Help! A Vegetarian is coming for Thanksgiving Dinner!
Vegetarians and Thanksgiving can co-exist, but the thing to know is WHAT TYPE of vegetarian they are. Then you can navigate the menu and make some additions or slight changes to existing recipes that are vegetarian friendly.
There are many, many types of vegetarians. If someone says they’re a vegetarian (or are bringing a vegetarian family member), don’t panic. Just say, “great, what kind are you (they)?” If you’re speaking directly to the person, you could ask more questions, such as, “what does a normal meal look like for you?” And, “What do you like best about Thanksgiving dinner?” Or, “What do you miss most about Thanksgiving dinner?” Let it be a conversation opener. Oftentimes, a vegetarian will offer to bring their favorite dish (or will just show up at your door with it).
You want to ask these questions if you can. There are many types of vegetarians and within those types, what they choose to eat varies, too. My daughter is a “regular” vegetarian. But within her type, you need to know she won’t eat nuts in any form. Beans are iffy and she’s really not too keen on vegetables. She’s getting better but knowing that a big bowl of mac and cheese and some plain vegetables that she can smother in butter is her happy place, is a whole lot different than what you’d typically think when someone says they are a “vegetarian.”
Then there are food allergies and intolerances. Some people turn to a vegetarian diet due to health issues. My daughter doesn’t tolerate sulphurs well, which knock out egg yolks, peppers, garlic, onion… Nor does she tolerate carrageenan. She gets really sick. So, we think about all those things, too, when cooking for her and makes us more aware of others’ needs.
Even though organic foods are not allowed to have carrageenan anymore, now the rest of the dairy food industry has jumped on it as a “natural” thickener and emulsifier. They are adding it to almost everything dairy to make it thicker, smoother, silkier, and create a nice “mouth-feel.” The problem is that many, many people get intestinal problems from it. Then there’s the connection with cancer when it’s mixed with an acid. Dairy is a base, so why would that matter? It matters because our stomach “neutralizes” food – which means it dumps acid on bases to neutralize it. Hmmm….
Many American vegetarians rely heavily on soy products for their protein. We did a lot of soy in the early 1990’s while my daughter was a pre-adolescent. It messed up both hers and my hormones. I never produced enough progesterone, then the estrogenic effect of soy really messed me up. And my daughter’s hormones were so messed up that she was in her mid-twenties before they balanced out. That was after nearly 15 years of no soy. Due to this, none of my recommendations will have soy products, including tofu. I do use liquid Aminos for the amino acids that vegetarians miss, but I’m told the way that soy is fermented doesn’t cause it to be estrogenic. It’s also a small ingredient, much like vanilla in a baked good.
Defining the TYPES of vegetarians
Regular Vegetarians (Also called Lacto-ovo vegetarians)
Regular vegetarians don’t eat meat in any form – red, pork, poultry, or fish. They eat dairy and eggs, which makes feeding them fairly easy.
Feeding the “Regular” Vegetarian
While they have the broadest selection of foods, it may mean a little tweaking in your recipes:
- Swapping out vegetable broth for a meat-based broth is a biggie.
- You won’t be buying any of the Stove Top Dressing boxes, my daughter tells me, as none of them are vegetarian anymore. Try Brownberry instead. It’s not complete, but you can make it vegetarian. The FDA no longer recommends stuffing the bird, so making it on the side is becoming mainstream. Otherwise, just leave out a dish of stuffing that you bake separately. For added Unami (meat-like) flavor, use Mushroom or Vegetarian broth instead of water. Better Than Bouillon is widely available and absolutely delicious.
- If you make a rice stuffing instead of a bread-based stuffing, again, watch any mixes. My daughter used to be able to buy Rice-a-Roni, but it looks like they all have meat flavorings in them now, too.
- Leave the bacon and other meats out of the salads.
- Green Bean Casserole is usually fine, unless you add bacon bits. If you make it from scratch without canned cream of mushroom soup, the recipe often calls for chicken broth. Instead, Better than Bouillon Mushroom Soup Base will work exceptionally well. You could also use vegetable broth, if you have that on hand.
- Squash is often served at Thanksgiving dinners. Squash is a vegetarian favorite. Usually, it doesn’t have meat in it unless you fill it with sausage. We like Butternut Squash. I just steam, bake, or Instant Pot cook it, cube or mash with butter and salt and pepper. That’s it. Yum!!
