It can be difficult to feed a loved one who abstains from meat or animal products if you have never had to think about it before.
It can also be difficult to eat bread and cheese for dinner when everyone else is digging into steaks with mashed potatoes and gravy.
I have been on both sides of this situation. When I visit a friend or family’s house they often ask, “What can I make you?” Before becoming a vegetarian we would often entertain vegetarians or vegans and I would also have to rack my brain to find something that would fit their dietary needs. Now I want people to know that it doesn’t need to be so complicated. With a few simple swaps and recipes you can always have something satisfying to whip up without needing to visit a specialty store or even step outside your comfort zone.
I’m going to share with you a few steps to run through when planning a meal to keep it vegetarian (and possibly vegan) while still satisfying everyone at the table. Let’s go!
Remove the Meat
I don’t want to assume anything about your knowledge of vegetarians and vegans, so let’s start at the beginning. Vegetarians don’t eat meat (although some will still eat fish, eggs, or poultry – it’s best to ask), and vegans generally don’t partake in any animal product (dairy, eggs, and honey are out). If your first instinct is to make pork chops, stop and reconsider.
Look for Hidden Meat
Most vegetarians will take offense to anything made with chicken or beef stock, even if there are no chunks of meat in whatever you’re making. One of my favorite vegetarian anecdotes involves a famous actress discussing her vegetarian ways, then mentioning that her favorite food was French onion soup. She was horrified when the reporter informed her that French onion soup is made with… beef broth.
Make a Swap
Vegetarian substitutes are everywhere these days. There are a wide variety of prepared veggie burgers and “chicken” patties in the frozen food section if you’re looking for convenience (these are also easily made from scratch). You can also experiment with TVP, tofu, and seitan. These ingredients can be intimidating and hard to find, however, if you’re not used to cooking with them. An easier way to go can be replacing meat with beans. In general I like to swap beef for black beans, pork for pinto beans, and garbanzo beans, great northern beans, or canellini beans for poultry. Canned beans make this super simple, and of course you will want to adjust your recipe and cooking time to reflect the swap.
Chances are you have more vegetarian meals in your repertoire than you realize. Serve up a favorite pasta dish or hearty salad. When in doubt make an extra vegetable or grain side dish. Relax and enjoy your visitors. You may feel like they’re picking apart your meal but most likely they are just happy to be there (and maybe filled up on “safe” food before they came). If you have concerns about what someone will or won’t eat, don’t be afraid to ask questions and maybe give them a call ahead of time to see how you can accommodate their needs.
Make it Vegan
If you have a vegetarian dish it’s not too hard to make it vegan. Vegan cheese is a readily available swap for dairy cheese (or just leave it out). Eggs can be replaced by flax eggs (1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water. Allow it to sit for a few minuets to “gel”.). Earth Balance makes a popular vegan “butter”. Focus on grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. If you’re having a hard time coming up with a vegan main dish, make several side dishes you feel comfortable with, such as roasted squash or a rice pilaf, and there will be plenty to eat.
In need of a few easy recipes to get you started?
Blueberry Pomegranate Breakfast Parfaits are loaded with protein and antioxidants. Any vegetarian would be so lucky to be brunching at your house.
Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting are a total treat. You can find vegan cream cheese in the organic section of your supermarket to keep these clean for everyone to enjoy.
Black Bean Patties are a tasty introduction to black beans.
Crispy Quinoa Bake is unbelievably hearty and comforting.
Make Veggie Fajitas and keep a pile of seared beef strips on the side for those who absolutely insist on meat.
Penne alla Vecchia Betolla might be my favorite thing. Ever.
Nutty Chocolate Chip Vegan Granola Bars taste even better than the store bought version, and no one will ever know they’re vegan (unless they need to!).
Having people over for lunch? Impress them with these Goat Cheese and Veggie Sandwiches.
Cheesy Spinach Baked Egg Sandwiches are cheesy, filling, and perfect for any time of day.
Do you still have any questions unanswered about feeding a vegetarian or vegan? What are your favorite dishes to make for those who don’t eat meat? Let me know in the comments!