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A Vegetarian at Thanksgiving

Updated on August 23, 2017

No Meat Doesn't Mean You Can't Eat

No matter how long you have been a vegetarian, chances are at one point or another you will end up with an invitation to a traditional Thanksgiving meal, whether with your non-veg family or some newfound friends. Telling your host that you are vegetarian can elicit a variety of responses from worry to confusion, especially if they are not familiar with a vegetarian lifestyle.

One solution is to spend your Thanksgiving with other vegetarians and make your own meatless meal. But for the times where it's important to be with your non-veg loved ones, with a little forethought and planning, you can reduce stress and assure both you and your host that you will have a happy, fulfilling and tasty meal.

I hope you'll find some tips to help you with your next Thanksgiving. Please add your own ideas in the guestbook at the bottom, and if you like this lens, I'd be so thankful if you gave it a thumbs up!

Thanksgiving Pie
Thanksgiving Pie

Tip 1: It's All About the Sides

Remember How Much of the Meal is Vegetables!

What might be the easiest first thing to realize is how many of the traditional dishes are NOT meat - mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, corn, candied yams, macaroni, rice, salads. And don't forget the appetizers, breads, biscuits, and desserts!

How often have you eaten way too much at Thanksgiving and felt so stuffed full that you were uncomfortable the rest of the day? There's a chance you can get away with just eating the side dishes and still have a satisfying if lighter meal, and not feel like you need to be rolled out the door!

Remind your host of this fact and assure them that while there might be a few small modifications that you'd appreciate - like leaving bacon bits to the side for people to add to their salads as they wish - there's no really need for them to make you a whole separate meal.

Fresh, Tasty Veggies
Fresh, Tasty Veggies

Tip 2: Make Your Own Main Dish

and Make it Something Everyone Will Love!

If you were already planning to contribute to the meal in some way, why not bring a hearty main dish that you know you'll be able to eat? That way no matter what else is served, you'll know you've got the basics covered.

Some of my family's favorite main dishes for Thanksgiving include veggie lasagna or a nut and lentil loaf. Other ideas could be a soy-based meat substitute, eggplant parmesan, a portobello mushroom dish or stuffed peppers.

Who knows, you may even introduce your meat-eating friends to a new favorite Thanksgiving meal tradition! I once made a simple pan of roasted vegetables with garlic and olive oil, and my family has requested I bring it at nearly every holiday meal ever since!

Stuck for ideas? Check out the recipe links below.

Meat-Free Main Course Ideas - Try one of these recipes for your next holiday meal

These vegetarian meal ideas are so tempting, you might not be able to wait for a holiday to try them out, and why should you?

Tip 3: Substitute the Sides

There are many simple substitutions that will keep your meal meat free.

For example, bake and bring a second dish of stuffing with veggie stock instead. Add all sorts of goodies like onions, celery, dried cranberries and chopped nuts. Lots of butter will make it rich and bound to disappear quickly!

You can opt for butter rather than gravy on your mashed potatoes or have a separate veggie gravy boat. See below for my mom's delicious veggie gravy recipe.

This simple yet savory gravy is a favorite at our meatless Thanksgiving table.


  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 2 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 Tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water


  1. 1) If the cashews are raw I toast them until golden brown. Then I chop them up into smaller pieces. Set aside.
  2. 2) Dice celery into small pieces.
  3. 3) Melt butter in heavy pan. Add celery and cook until almost tender.
  4. 4) Add flour and salt and stir until flour is coated with melted butter and browns just a tiny bit.
  5. 5) Gradually add water, stirring constantly so the mixture is free of limps. Keep stirring until sauce bubbles and then turn down heat.
  6. 6) Continue to cook gravy until it thickens - this will take another 5-10 minutes. You don't have to stir so much at this point as the heat is turned down but do stir from time to time.
  7. 7) Then place gravy in a blender with 3/4 of the toasted cashews. Blend.
  8. 8) Return to pan, add remaining cashews.
  9. If gravy is too thin cook more so that it thickens more. It too thick, add more water.
  10. If you don't have cashews or celery you can also make this gravy without them.
Cast your vote for My Mom's Veggie Gravy Recipe
Happy Conversation
Happy Conversation

