants – his host to cook a completely separate meal or keep meat off the table entirely.
The holidays should be more about celebrating with friends and family than about food. Your willingness to welcome all guests and make a few menu adjustments will make the holiday a real day of thanks and gratitude.