What To Serve Vegetarians For Thanksgiving

Having guests with dietary restrictions for Thanksgiving dinner can be tough. But you want to accommodate everyone. I never used to know what to serve vegetarians for Thanksgiving. But I have a strategy now that involves little extra work for me but satisfies everyone.


One year my gang of 20 Thanksgiving Dinner guests included two vegetarians, a person with celiac disease and someone with a peanut/egg/soy/shellfish allergy. I wound up making two types of stuffing (one vegetarian, one not), using cornstarch in the gravy instead of flour and serving the allergic individual pasta with butter and parmesan cheese (the individual was four-years-old and this bland meal was as he requested). It was my first big dinner dealing with dietary restrictions and I was off totally off balance. Since then I’ve figured a lot and I think I now know how to make a dinner that everyone can enjoy.

Our Thanksgiving tables when we lived in Toronto: Set and ready for the guests to arrive. What to serve vegetarians for Thanksgiving?

Our Thanksgiving tables when we lived in Toronto: Set and ready for the guests to arrive.

The side dishes are generally easy enough when you have guests with special dietary restrictions. To omit dairy or flour or meat stock and substitute something else instead is simple enough. I’m always less sure what to do about the main course.

I’ve been to meals at other people’s homes where there is a “special main course” made for the vegetarians. This dish is heavily guarded and the meat-eaters are told not to take any. This always upsets me. Not so much because the poor vegetarians are being singled out but because I’m never happy when barred from eating anything.

I’ve been to other dinner parties where two main courses are served to everyone who would like to eat them. I’m always impressed by the hosts at these dinners since making a single main course is worthy enough of thanks. Making two is worthy of a standing ovation.

Dad's carving the turkey.

My dad carves a mean turkey!

However, I don’t usually have the time or the planning skills to do two. I also wonder about the wastefulness of this strategy. You need to make enough of both dishes such that EVERYONE can have a bit of each. But not everyone will doubly partake and so the leftovers will be heftier than normal. If you have a large freezer this probably isn’t a big deal. I don’t have a large freezer and my small one is currently stocked with breast milk so there isn’t room for leftovers of any kind!

The solution I’ve come up with is to not worry about whether the vegetarians get a main course. Instead I make sure that the side dishes are plentiful and hearty so that even the turkey-abstainers are filled up.

What to serve vegetarians for Thanksgiving (the same thing you serve everyone else):

  • Appetizer: Veggies, Dip, Cheese, Crackers, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
  • Turkey
  • Gravy
  • Stuffing from inside the bird* (this one usually has bacon or sausage in it)
  • Stuffing that was never inside the bird* (this one does not contain bacon or sausage and I  use vegetable stock instead of meat stock to moisten it).
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Carrots with Butter and Dill (I’m from Canada where we don’t do that whole Green Bean Casserole thing. Since moving to the states I have occasionally made that strange concoction instead of carrots. I wind up missing the carrots)
Sitting down to Thansgiving Dinner with good friends.

Sitting down to Thansgiving Dinner with good friends.

  • A Squash or Sweet Potato Casserole (I’ve made this Roasted Squash Gratin from Canadian Living Magazine twice to rave reviews. I like serving it when we’re having vegetarian guests because it’s very hearty and the bit of milk and cheese adds a touch of protein. Oh, and stay tuned for a Sweet Potato Crisp recipe of my own coming up on the Bob’s Red Mill site).
  • A Green Salad
  • A Bowl of Pickles and Olives
  • A Bowl of Mixed Nuts
  • Dinner Rolls and Butter
  • Dessert: Pumpkin Pie (crust made with vegetable shortening and butter, not lard) and Whipping Cream
  • Post-Dessert: Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies and Whole Apples set out later in the evening for snacking on and for soaking up the last bits of red wine

This strategy suits me because I don’t make anything extra. It’s also simple for everyone to understand. The non-vegetarians can eat whatever they want. I then whisper to the vegetarians about what they should avoid: the turkey, the gravy and the stuffing that is on a plate (as opposed to the stuffing in a casserole dish).

So that’s what I do. What I don’t know is if this is acceptable to vegetarians. I assume that they, like me, are delighted when someone invites them over for dinner. As long as there’s good food that they can have, they will eat and be merry.

But tell me, my beloved vegetarian readers, how do you want to be treated at Thanksgiving? Do you like to have a main course or are you happy so long as there are a variety of dishes that you can eat?


*I routinely make two kinds of stuffing at Thanksgiving whether we are entertaining vegetarians or not. The reason is that we have a case of Poultry Cavity Conflict in my house: The hubs likes the crispy stuffing you get from baking it in a casserole dish whereas I like the moist turkey-flavored stuffing you get from roasting it in the turkey cavity. Making sure that one is vegetarian (the one cooked outside of the bird) it a simple way to have an additional side dish for any vegetarians in attendance.

5 Responses to “What To Serve Vegetarians For Thanksgiving”

  1. Susi — November 13, 2012 @ 10:39 am (#)

    I usually always have two sides of stuffing as well for the same reasons you do. I have never had to worry about making anything special for anyone. So far everyone that comes can eat the same things!

  2. marbaird — November 12, 2012 @ 10:16 pm (#)

    You have some excellent choices. I usually will make crab cakes to serve right before our salad. This ends up being my daughter’s main dish instead of the turkey. And she is as happy as a “clam”

    • Christine Pittman — November 13, 2012 @ 9:26 am (#)

      What a great idea! Having an appetizer that is vegetarian-friendly and that acts as a good protein that everyone can enjoy certainly would cut down on the work while making everyone happy. And I would be the happiest of all – I LOVE crab cakes!

  3. Jeanette — November 12, 2012 @ 9:09 pm (#)

    I love the idea of having a lot of dishes that nearly everyone can eat. It is always tricky trying to please everyone at a big holiday at Thanksgiving.


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