One of the most common questions I hear is, “My son/daughter/niece/girlfriend is a vegetarian, but I don’t know what to fix for them. What should I buy for my vegan guests?”
I’ve been stopped in the grocery store by sweet ladies looking at the vegetarian freezer section confusedly. I’ve had calls from friends of my mom and questions from my in-laws. We’ve had coworkers ask for suggestions and I’ve even had friends text me about the guy or girl they’re dating.
The common perception is that vegetarians and vegans must just eat salad. I mean, what else would they be able to eat, right?
Surprisingly, there are tons of easy veg-friendly dishes that will please everyone in the house or at the party. In fact, you probably have quite a few veg-friendly items in your house right now and don’t even realize it.
If you’re hosting a vegan for the holidays or simply trying to incorporate more plant-dishes into your meals, we’ve got you covered. There are many easy veg options you can add to your menu seamlessly. Here’s how:
1. Find Easy-to-Veg Dishes: Stir-fry, Pasta & More
Dry shelf-stable pasta is usually vegan. Check the packaging for eggs or milk (usually listed in the allergen information) but for the most part, brands like Barilla and Creamette are perfectly fine for plant-based eaters.
Many dishes like pasta, stir-fry and tacos are easy to customize. Simply cook the main meal first and then prepare meat on the side, or allow guests to add their own cheese and sour cream. You can make a great vegetable-based stir-fry, a yummy spaghetti marinara, rice and beans or a grain bowl and let everyone customize them to their liking.
2. Buy Accidentally Vegan Foods
There are tons of accidentally vegan foods. Ritz crackers, Oreo cookies, candy and more. Many cereals are accidentally vegan. Oatmeal, pasta, most breads, rice and plenty of soups are totally veg friendly.
It can be tough to cook for vegan friends because you may worry you’ll end up with a bunch of weird ingredients that will waste away in your cupboard. It’s true, many plant-based recipes call for strange ingredients like seitan, tofu, nutritional yeast, liquid aminos and cashew cheese. For someone who’s not used to cooking with these items it seems daunting and confusing (and even discouraging).
Don’t fret! Aim to buy items that are familiar and yet, veg-friendly. Vegetarian baked beans or vegetarian refried beans are a great example. Hummus is another veg-friendly food. You could also serve guacamole. Don’t feel you need to become an expert vegan chef overnight. Opt for items that you’ll enjoy even after your guests leave.
3. Add “Fake Meat”
There are tons of meatless crumbles, and alternative proteins out there. These are usually the items in my grocery cart, when I get asked for vegetarian suggestions. Gardein is our go-to brand for vegan newbies, but there’s also Beyond Meat, Upton’s Naturals, Field Roast, Litelife and Tofurky.
Boca and Morningstar farms, Quorn and several other companies also make vegetarian mock meats but use caution because many of their products contain egg and dairy (if that’s something you’re avoiding). Sweet Earth and Amy’s also make freezer-friendly meals that are vegetarian and vegan but again, read the package carefully to make sure. Amy’s makes a great cheeseless pizza and dairy-free “cheese” pizza as well.
In my opinion “crumbles” (made by Gardein, Beyond Meat or Boca) are the easiest items for newbies to substitute in their meals. They are seriously “meaty,” protein packed, and nearly undetectable in dishes like chilli, spaghetti or tacos. Veggie burgers are also a popular option for those who aren’t sure about what to fix.
4. Ask for Help Cooking
If you want to cook for a vegan guest, one of the best ways to do it is to simply ask them for help! Most vegetarians and vegans are used to working some culinary magic now and again and will relish the chance to share their kitchen discoveries with others.
If you’re hosting a dinner and a entertaining a vegetarian guest ask them to bring a dish to pass or something they’ll really love to share. You can even ask them to help you decide on the menu or offer adaptations for dishes you’d like to create for your party.
5. Don’t Force It or Feel Offended
It’s hard when you cook food for your guest and they won’t try it or eat it. It’s also hard for guests who might feel rude declining the foods you offer. Try to be open-minded about other’s dietary choices. If they don’t want to try a dish because it contains an ingredient they don’t eat, simply move on. It’s not your cooking, I promise.
Similarly, if you’re visiting a vegan or vegetarian guest, ask before you bring meat or dairy dishes to the party. Some plant-based eaters are fine with it, while others are uncomfortable and would prefer to keep their home meat-free. It’s best to err on the side of caution.
If you’re in a situation where you’re offered a dish that doesn’t fit with your diet choices, simply decline politely. Rarely does Aunt Ida want a lecture on the evils of factory farming, or the impact of the fishing industry on the environment. If the question is pursued, simply explain, while the food looks delicious, it’s just not an ingredient you eat and follow by letting them know you’re excited to try some of their quinoa salad or the soup they made. Subject change. Done.
It’s fine and important to share your beliefs with others, but keep in mind everyone is on their own journey, and no one wants to be made to feel guilty about their meal. Save the lectures for one-on-one conversations and remember kindness is much more effective for persuasion.
6. Try it! You’ll Like It!
Are you curious about the vegan or vegetarian dishes your guest brings to the party? Try it! Tofu, seitan, even dairy-free cheese is delicious. There are some seriously fantastic desserts out there which are totally vegan and will please everyone.
If you discover a vegetarian dish you enjoy, ask about how you can replicate it. Let the cook know how much you appreciate them sharing their food and how amazing it was. You just might discover a new item or two to add to your Meatless Monday repertoire.
One of the great aspects of vegetarian eating is that everyone can eat plant-based foods. There are many great dishes out there, so give it a try. You just might find something you like!