Home » Health and Nutrition » Vegetarian on Thanksgiving: How to Have a Peaceful Holiday

Vegetarian on Thanksgiving: How to Have a Peaceful Holiday

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

Thanksgiving feasts are weird for vegetarians, especially those who grew up eating meat. Tradition wars with beliefs and family members have a difficult time understanding why you won’t participate in the turkey chow down anymore.

Mention the significance of Thanksgiving and its traditional meat-heavy dishes

So what is the best (read: most peaceful) way to be a vegetarian on Thanksgiving?

Pouring coffee in a white mug. It says Ugh.
Don’t feel like this during the holidays!

First things, first…..

Please remember that Thanksgiving is just one day (or weekend). If you spend all of the celebration eating mashed potatoes and dinner rolls, you’ll be hungry and bored, but you won’t sacrifice your overall health because of it.

Missing out on some protein and/or fiber for one or two meals won’t outweigh all of your usual healthy eating habits.

Likewise, if you relax your food standards, you’re not a bad person, and you didn’t do anything wrong. Many vegetarians opt to be less stringent about things such as chicken broth where it doesn’t need to be, or the types of cheeses they’re willing to eat.

Sometimes this is easier than fighting with particularly obstinate family members. You can get right back to it the next meal.  But that’s your decision to make.

So how do you survive, and enjoy, Thanksgiving when meat is so ingrained in the holiday? When your uncle makes the same (un)funny joke about your diet, he makes every year? Or when some random relative tries to pick a fight? Read on for my suggestions.

Vegetarian Turkey, lol 🙂

Planning Ahead

The best course of action is to plan ahead. This looks different for everyone, but having something in place can make you feel calmer, more centered, and not stuck hungry while everyone else is feasting.

Let Your Host Know Your Preferences

This does not obligate them to cook you your own dishes. However many people will, or they will alter their recipe to use vegetable stock instead of chicken or beef. At the very least, they will know when to point out those hidden animal products.

Because some things can be just as easy to make vegetarian, many hosts will be willing to accommodate your diet.

This can be as simple as leaving off the bacon and putting some in a bowl for others to add if they want.  Substituting vegetable broth for chicken broth is hardly noticeable anyway.

And someone that is willing to host a big Thanksgiving dinner is usually at least partially invested in keeping everyone happy.

If they aren’t willing to accommodate your diet, this will give you advance notice that you need to prepare something, and maybe snack ahead of time, so you’re not starving amid a sea of food.

My preference is to not eat these goofy-looking guys!

Offer to Bring a Few Dishes

Lots of ways to go with this. One, it’s polite for anyone to offer to bring a dish. The host is already cleaning and decorating the house, having her home invaded, and cooking up a storm. I’m sure the help will be appreciated.

Two, this way you know for sure that there is something present that you can eat.  Try not  to step on the toes of anyone’s “specialty dish.”

If grandma is particularly proud of her mashed potato recipe, don’t bring your own.  Opt for roasted root veggies, including red or baby potatoes. 

Once you’ve settled on what you’re bringing consider who else will want some. My dishes are usually eaten, despite everyone knowing it’s a vegetarian dish. Particularly obstinate family? Maybe only a couple of servings are needed. 

Adventurous families may be willing to try anything you bring, so bring a lot!

I find that it’s generally easier to make a dish without meat, rather than trying to get omnivores to eat fake meat. If you want Tofurkey, bring it for yourself, but don’t expect everyone else to eat it.

On the other hand, if you simply leave the bacon off of the green bean casserole, people don’t tend to mind as much.

If you’re worried, find other ways to include protein in your dishes, such as a quinoa broccoli casserole or a bean salad.

And while you’re at it…

Make sure that whatever you bring is even better than the version that includes meat. You’ll get compliments instead of complaints all day!

Vegetarian Thanksgiving Dish Ideas

Vegetarian stuffing is ridiculously easy to make well.  I don’t know why we all suffered through dry, giblet stuffing before. Offer to bring it instead of memaw, and I bet everyone thanks you for it.

2. Mashed potatoes with vegetarian gravy. Again, easy to make. Did that distant aunt bring instant mashed potatoes and pass them off as homemade? You can do better. Promise.  

3. Cranberry sauce.  Admittedly cranberry sauce takes a bit of skill to make. And when homemade is usually vegetarian (although gelatin may be used in some recipes).  So much better homemade than when they come from a can.

4. Roasted vegetables. These are usually such a light reprieve from other heavy dishes that even the non-vegetable lovers are on board. Choose seasonal veggies, cut in even pieces, season well, and crank up the temp. 

5. Green bean casserole with vegetarian alternatives.  Really, this dish should be easily vegetarian. It’s green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and fried onions. Last year, I decided to experiment, and ya’ll… Homemade (instead of canned soup) is stupid easy and amazingly easy. No one missed the bacon.

More Adventurous Vegetarian Thanksgiving Ideas

Stuffed acorn squash – lots of ways to go with this. Acorn squash is odd enough, yet familiar enough, to be intriguing to those who aren’t used to it. Stuff it with dried cranberries, walnuts, and lentils, and enjoy!

