The Veggie Table: Thanksgiving Tips for the Vegetarian

When you're the cook, you can make sure to serve options that fit your vegetarian diet, but if your host isn't serving a vegetarian Thanksgiving, don't despair. Here are some tips on how to navigate -- and still enjoy -- the feast.
By: Janel Ovrut Funk
Cran Jello

Cran Jello

Cranberry Jello with Whip Topping in White Dish

With that huge turkey, sausage-filled stuffing, buttery rolls, creamy casseroles and more, the traditional Thanksgiving spread isn't exactly vegetarian- or vegan-friendly. When you're the cook, you can make sure to serve options that fit your diet, but if your host isn't serving vegetarian fare, don't despair. Here are some tips on how to navigate -- and still enjoy -- the feast.

Take Stock

Be mindful of where the flavor comes from. Grandma’s pumpkin soup and vegetable stuffing may seem veg-friendly, but she likely uses chicken or even beef stock. If you're worried, ask your host and maybe suggest that he or she make a side or two with vegetable stock. If your host (or guests) balk at the thought, prepare a version for yourself and offer it up to everyone else along with the meatier stuff. Most likely, no one will be able to tell that you swapped chicken stock with veggie stock -- especially if you up the flavor with fresh herbs.

The Main Event: Turkey

Just because you don’t eat meat, that doesn’t mean your meal has to lack protein. Many Thanksgiving dinners include a soup course, which you can turn into a main dish. Again, see if your host will switch to vegetable broth or offer to bring your own squash stew or bean chili for everyone. This recipe will provide the protein you need to satisfy you and other guests, and there's no need to turn to cooking up one of those prepackaged, meat-substitutes such as Tofurky.

Not Always Room for Jell-O

I always loved the sweet dishes that made it to our family's Thanksgiving table -- my mom’s gelatin mold and my grandma’s sweet potato casserole dotted with mini-marshmallows. But when I celebrated my first vegetarian Thanksgiving, I vetted the classic dishes to weed out what wouldn't work. That included those gelatin-containing sides. Gelatin, the ingredient that gives Jell-O, marshmallows and even jiggly cranberry sauce their bounce, is made out of the collagen in cow or pig bones, hooves and connective tissues. There are great vegetarian gels and marshmallows on the market that you can use, but why not stick to a simpler, more wholesome option: Sprinkle your sweet potatoes with a little brown sugar or a squirt of agave (or just enjoy their sweetness au naturale).

But There’s Butter

You bet there’s butter in those pies, mashed potatoes and more. There may be milk and eggs as well. If you avoid dairy ingredients altogether, bring along your own sweet treat -- one featuring fresh harvest fruits. Try preparing a warm Apple Compote (serve with a scoop of dairy-free ice cream) or some cinnamon-spiced baked pears. Without all that butter, these sweets are lower calorie, too.

    Need more ideas for vegetarian/vegan recipes to bring to dinner? Try these:

TELL US: What is your favorite vegetarian recipe for Thanksgiving?

Janel Ovrut, MS RD LDN, loves experimenting with vegetarian and vegan cooking. Read her food blog, Dine Dish Delish, and follow her on Twitter @DietitianJanel. Catch up on her previous posts here.

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