A Vegetarian at Thanksgiving
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!
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.
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?
- Parsnip Cashew Nut Roast Recipe
Sweet parsnips, hearty mushrooms and rich cashews are further enhanced with onions & herbs in this easy to make nutloaf.
- Eggplant Parmesan Recipe
This recipe for eggplant parmesan is rich, cheesy and gluten free, for a tasty dish that's sure to go quick.
- Easy Vegetarian Lasagna Recipe
An easy no-boil recipe for delicious vegetarian lasagna, plus links to many other veggie lasagna variations.
- Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers Recipe
Elegant and flavorful, these bell peppers stuffed with rice and mushrooms add a dash of color to any table.
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) If the cashews are raw I toast them until golden brown. Then I chop them up into smaller pieces. Set aside.
- 2) Dice celery into small pieces.
- 3) Melt butter in heavy pan. Add celery and cook until almost tender.
- 4) Add flour and salt and stir until flour is coated with melted butter and browns just a tiny bit.
- 5) Gradually add water, stirring constantly so the mixture is free of limps. Keep stirring until sauce bubbles and then turn down heat.
- 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) Then place gravy in a blender with 3/4 of the toasted cashews. Blend.
- 8) Return to pan, add remaining cashews.
- If gravy is too thin cook more so that it thickens more. It too thick, add more water.
- If you don't have cashews or celery you can also make this gravy without them.
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.
- Savvy Vegetarian
A wonderful site for everyone, whether you've been vegetarian your whole life or are just thinking about trying it. Recipes, advice, and support for vegetarians, vegans and their families.
- Vegetarian Times
Chock full of recipes, tips and beautiful photos of vegetarian food.
- The Vegetarian Resource Group
Tips, recipes, handouts, links and other resources for vegetarians.
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?