November 18, 2013
How to have a Vegetarian Thanksgiving
thanksgiving2009robin
Photo Credit: vegan.com

Thanksgiving, a day meant to sit back, relax and reflect on things you are thankful for. A list that hopefully includes friends, family, and the like.

It’s also a holiday that primarily revolves around food. While other holiday menus can vary greatly, Thanksgiving usually contains stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, and turkey.

Well, maybe turkey. For vegetarians, Thanksgiving can be a tricky holiday to navigate. It took me a long time to finally come to my current plant-based status, I went through periods of not eating meat, to eating it again, to going back to veganism only to return an omnivore and then back again. While it was important for me to take my time in exploring my choices, it was a nightmare for my family and friends to accept what I was currently eating at that moment in time.

Especially at Thanksgiving. Whether this is your first holiday as a vegetarian, or you’re hosting your first vegan guest, some thoughts:

1. Always let the hostess know of your diet choices before coming to dinner, it’s a much better conversation to have beforehand than around a large dinner table (with everyone weighing in). I’ve learned this the hard way. You don’t have to go into a long story about why, just state your current diet. The host may have questions about what to serve you so you can choose to be as detailed as you’d like. We usually cook to share love so if you let your host know ahead of time, they can be properly prepared to alter their dishes if needed.

2. In that same breath know that your host may not change their menu to accommodate you. Food can be very personal, especially recipes that are “always” served at the Holiday. Ask what the menu will be ahead of time and bring what you need to fill in the rest. While this isn’t always the best option, I’ve done it many times and it always works out fine. The holidays, while centered on food, are really about good company, family & friends.

3. Bring a dish! My southern mama has instilled in me the idea that whenever you visit someone, you bring food and this applies to holiday feasts as well. This way you also ensure that you can eat something. Ideas include a large salad, roasted sweet potatoes, vegetarian pot-pie, or wild rice and kale salad.

4. To me, thanksgiving is all about the sides; which can easily be made vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free. Just take your families recipes and adjust. Calls for butter? Use non-hydrogenated margarine instead. Need cream? Try soy cream or cashew crème (soak 1 cup cashews, blend in a blender for 5 minutes with 1 – 1 1/2 cups water and pinch salt until creamy.) Fake meat products are great in stuffings. I use tempeh bacon in my greens and sausage-less crumbs in my stuffing.

5. If you are searching for a main, vegetable center, consider one of the many vegetarian options. My favorite is a vegetable wellington for a main dish. Filled with roasted root vegetables and topped with a mushroom gravy- it’s a wow piece. Other showstopper ideas: vegetable napoleons, butternut squash lasagna, rice and vegetable timbales, or individual vegan pot pies. (I’ve served all of these at my dinners and everyone loves them)

6. Lastly, if you’re heading somewhere and know you won’t be able to eat most of the food served, celebrate beforehand. We did this for one of our first thanksgivings together as plant-eaters. The Sunday before I cooked a huge feast, all of our favorites made vegan friendly. We stuffed ourselves for the week! When we showed up for dinner on Thursday, we weren’t fazed by the fact that our “thanksgiving” was a salad and some green beans- we had thoroughly enjoyed our meal beforehand for days.

I hope some of these are useful are useful for you, have more to add? Let’s hear them in the comments below! In the end, it’s all about being with those you care about! Like I mentioned in #6, it’s not always the best situation but you deal… and then you go home and pig out on your own tofurkey 🙂

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Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, Plant-Based Chef and Yoga Instructor. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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