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When the Vegetarians Come Over for Dinner

December 22, 2011 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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When the Vegetarians Come Over for Dinner

Sharing meals with friends and family is a big part of holiday celebrations. But what happens to the traditional turkey dinner, when a vegetarian is on the guest list?

My wife and I have been vegetarian for 10+ years and come at this situation with some experience.

Here is our tip list for smoothing out differences in dining habits when you gather around a meal.

For the omnivorous host:

There are several different types of vegetarian diets. Verify if your guests are vegan, lacto/ovo vegetarian or something else.

  • Run your meal ideas past your guests (would you want to eat tofu turkey?).
  • Plan to make some vegetarian friendly dishes that everyone will enjoy. This avoids putting your guest in the spotlight with a ‘special' vegetarian meal.
  • Resist the urge to add bacon to everything. This will increase the variety of choices for your guests.
  • Everyone loves gravy. Try making a mushroom-based gravy that your guests can eat.
  • Steer conversation so that your guests don't need to explain or defend their vegetarianism (no one else has to explain why they eat the way they do).
  • Consider tried and true vegetarian dishes from other cultures like perogies, pasta, bean or lentil curries, bean burritos, spanakopita, succotash, nut loaf, spinach and mushroom wellington, or chilli.
  • Include vegetarian protein rich foods like beans, tofu, nuts, seeds or eggs (if your guests eat eggs) in your menu.

For the vegetarian guest:

  • Be aware that cooking for vegetarians can make your host anxious.
  • Don't expect your host to know what you like to eat.
  • Offer to bring a vegetarian entrée or provide a recipe for something you love to eat and share.
  • Do not politicize the meal. Accepting the dietary choices of your host and fellow guests will promote a pleasant atmosphere.
  • Be flexible and accommodating. (Try not to make a fuss about the soup being made with chicken stock).
  • Try to normalize vegetarianism by focussing on enjoying a good meal and conversation instead of talking about your dietary choices.
  • Be gracious whenever anyone makes a meal for you. This is a gift of caring.

Meals are better together. With a little mutual consideration holiday meals can be enjoyable for everyone. Bon appetit!

Happy Holidays,

~ Dean

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Comments (3)


Posted on Thursday December 22, 2011 a 12:23pm

You have some good points here. I would be a little nervous having a vegetarian over for dinner!


Posted on Friday December 23, 2011 a 2:21am

We have potlucks at work and they turn out to be more vegetarian options than meat options. I am happy taking a break from eating meat sometimes.

cpetelski's picture

HealthyFamilies BC

Posted on Tuesday January 10, 2012 a 11:33am

Thanks for your responses Rockstar, unique and Mererid. It's an interesting role reversal that Mererid has suggested. When meat-eaters come over to the vegetarian's house for dinner, do the vegetarians make roast chicken or steak for their meat eating guests? If the veterarian host was very accommodating this could happen (and does sometimes at our family gatherings), however in practice it is unlikely. The meat-eating hosts also eat vegetarian food, whereas the vegeterian hosts do not eat foods that are meats. So, the meat-eating host can serve vegetarian food without going against their values, morals or eating principles (assuming they don't have an issue with vegetarian staples like beans, nuts and grains). In contrast, it's likely that the vegetarian host would have to go against their values, morals or eating principles in order to prepare and serve a meat-based dish to their guests. It may seem like a double standard but, the two situations are not a case of simple role reversal.

Preparing meals for others is often a delicate dance of trying to anticipate and cater to people's food preferences without going to the extreme of making a separate meal for each person (don't fall into the restaurant service trap). It's a matter of trying to find a balance between the needs and preferences of the cook/host and those of the other eaters. Any home cook preparing meals for a number of family members knows this is true.

Thanks again for your comments,

Dean Simmons


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