- There are many types of meat alternatives available today. Some are nut based, some bean based, so pea protein based, and others the old standby of soy (also called TVP). Just watch for the ingredients specific to the type. If you just want to be safe, choose one labeled “vegan.” That covers all the bases.
This type of vegetarian excludes meat, fish, poultry and eggs, as well as foods that contain them. They DO eat dairy.
Feeding the Lacto-vegetarian
The difference here is that they don’t eat eggs.
- Everything I said about the “regular” vegetarian above applies
- Check breads and dinner rolls for eggs. They usually don’t but some do.
- Some people add eggs to their stuffing, that would need to change. Chia seeds work well as a substitute. They have little to no flavor. They gel very well. Tori has easy instructions on her blog, How to Make Vegan Egg Substitute. https://toriavey.com/how-to/how-to-make-a-vegan-egg-substitute/. I made a line of lacto-vegetarian breads in the early 2000’s using chia seeds instead of eggs. They were good enough for grocery stores. So, I heartily recommend the substitute.
The Ovo-vegetarian excludes meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, but allows eggs.
Feeding the Ovo-Vegetarian
I find this one harder. No dairy. That means no cheese, no butter, no milk, no cream, no sour cream. We use a lot of that in making the thanksgiving meal. Personally, I only know one person who can’t have any dairy at all, but her daughter has other issues, so she’s not a good reference. Everyone else I know eats at least cheese. I live in the dairy state, after all.
- Almost everything I said about the “regular” vegetarian above applies with the exception of the Green Bean Casserole. The traditional “cream of mushroom soup” has dairy products. If you want to make it for the ovo-vegetarian, you’ll need to make it from scratch. Choose a milk alternative and thicken it. Remember to add a little mushroom bouillon (Better than Bouillon is awesome).
- Some things that call for milk can be made with rice milk, which is pretty neutral. Watch for types without sugars, flavorings, and carrageenan. You don’t want a line to the bathroom if people have an issue with carrageenan. If you need thickness, such as cream, you may need to add a thickener like chia seeds or cornstarch.
- Watch for any words such as casein, sodium caseinate, lactose, among other names. If you’re buying a substitute, make sure it says “dairy-free” or “vegan.” Non-dairy doesn’t mean that it is free of all dairy products, as I found out when my daughter was a baby and allergic. That was frustrating.
- Again, look at the bread and roll labels for dairy. Usually an artisan sourdough bread doesn’t have any fat at all. If it does, it’s usually oil, not butter. A plain sourdough will have flour, salt and water. If it’s a multi-grain, it may have other grains, but it still doesn’t usually have any type of fat.
- While you can buy vegan butter, it’s just another name for margarine. Save your money and buy margarine.
The vegan diet excludes meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products — and foods that contain these products. It also excludes honey! Don’t miss this little detail! This is the most restrictive version of vegetarianism.
Feeding the Vegan
- Follow the suggestions for ALL of the types above.
- Use maple syrup instead of honey, you may need to cook down the maple syrup for consistency. Many people have squash with brown sugar and spices. That’s fine. Or use Maple Syrup.
- The vegan diet tends to focus on legumes for their protein. A lentil side-dish becomes their main dish. I have a recipe for lentil soup that is my daughter’s favorite soup. I served it at an event I catered for my daughter’s company and many people asked for the recipe. Most often, our holiday dinners are this lentil soup. Everyone enjoys it. When it’s just my daughter and me, it’s our main dish. Here’s the recipe: Lentil Soup Recipe Base Recipe with Variations.
The pescatarian diet excludes meat and poultry, dairy, and eggs, but allow fish. I’m not sure how they feel about honey. It’s probably a person by person thing. My cousin’s son is a Pescatarian. She always told me he was a vegetarian, but then he asked me for my recipe for cold cured Norwegian Salmon. Apparently, he’s a Pescatarian, not a regular vegetarian (lacto-ovo vegetarians).
Feeding the Pescatarian
- Follow all the suggestions above, and add back fish.
What NOT to do
Unless the vegetarian says, “I’m just happy with a big salad, ”please, please, please don’t just expect them to eat a salad and be happy they had their veggies – “they are a vegetarian so they like vegetables, right?” A green salad does not have the nutrients, protein, or calories to fulfill the requirements of a balanced meal for a vegetarian.
Please understand that while some vegetarians grumble about “not having anything” to eat at dinner, most are TOTALLY used to it! But just making some changes in your normal recipes will give them options – and earn you the title of the best hostess.
Have a wonderful thanksgiving. Remember to relax and enjoy the people you’re with. It’s about relationships and building memories.