Prepare a meal that welcomes all of your loved ones with these dos and don'ts.

The question of whether or not to invite your vegan and vegetarian friends and family to your traditional Thanksgiving feast has an easy answer: Of course you should. "You can't truly be thankful for your family if you've decided not to include them in a celebration of thanks due to their diet choice," points out chef Petrina Peart of Gaiya's Harvest. But expecting them to put aside their dietary choices for the holiday isn't the right approach, either, so you should expect to offer a few plant-based dishes. "If your intention is to be a great host, you have to be accommodating to your guest," says Peart. "You should always have one thing that everyone can eat. It means so much to go to someone's home as a guest and they have made something special just for you—it really is the thought that counts, especially for Thanksgiving." Here, tips on how to prepare a meal that everyone will appreciate.

Do: Plan to get creative

You don't need to scrap your entire menu to offer vegan or vegetarian options, says Peart. "A traditional Thanksgiving menu has lots of options for your vegans and vegetarians: green beans, cranberry sauce, mashed or roasted potatoes, and sweet potatoes and yams—it's a carb-loaded feast, and we will happily lick our plates," she says. But taking the time to update some of your recipes to leave out the meat, eggs, butter, and other non-plant-based ingredients will make your guests feel welcomed and loved. "I usually recommend keeping your vegetable dishes as vegetable dishes—dairy-free with low fat," says Peart. "Instead of green bean casserole, maybe sautéed mushrooms with green beans, reduced vegetable broth, and crispy fried shallots. Transform candied yams to fresh roasted sweet potatoes, drizzled with maple syrup or honey (if that's in the diet), cinnamon, and spiced crunchy pumpkin seeds. Mashed potatoes can be livened up with roasted garlic oil and rosemary instead of butter—or use vegan butter."

Don't: Just tweak the classics.

Simple ingredient swaps might work for many of your recipes, but some just won't taste the same. "If Grandma's stuffing recipe calls for bacon fat, beef tallow, or any other rich umami meat flavor and it's left out, your family members will notice—and maybe even feel a little cheated," says Peart. "For some menu items, it's just necessary to make two versions. At my family's Thanksgiving we'll usually have two macaroni and cheeses—the one I make is usually vegan. They both get eaten!"

group of friends rustic dinner party outdoors
Credit: SeventyFour / Getty Images

Do: Consider cross-contamination

If no one in your household eats a meat-free diet, you probably don't have cutting boards, pans, and knives that are designated vegetables-only, but you should make sure that everything is thoroughly washed before switching your prep duties—this means you can't chop the green beans on the same board where you just diced the bacon. Cross-contamination extends to the table service, too. "If you've already put the effort into making vegan options, keep them far away from the others," says Peart. "Don't put the vegan options next to the meat options to avoid splashing. Label foods, or use two tables if you have the space."

Don't: Make a big deal of it.

Just like no one's asking Uncle Harry about his diabetes or cousin Eileen about her gluten allergy, your vegan and vegetarian guests' dietary choices shouldn't be a topic of awkward conversation. "A lot of times, people won't share why they've changed their diets," says Peart. "Especially if it's concerning their health—some things are private. Don't mock someone who has decided to change their lifestyle." And don't draw attention to someone's preference by making a meal that's entirely meat-free, or commenting on what's on their plate. "If you and your other guests like turkey and ham, serve it," says Peart. "Just not right next to the mashed potatoes."

Do: Allow your guests to BYO.

While you shouldn't give your guests the impression that they need to bring a dish in order to have something to eat, you also shouldn't brush off their offers to help—even if you think the rest of your party will hesitate to try a vegan casserole. "Chances are, they are better cooks than you think!" says Peart. "They have had to relearn flavors and techniques in the kitchen. If someone offers, allow them to bring something—it may be a hit!"

Don't: Forget dessert.

Relatives and friends who don't eat meat or dairy have the same sweet tooth as the rest of your guests, and it's easy to find something delectable and celebratory that your whole guest list can enjoy. "Everyone wants pie and ice-cream—everyone!" says Peart. "We've all saved and calculated calories for this day, and sliced apples just isn't going to cut it!" If adding one more dessert to your menu feels overly complicated, you can ask your vegan guests to suggest a recipe or bring a dish—though, points out Peart, providing a vegan dessert is as simple as using coconut oil instead of butter in your pie pastry and grabbing a pint of non-dairy ice cream.


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