Maybe you love meat. I mean really love meat. You’re the kind of person who never lets their barbecue stop running in the summer. All summer long, there is cloud of meat-y goodness wafting from your backyard…
Then your daughter marries a vegetarian (“Hi, Mom!”) and thanksgiving is around the corner… or you make some cool new friends, so, you invite them over for dinner. They tell you that they’d love to come over, they just don’t eat meat…
And that’s when the panic sets in – What on earth are you going to feed these people?
Here are some practical suggestions and bits of encouragement to get you started:
1. Ask What Kind of Vegetarian They Are
There are lots of different kinds. Do they eat eggs? Milk? Cheese? Are they okay if you make something (like a soup) with meat-based broth? Do you need to avoid anything containing gelatine (like Jell-O or marshmallows)? Once you know exactly what version of vegetarianism they ascribe to, you will feel more confident in your menu choices.
A couple of practical tips:
- For egg-free vegetarians – try using flax seed eggs for baking and hummus for savoury meals, like Falafel, that normally call for eggs.
- There are LOTS of meat-free chicken and beef broth bouillon cubes or pre-made stocks available. Check the labels. You might be surprised to see that even the one you use doesn’t actually contain any meat. My favourites are Mrs. McCormick and GoBio bouillon cubes.
- Eating Halal also does not allow for the consumption of gelatine as it is derived from pork bone. So, look for no-name Jell-Os, marshmallows, and Oreos marketed as Halal. These are sure to also be vegetarian.
2. Avoid Tofu-Based Meat Alternatives
This is something that I tell everyone who will listen. Vegetarian meals are better when they are truly vegetarian, that is, originally developed to be vegetarian – not when they are vegetarian adaptations of “normal” omnivorous meals. By and large, meat alternatives like tofu ground beef, tofu bacon, tofu chicken breasts, and/or tofurkey are awful. They just remind me that I’m not eating meat – they are close to the meat-y flavour I remember, but no where near as good. On the other hand, my husband, who has never eaten meat, loves veggie burgers. I would still much prefer a marinated or lightly seasoned portobello mushroom, but if you are having a large backyard barbecue and have invited some vegetarians, veggie burgers are a perfectly fine and easy option (our favourite brand is the Garden Burgers from Costco).
3. Pick an Easy Recipe
Once you know what your friend’s particular restrictions are, you can move on to planning the meal. Since you don’t cook vegetarian every day, look for recipes that are easy to make and that use ingredients that you have on hand or at least recognize. (May I suggest: Black Bean and Corn Tacos, Vegan Butter Chickpeas, or Potato and Leek Soup). When in doubt go for Pizza or Pasta!
4. Don’t Worry about Making a Vegetarian Main on the Holidays
Major family holidays, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, are so full of food, that honestly, I hardly notice that I’m a vegetarian. There are so many vegetarian-friendly sides that we can literally fill our plates without ever going for the meat. A nice and easy gesture is to make sure that there is some vegetarian stuffing and gravy (you can even just buy them in packages from the store). If you are feeling adventurous, by all means, go ahead and try something new and vegetarian (like this Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie), but this extra work is not at all necessary.
5. Take a Deep Breath and Ask for Help
Something that I have to constantly remind myself is that hosting people is not about how beautiful and spotless my house is, or how amazingly delicious and visually appealing the meal was. It is about spending time with the people I’ve invited into my home. It’s about meaningful connection and mutual enjoyment. If it really is too overwhelming for you to cook vegetarian, ask if you can do a potluck and have the vegetarians bring a main (you might delightfully surprised by what they bring!). Try and coordinate and go all out with appetizers and desserts! My biggest concern when going over to someone’s house is that our dietary restriction will stress them out. We, and most vegetarians are actually quite happy to simply “eat the sides” of a meal every once in a while (like on Thanksgiving or Christmas), so that our friends and family are not inconvenienced. Really, the only reason I tell new friends that I am a vegetarian is so that they don’t make an expensive dinner (i.e., steak) for us and then we have to turn around and say awkwardly, “Sorry. We don’t eat meat…”.