Lentil loaf – basically a meatloaf made from lentils.  Fairly easy to make, but may be time-consuming considering you have to cook the lentils, then make and bake the loaf.  Honestly, I wouldn’t choose this unless there are other vegetarians present.

Mushroom Wellington – you guys. I’m so intrigued by this. It somehow seems fancy and easy at the same time? I’ve never had Beef Wellington, so I can’t really compare. But how the heck can you go wrong with mushrooms and pastry?

Tofurky or seitan roast – again, a great protein source, but may be a bit of work for one person.  But maybe you want leftovers for an awesome Thanksgiving Leftover sandwich?! (Hopefully, I’m not the only one here old enough for that reference.

Vegetarian Thanksgiving Appetizers

Okay, maybe your family is weary of “vegetarian food.”  Offer to bring an appetizer instead!

Ideas include: Spinach and artichoke dip with veggie dippers, caprese skewers, deviled eggs, hummus with pita, stuffed mushrooms, bruschetta, or more. 

Just make sure it’s the best damn version you’ve ever made.

If All Else Fails, snack beforehand

You shouldn’t be going into this meal having deprived yourself anyway. Even if you know everything is veg*n friendly.

Have a protein-based snack before you leave the house so you’re not Snicker’s hungry before you show up. 

Remain Calm

We’ve all had someone spout bogus “facts” at us. Either about the health of a vegetarian or vegan diet or that plants feel pain and have emotions or other such nonsense.

These people are looking for a reaction. Don’t give them one.  If you match their aggressiveness with your own, everyone will remember your preaching, not what led up to it.

If you remain calm, and change the subject, that person will be remembered as the instigator.

A particularly aggressive “protester” may press you further. You can gently remind them that you didn’t lecture them on their diet and they should extend the same courtesy to you.

Remind them that this day is a day to be grateful and enjoy each other and that you’d rather not play a part in any fights or tension among the family. 

As long as you remain calm, with a normal tone of voice,  the situation will diffuse, or someone else will step in and save you!

Answer any Questions

Questions may be genuine or sarcastic.  Take them at face value and answer them without preaching.  Instead of describing the exact emotion and instance you chose to stop eating meat, just answer succinctly.  “I realized that eating meat does not align with my values.”

That’s enough.  A kind soul will genuinely want to know more and will ask kindly. Someone trying to get a rise out of you will back off. If they don’t, they come off bad, not you.

It takes practice to answer questions without expressing judgment, especially around a topic we may feel very emotionally tied to. But it’s a skill we can all improve on.

Be Thankful

For everything, always, right?

But really, if someone is willing to veer from traditional recipes to accommodate your diet, be effusively thankful. If people ask questions, thank them for being interested. Then answer them in a non-judgemental, or preachy manner.

Unless they specifically say so, they are asking out of politeness or interest, not to convert to your diet pattern!

Their willingness to accommodate your diet or express interest is a way for them to show respect for your choices.

So even if the recipes aren’t gourmet, eat them! Thank them at the time of the dinner and follow up with a thank you note in the mail, even if it’s just a generic “Thanks for your hospitality.”

No Rudeness

It’s not us vs. them.  There is no excuse for rudeness, either from them or from you.

Don’t tell someone their food is gross. Don’t call the turkey dead flesh.

Don’t give them a rundown of some video or documentary you watched.

Don’t describe hardening arteries or imminent weight gain, or whatever “ammo” you can use against them.

At the same time, you don’t have to tolerate rudeness from anyone else either.

Find someone else to talk to.

Inform them they’re being rude, and you would like a change in topic. They may not realize they’re offending you. And there’s plenty of other things to talk about.

Remind them that they are gathered to celebrate and verbalize what you are thankful for. And you are thankful for the freedom to make your own dietary choices and live by your own code of ethics and beliefs.

Politely as possible, of course.

Don’t be this person

Did I Get Everything?

Do you have any tips that I left out? 

What do you do in your family? Have a particularly harrowing encounter during the holidays? Let me know in the comments!

Wouldn’t you rather argue over who gets the last piece?

Remember, dear vegetarians, Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude and togetherness, and there’s no reason you can’t enjoy a fabulous feast that aligns with your dietary choices.

With a little planning, some creativity in the kitchen, and a positive attitude, you can savor every moment of this cherished holiday.

So, whether you’re bringing a mouthwatering veggie dish to share or whipping up a show-stopping meatless centerpiece, know that your vegetarian Thanksgiving can be just as delicious and satisfying as any other.

As you navigate this Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, we encourage you to share your own tips, recipes, and experiences with us and your fellow readers in the comments section below.

Let’s create a community of support and inspiration to make every Thanksgiving memorable, meaningful, and, of course, utterly delicious. Happy Thanksgiving, and may your holiday season be filled with warmth, love, and wonderful vegetarian feasts!

Amazon’s Most Wished List

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

©2024. Dietitian Jenn Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Disclosures
Scroll to Top