Tip 4: Keep the Conversation Cool

Make it About the Meal, Not the Morals

There are many reasons to be a vegetarian, from health to ethics and more. Chances are there will be folks at a traditional Thanksgiving meal who are curious, confused or even disapproving of your lifestyle choice. The dinner table is probably not the best place for a heated conversation and arguments can lead to hurt feelings and upset stomachs on both sides.

If questions come up, do your best to answer them pleasantly and politely. Point out that you have more than enough delicious food to eat and encourage the questioner to continue the conversation after the meal if they would like. Let them know that right now you'd like to focus on what you are thankful for, which is the opportunity to share a wonderful meal with friends and family, and that your dietary choices are not stopping that from happening.

Many folks have different dietary restrictions, whether from allergies, health needs or simple preferences. If Uncle Jimmy doesn't like zucchini, the whole family probably isn't going to jump down his throat if he passes the plate on without taking any. Why should it be any different for you with the turkey? The less you make it a big deal, the less they probably will.

Vegetarian Websites - Everything from advice to recipes

Sometimes outside resources can help you have better conversations about being vegetarian with your non-veg friends and family. These are a few of my favorites.

Tip 5: Eat Something Before You Go

Focus on Family and Friends, Not Food

If your main purpose is to visit with friends and family and you think navigating the main meal is going to be too difficult, eat something at home or out before you arrive. Maybe even plan to arrive after the meal and just join in for dessert, or come early to chat and leave for another engagement before everyone sits down to the table.

Does it matter if there's meat? - Know what is most important to you

If you are clear about what is most important to you before you arrive at a situation, you'll be able to handle it better. Think for a moment, what really matters most to you about the Thanksgiving meal?

Does it work for you to have Thanksgiving with both meat and vegetarian options?

Vegetarian Cookbooks - Get Some New Ideas for Your Next Holiday Meal

What are your best vegetarian Thanksgiving strategies? - Share your tips!

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    • gypsyman27 lm profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 6 years ago

      Once again, I'm not a vegetarian, in so far as strategies go, a little understanding goes a long way on both sides. See you around the galaxy...

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 6 years ago from So Cal

      We are not vegetarian but this is good information should we need to provide meals for someone who is. We like all our guests to feel welcomed so this is very helpful.

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 6 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      My daughter in law is a veggie, and often they stay for a week. My tips. Make a beef and veg casserole alongside a bean and veg casserole.No extra effort needed. Goats cheese rounds melted on roast veg are yummy and easy. If rushed, a veggie pizza or quiche is great.

      Congrats on your well deserved purple star!

    • awakeningwellness profile image

      awakeningwellness 6 years ago

      I have been dealing with these same issues for almost 20 years now and I love all your tips! Yes there are usually always plenty of other things on the table to eat other than the turkey, one of my favorite dishes to bring is a veggie quiche.

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 6 years ago from New York

      Congrats on your purple star for a wonderful and thoughtful lens. Angel blessed.

    • SheilaSchnauzies profile image

      Sheila 6 years ago from Omaha, NE

      Blessings to your lens for being awesome! From one of your fellow Purple Star contest winners, happy holidays!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      I can see why this lens was a winner, not only did you find delicious vegetarian food for Thanksgiving but you broached the difficult subject of the questioning that vegetarians often get (though it can work both ways) on their lifestyle choices. I hope you had a wonderful meat-free Thanksgiving!

    • profile image

      dellgirl 6 years ago

      Wonderful lens, thanks for sharing. I hope the weekend is a good one for you.

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @LouisaDembul: I agree, well put!

