15 Tips to Feed the Vegan or Vegetarian in Your Life

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Vegetarian Awareness Month is wrapping up, but the meat-free mealtime fun doesn't have to end! In addition to giving away 5 copies of our e-book "Easy Vegan Meals by SparkPeople: The No-Stress, No-Guilt Way to Reap the Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet," today I'm sharing tips for anyone who might need to cook for a vegetarian or vegan. With the holidays on the horizon, I hope you find these tips to be of use.

When I wrote "Easy Vegan Meals by SparkPeople," I intended it to be for vegans, vegan wannabes, and those who love them. Don't worry--SparkPeople isn't taking the stance that we all need to ditch meat forever. But with at least 325,000 vegetarians and vegans on our site, we know that many of our members are interested in eating less meat and more plants. We believe there's room at the table for all of us. This book fills a niche, and I wrote it with the SparkPeople philosophy in mind--moderation, no fad diets, and taking small steps along the way to a healthier you.

That said, let's segue into tips for feeding the vegan or vegetarian in your life.
  • DO be honest. Please don't try to sneak meat, broth, or seafood into the food. If you put bacon in the broccoli salad, chicken broth in the risotto, or lard in the pie crust, tell your guests.
  • DO invite them. I would have invited you, but I didn't think you'd...feel comfortable, eat anything I served, enjoy yourself, etc. Even a serious lack of veggie-friendly food isn't going to stop the fun if the people and atmosphere are warm and inviting. When I became vegan, one of my closest friends stopped inviting me to dinner parties, and it stung.
  • DON'T apologize. You eat meat. Some people don't. You don't have to apologize for eating animal products in front of most vegans or vegetarians, as long as you...
  • DON'T make a big deal about it. Vegans and vegetarians have various reasons for not eating meat, but some of those reasons might not be ideal dinner table or cocktail party discussions. Perhaps save the discussion for another time.
  • DON'T be afraid to ask questions. Ask what foods your guest eats and likes. Perhaps you'll find a new family favorite or elevate a vegetable from side dish to entrée status.
  • DO ask your guest to bring a dish. Most vegans have plenty of experience cooking for themselves. Let them bring food to share, if they wish. Many will do it without being asked.
  • DON'T be offended if he brings food. Many vegans don't want to complicate your duties as host. They will often bring something they know they can eat and share with others, so don't take it personally.
  • DO cook enough food. Make sure there is enough of the vegan or  vegetarians dish for everyone to try (because they will) and for the vegans/vegetarians to take seconds.

Beyond Broccoli: Tips on What to Cook

If you're hosting a vegan or want to throw a plant-friendly dinner party, what do you serve? Here are some tips.
Consider a DIY meal. Put all the toppings or sides in separate dishes so everyone can accommodate their own lactose intolerance, aversion to spice, or vegan diet. How about a burrito bar? (Make some soy crumbles or sauté onions, peppers, and mushrooms for everyone.) What about a pasta buffet? (Serve pasta, sautéed vegetables, cooked white beans, faux Italian sausage, and marinara sauce, then let everyone build a bowl.) Or what about a pizza party? (Buy or make pizza dough, then let everyone make their own pizzas. Kids love this!)

Separate the meat and vegetables. Cook and serve meat in one dish, vegetables in another. If you had planned to roast yams with the ham, use two dishes. Making pasta? Cook sauce and set some aside before adding sausage or meat. Serve gravy on the side, and if you're adding bacon to your baked potatoes, serve it separately. When grilling, clean part of the grill thoroughly or use foil to cook vegetables or veggie patties.

Use separate serving dishes, utensils and cutlery. This is actually just a good kitchen tip in general: Never put cooked food on a plate or in a bowl that held raw meat, and use separate cutting boards and knives for vegetables, meat, and poultry.

