Dinner with vegetarians – a survival guide

I’m pretty lucky.  My sister and I are both vegetarians (she’s vegetarian, used to be vegan, and I still pretend I’m vegan) so long ago my mother learned to cook for or “deal with” vegetarians at holiday time.  But not everyone is so blessed, and lots of crap comes down on vegetarians as a result.

It confuses me why people have such a hard time cooking or working with vegetarians at holiday meal time.  I mean, seriously, how hard is it to cook for us?  Below, in no particular order, is a list of things that might make mixed meals – those with both vegetarians and meat eaters – easier on all involved.  The ideas are dos and don’ts of “dealing with” vegetarians.  Feel free to add your ideas to the list (and feel free to share the list too).

  1. Don’t serve salad: Maybe if you have it as one option on the menu, but not the sole option, but otherwise please, no.  If you say you’ve got food for us and all you have is salad, let us know in advance.  We can eat before we go over and everyone will be happy.  Salad is not filling and, no matter what you put in it (or, god forbid, on it) it’s a thoughtless dish.  Lettuce or lettuce substitute (arugula, kale, spinach), tomatoes, cucumbers (or zucchini), and, maybe, carrots.  Just. Don’t.
  2. When in doubt about what to make, go simple: vegetables are always good.  Steamed (or roasted) broccoli, cauliflower, carrots . . it’s all good.  Remember, we LIKE vegetables.  Oh, and roasted potatoes (white, red, yellow, sweet, and/or yams) and/or rice too.  But omit butter on the veggies, taters, and rice (for those of us who are vegan).
  3. Don’t ask us where we get specific vitamins/minerals/protein: If you’re genuinely curious, then ask what we eat and we’ll tell you.  Anything else is just rude and sounds like an accusation or that we’re too stupid to figure out ways to get needed vitamins, minerals, calcium, protein, et al., etc.  Trust that we know what we’re doing and leave it be.  For the record, protein and calcium can come from grains, potatoes, pasta, beans, and many vegetables.
  4. If you ask what we eat/don’t eat, listen to us: Many times people have asked me what I can and cannot eat – then serve those things I can’t eat and omit what I can eat.  If you’re not going to listen to us, then don’t ask.  See #5 for more.
  5. Feel free to ask us to cook something: Some folks think it’s hard to cook for vegetarians.  I don’t understand that, but okay.  If it’s too hard to cook for us, and you really want us to share a meal with you, then ask us to cook something everyone *should* enjoy.  I make a mean spaghetti squash casserole, a roasted vegetable melange that is usually popular, and some really good marinara.  Regardless, if you ask us to cook, you’ll get an idea of what possibilities exist (and we’ll have at least one item we know we can eat).
  6. Don’t cook meat and vegetables in the same dish/container: We can’t eat veggies cooked in meat juices.  And many of us can also tell when something has been cooked in/with meat.  When in doubt, cook separately.  See also #s 4 and 5.
  7. Don’t tell us to just eat around the meat: This is a variation on #6.  Years ago, before I became a vegan, I helped a friend move.  He ordered pizza – all with meat (pepperoni, sausage, meat lovers).  Someone who should have known better told me to just pick the pepperoni off the slice.  It will still taste like meat and still has meat juices on it.  So basically it’s still a meat-based product.  Same principal for dishes made with meat.
  8. If you make dressing, please use vegetable broth: This will be a winner all around.  You get the same thing from vegetable broth as from meat based (beef, chicken, fish, pork): moisturizes, added flavor and sodium.  But it won’t taste or be as heavy and will have less fat – notwithstanding the fact we wouldn’t be able to eat the dressing if you make it with animal-based broth.  Or if you make it in the bird/meat.
  9. Don’t make comments on the food we eat: This should be the byword for everyone, whether meat eater or vegetarian.  As with #3, it’s just rude to comment on someone else’s food choices.  We respect your culinary choices and ask that you respect ours too.

I hoped for 10 but can’t think of anything else right now.  This isn’t intended to be snide, mean, or obnoxious.  This is meant to give some ideas of what vegetarians can and cannot eat and how to make mealtimes easier for everyone.  I hope I’ve helped.  Feel free to comment.


About flatpickingjd

Just your average, liberal vegetarian redneck. Yes, I'm a liberal. Proudly so. I see nothing wrong with that and wear that label with pride. Yes, I'm a vegetarian. I used to be fat, very fat. Then I started taking care of myself, lost a bunch of weight and found it easier to keep that weight off by not eating meat. Or cheese. Or eggs. Or any good stuff. Man, I miss pizza. And, yes, I'm a redneck. I like camping and fishing, listen to bluegrass music and live (from time to time) in the south(west). So, yup, I'm just your average, liberal vegetarian redneck. Serious details about me: I make my living as a lawyer. My practice focus is business law, but I've dabbled in other areas including personal injury, family law, real estate, and water law. I also hold three master's degrees with plans to earn a doctorate. I hope you enjoy your time here, and feel free to comment!
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