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 6 years ago

      As being a vegetarian is getting more common, I think people will start changing their way of thinking. Making a few dishes for a special guest is not that difficult. It shows how much you care.

    • spartakct profile image

      spartakct 6 years ago

      Liked you lens!

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @food monkey: Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

    • food monkey profile image

      food monkey 6 years ago

      nice lens!

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @Nancy Hardin: Thank you SO much!!

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I'm not a vegetarian, however I DO know a well-written, knowledgeable lens when I see it and this is definitely one of those. Blessed!

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @RawBill1: Yes, it's definitely easier to hang out with people who have a better understanding of your diet, but sad when people get freaked out because they don't get it. I think clear communication is the best way to bridge the gap!

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @anonymous: I hope you enjoy it! Being a life-long vegetarian, I can't tell you how it compares to meat-based gravy, but I do know that everyone in my family loves it!

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 6 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      This is great advice as these situations do come up from time to time. We often offer to take our own food to barbecues and other functions where people are going to be eating mainly standard foods. If they insist on making something for us, then we ask them to make a simple salad with no dressing or anything on it. Then we bring our own home made dressing. Quite often we hang out with other veggies these days though as a lot of our friends are vegan, raw vegan or vegetarian at the least.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Excellent lens! Thanksgiving is a difficult time for vegetarians. You offer some great ideas. Thanks, too for the gravy recipe--that's one of the things that's hardest to replace when you're not eating meat!

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Wow!! Thank you so much!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      ~ SquidAngel Bake-Off Blessings ~

    • profile image

      anilsaini 6 years ago

      nice lens

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @sousababy: That's so true, everyone could use more veggies! Thanks for having such a great recipe!

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 6 years ago

      Umm, I am new to this . . so I don't have a strategy. Just enjoy whatever you wish to eat. We all could do with adding more veggies into our diets. Great lens, thank you so kindly for featuring one of mine. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @GirlLovesNature1: That's awesome! Seems like a nut roast is less work than a turkey too! I definitely get hungry while working on this lens. :-)

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @MelRootsNWrites: That's great your sister is so accommodating! Seems like most families figure out great compromises.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 6 years ago from California

      My sister usually does Thanksgiving. I could live on mash potatoes, corn, and bread, so I don't worry. But usually she does a turkey and tofurkey. Everyone's covered.

    • GirlLovesNature1 profile image

      GirlLovesNature1 6 years ago

      We don't have thanksgiving here, but at Christmas I make nut roast for everyone. My omnivore parents loved it so much that this year they are planning to forgo the turkey altogether! I made a goodveg lens about the recipe which is available on my profile.

      I also love all the trimmings - there are so many delicious vegetable sides at thanksgiving/christmas. Your lens has made me look forward to doing some seasonal cooking soon - thank you!

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @auntjennie: oh yeah, good point, you could eat after as well if you are still hungry!

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you! Cool, hope you find some tasty recipes!

    • auntjennie profile image

      Jen 6 years ago from Canada

      Usually I fill up on the sides, or eat something more when I get home.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great lens--I just purchased your raw vegan holiday recipes ebook -- as both of my children are now raw vegans! Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Eat the side items and pack on the weight.

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @athomemomblog: That sounds very similar to many of my Thanksgivings! Someone else provides the turkey and the non-meat dishes are delicious and it all works out!

    • athomemomblog profile image

      Genesis Davies 6 years ago from Guatemala

      Great lens! I'm not really vegetarian, but I have several friends who are and when we celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas together, I bring the turkey (most of them have non-veg husbands) and a couple of sides, and they each bring veggie dishes and desserts. The only thing that has meat is the turkey and everyone is fine with the compromise.

    • LyricalVenus profile image

      LyricalVenus 6 years ago

      @RinchenChodron: Thanks for stopping by! There really are a lot of options!

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 6 years ago

      You;ve pretty much covered a lot of options. I usually eat vegetarian but I do enjoy a good turkey. So I go along with the crowd on Thanksgiving. Good lens.


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