The Veggie Table: Navigating Thanksgiving

By: Janel Ovrut Funk

Spinach Gratin

Photo by: Tara Donne ©Tara Donne

Tara Donne, Tara Donne

Maybe this is your first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, or perhaps you're hosting your first vegan guests at a holiday dinner. Just because the traditional turkey takes center stage, it doesn't mean there can't be delicious plant-based options for both main dishes and sides that will satisfy you or all of your guests this year. I asked some top plant-based RDs how they navigate Thanksgiving and the winter holidays while still getting to enjoy festive foods. After all, isn't that the best part about the season?

Elizabeth Jarrard, RD, who blogs at Don't (White) Sugar Coat It, takes a positive spin on holiday eats: "Focus on abundance. Don't think about what you can't eat. Embrace the bounty of plant-based foods this season and use it as a chance to try out new grains, seeds and veggies."

Plant-loving dietitian Trish O’Keefe recommends bringing a dish you know you'll be able to enjoy: "Contribute something. Ask the host if it's okay to bring a plant-based dish. This ensures you'll get fed, plus it gives others the opportunity to taste plant-based dishes."

Leslie Riding, RD, Boston-area dietitian and long-time vegan, echoes this idea : "Bring an appetizer, entree, and dessert that you like to eat, and enough to share with others. Then you are guaranteed a meal, even if there are no other appropriate options."

Alex Caspero, a plant-based dietitian at, suggests easy swaps to make vegan-friendly dishes: "To me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides, which can easily be made vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free. Just take your favorite recipes and adjust. Calls for butter? Use non-hydrogenated margarine instead. Need cream? Try soy cream or my favorite- cashew crème (soak 1 cup cashews, blend in a blender for 5 minutes with 1 to 1 1/2 cups water and pinch of salt until creamy--use in everything!). Fake meat products are great in stuffing. I use tempeh bacon in my greens and sausage-less crumbs in my stuffing."

If this is your first vegan or vegetarian holiday season, do a few trials of new or favorite dishes made without meat or dairy before the big day so you can adjust the recipes as needed. Before you know it, you'll have a collection of plant-based recipes to use for holidays to come.

Check out more vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes from Food Network, like Ina's Spinach Gratin above, for inspiration this holiday season.

Janel Funk, MS RD LDN, loves experimenting with vegetarian and vegan cooking. Read her food blog, Eat Well with Janel, and follow her on twitter @DietitianJanel. Catch up on her previous posts here.

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