Expecting vegetarians at your Thanksgiving? Read this first.

Thanksgiving cooking photo
Thanksgiving cooking photo by Ryan McVay / Getty Images

Thanksgiving and the holidays are about coming together with family and friends and sharing a meal together. Remember this as you try to accommodate your vegetarian guests. Often, a host will get frustrated by having to prepare extra or unfamiliar dishes. No need to stress!

Here's 6 things you need to know to help you accommodate your vegetarian and vegan guests at Thanksgiving:

#1. Communication is the key

Ask your vegetarian or vegan guests in advance (That means NOW!) how you can best accommodate them.

You may be surprised at their answers! For example, I neither expect nor want people to go out of their way for me! If you invite me to dinner, I'd be happier to just eat a side salad and bring something  on my own than worry that I was making you go out of your way for me, and I'd be perfectly happy to bring a few of my own favorite Thanksgiving dishes to share (as long as my host doesn't mind, of course). Other vegetarians may feel slighted if there isn't at least an effort made to accommodate them. Don't be afraid to ask your vegetarian guests to help you out (either with planning or with cooking). They'll likely be touched that you're considerate enough to care.

#2. Know some simple vegan Thanksgiving substitutions so you don't have to cook two meals

You may be able to make a few simple substitutions to dishes you are already preparing so that your vegetarian and vegan guests can eat them with next to no extra effort on your part.

For example, use vegetable broth instead of a meat-based broth in your stuffing and gravy. Substitute soymilk and vegan margarine for milk and butter in mashed potatoes. Easy as pie, right? Speaking of pie, here's plenty of beautiful vegan pies, if making pies is your thing.

Link: Simple Thanksgiving substitutes for vegetarians and vegans

#3. Do you know what your guests will and won't eat? No? Then ASK!

If you’re uncertain whether or not your guests will eat a certain food (such as eggs, gelatin or marshmallows), its best to just ask them directly.

If you have accidentally prepared something that your veggie guest is unable to eat, don’t take it personally. It happens, even with the best of intentions. Making a big deal about it just makes everyone feel awkward. By communicating in advance, there should be some understanding, but mistakes happen. If you have made a genuine effort to accommodate your guests, they will likely be appreciative.

#4. To Tofurky or not to Tofurky?

At Thanksgiving, some vegetarians are perfectly happy to enjoy all the traditional sides and do not need a substitute for the turkey as a centerpiece. They may be happy with a non-traditional entree or no entree at all. With mashed potatoes, gravies, a few side salads and a fantastic dessert, many vegetarians won't miss the Tofurky (or other vegetarian turkey substitute) at all!

 

As far as non-traditional entrees, I was once served lentil soup at a Thanksgiving dinner, which I thought was a bit odd, but I was really touched that the host had gone out of her way for me, and I was thrilled to be in such great company. After all, I can have a Tofurky anytime I want, but I can't see all my friends and family together in one place every day!

Fall-themed entrees are a good choice if you're going the non-turkey and non-Tofurky route. A wild rice pilaf, or a stuffed acorn squash dish are simple stand-by ideas, as well as just about anything pumpkin. Pumpkin pizza, or pumpkin lasagna, anyone?

See also: 30 vegetarian Thanksgiving entree ideas

Some vegetarians and vegans strongly prefer to have a turkey substitute at the center of their Thanksgiving table, whether its a store-bought roast such as Tofurky or another vegetarian turkey, or a homemade loaf. Find out in advance which your guests would prefer. Your guests may not want or expect you to go out of your way for them by preparing a roast, so be sure to ask!

#5. Encourage vegetarian kids and teens to take an active role in preparing food that everyone can enjoy

If you are dealing with a single fussy family member, think of a creative compromise. For example, one year as a new vegan (ie. I was the single fussy family member!), I made a deal with my family: I would plan, shop, prepare the entire meal and clean up afterwards as long as nobody minded that the meal would be completely vegetarian (they drew the line at it being all vegan!). This is a great compromise for my non-vegetarian family: they get to relax and enjoy the holiday, and I got to eat an amazing meal! Everybody was happy.

#6. If you don’t feel like cooking (or cooking to accommodate your vegetarian/vegan guests) there are a few things you can do:

  • If you don’t want to prepare an entire vegetarian roast, try picking up some vegetarian turkey deli slices, such as Tofurky’s cranberry deli slices . When warmed up for a few minutes in the microwave, they are much like sliced turkey. Douse in vegetarian gravy, dip in potatoes and enjoy!
  • You may be able to order an entirely vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving feast no assembly required. Whole Foods offers a pre-cooked vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner, as do many larger health food stores and vegetarian and vegan restaurants, or, you can order or usually just drop in and pick up plenty of vegetarian and vegan Thanksgiving side dishes a la carte from Whole Foods.
  • If you want to do the cooking yourself, but need a little help, many Whole Foods and local co-op grocery stores are offer vegetarian Thanksgiving cooking classes in the weeks before Thanksgiving.

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