How to Host Holiday Dinner for Vegetarian Guests

two woman standing beside woman sitting in front of table

Arranging Meatless Options for Entertaining on Special Occasions

Hosting a vegetarian for dinner for the first time can be stressful. What do vegetarians eat? What can’t they eat? Will they be offended?

Vegetarians may also feel uncomfortable attending holiday parties where meat is the focus. Take the stress off both of you by following these steps.

1. What Kind of Vegetarian Are They?

If you are hosting a dinner party for someone who is vegetarian, at the top of the “to-do” list is to clarify what type of vegetarian the guest is, and determine what they do and do not eat.

There are many different types of vegetarians, ranging from vegans (those who avoid all animal products) to lacto-ovo-vegetarians (those who eat eggs and dairy) and pescatarians (who also eat fish).

2. Finding Main Dish Meat Alternatives

After determining what kind of vegetarian the guest is, it is easier to ensure they have enough to eat.

While meat is often the holiday focus, remember that most vegetarians will still want to be part of traditional celebrations. Ensuring there are enough trimmings vegetarian guests can eat (cranberries, stuffing cooked outside the turkey,dairy-free beverages…) is important too.

What to do if meat is the main course:

  • Serve an alternative main dish. These can be purchased (such as Tofurky) or homemade. For a homemade dish, make something with flavours that can accompany the main meat dish, so everybody can share, like harvest stuffed squash.
  • Serve a wide variety of vegetarian dishes, without a central focus or “main” dish. For example, include white beans with sage, a rice pilaf, sweet potatoes, salad, and a variety of vegetables.
  • Serve a vegetarian meal. While this may not be traditional, fancy moussaka and chic cheese cannelloni are two examples of great vegetarian mains for entertaining.
  • For unexpected guests, keep frozen vegetable patties on hand. These can be heated up at a moment’s notice as a substitute for a meat main dish. When there are enough vegetarian dishes to choose from, a main dish may not be necessary. Ask your guest if this approach works for them – some may feel out of place receiving special, separate food.

3. Investigate Side dishes, Appetizers, and Dessert

Some of the dishes you cook are probably already vegetarian; start with these and add more side dishes as needed.

Adapting Current Dishes

  • Side dishes can be made vegan by replacing butter with dairy-free margarine or oil
  • Keep a small amount of a dish separate before adding animal products (for example, let guests sprinkle bacon bits atop their own dishes)
  • Adapt desserts to suit vegans by using egg replacer and soy beverage instead of eggs and milk
  • Try to provide at least one or two vegetarian appetizers like bean dip, candied nuts (honey is not vegan) or crostini with olive oil toppings

Foods to Avoid

  • Side dishes like gelatin molds and sweet potatoes with marshmallows; they contain gelatin, which is not vegetarian
  • Chicken broth and other meat stocks
  • Butter and other dairy products (vegetarian but not vegan); some margarines also contain milk ingredients
  • Lard-based pie crusts
  • Honey is not considered vegan

4. Remember the Host’s Responsibilities

  • Double-check what kinds of foods the guest is comfortable eating
  • Be aware that many foods contain hidden non-vegetarian ingredients. These include Caesar salad dressing; Jell-o; pie crusts and chicken broth.
  • Open the lines of communication with a phone call.
  • Ask for help if you need it. For potlucks or casual meals, ask (nicely) if your guest could bring their favourite dish. For recipe ideas, speak to your guest or borrow a vegetarian cookbook from the library.