More Ideas for Those Who Have a Vegan in the House

  • Learn where meat hides. Sometimes meat sneaks in to foods that you wouldn't suspect. Some common foods that contain meat or seafood: Caesar dressing (anchovies), Thai curry and many Asian dishes (fish sauce), and canned "vegetable" soups (beef or chicken broth).
  • Salads are great. Serve a large green salad before or with the meal, which ensures a healthful option for all. With a serving of beans or a handful of nuts, that salad can be elevated to a vegan entrée.
  • Where's the beef? Try to offer a balanced meal. Vegans sometimes have to be creative to get adequate protein, calcium, and nutrients. Help them out by serving a balanced meal where plant-based proteins (chickpeas, black beans, or lentils) fill in the place where meat might have been. This boosts the protein content, filling power, and helps round out a meal. Beans and legumes are a cheap and easy way to add vegan-friendly foods to a meal. Open, rinse, heat, and eat.
  • Go flexitarian. Once a week or more, try something new, such as tofu, seitan (wheat gluten), or tempeh (a fermented soy food). Plenty of familiar foods can be both delicious and vegan: Lasagna, almost any pasta, chili, stir-fries, and soups (use veggie broth) can all be made without meat.

Buy or preview "Easy Vegan Meals by SparkPeople: The No-Stress, No-Guilt Way to Reap the Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet"
on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Or enter to win  one of five copies here. (The usual rules apply. We will choose winners Nov. 15.)

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DEE107 4/21/2019
thanks Report
This is good to know. Report
I wish the vegans and vegetarians would keep us abreast of just WHEN they are those things. Tired of cooking special stuff and they show up saying that "Oh, I'm eating meat again, for awhile", that tees me off!! Report
Well, I just purchased the book. I am always exited to find new Vegan and Vegetarian Recipes. I eat meat, but I have long periods where I just don't like it. I have worked in Industrial Kitchens for many years, and I am used to it, not to cross contaminate anything. I think it's sad not to invite friends anymore just because they have different eating habits. I feel privileged that my vegan and vegetarian friends friends trust me, not to contaminate their food. Looking forward to try out the new cookbook! Report
I have a secret to share for the omnis - vegan and vegetarian food is not exclusively edible for the herbies! I know it's hard to believe, but you can eat lentil burgers and tofu fillets, too! And enjoying them doesn't mean you've betrayed the gigantic company that's enjoying maximum profits at the expense of your health, it just means you've expanded your culinary palette.

Now that you've recovered from that shock - vegs can find animal products traumatic. I mean a stop in your tracks and take a few minutes to push the event out of your head and fight back tears to focus on the task at hand. The nay-sayers are functioning on the axiom that meat (including fish), dairy, eggs, etc, are food. For plenty of us - it's not food - it's a corpse, it's a product of torture, it's a death trap, it's anything BUT food. So no, I won't "kindly" accommodate a meat-eater with a steak at my dinner party, because preparing such a dish is emotional and psychological trauma for me. Not to mention a mere whiff of animal products turns my stomach - I wouldn't be able to eat even PART of the meal I spent hours preparing. However, as a vegan who hosted many a Friday night meal - I dare you to find a guest of mine that left the house hungry due to having nothing or not enough to eat. Report
I never realized that it might be hard for others to cook for vegetarians. By belief, I am an omnivore but because of my religion I am so used to watching what is in products, separating dairy and meat products, avoiding certain foods, that I and many of us become expert in substituting foods. Tofu, beans, and meat substitutes (and cheese substitutes) are very well known in my circles! For instance, I have a recipe for lasagna. It can be made dairy (with cheese, spinach and fake ground meat), meaty (with ground beef or turkey, firm tofu, vegetables) or vegan (fake ground meat and tofu). I've even made the dairy one with vegetable slices in place of noodles for gluten-free friends. Report
That is so sad not to exclude friends because they are vegan. I attended a Christmas party which included two of the host's vegan employees. He could hardly invite the whole office except for two people. He had the same idea you did--cooked a huge pile of spaghetti and a made -from-scratch red sauce. He cooked the meatballs separately, and also some wonderful sauteed mushrooms, even though his sister hates them. People served themselves buffet style with the pasta, meatballs, mushrooms, and sauce in separate dishes, plus a salad bar, so everybody could fix their pasta the way they preferred. Everybody seemed happy. However, cooking for vegetarians is relatively easy because of the cheese and egg thing--that opens worlds of possibilities, like yummy eggplant parmesan, my personal favorite. A friend married an Indian woman whose religion forbids eating animal products. I love eating there, it is such an adventure. She makes the most delicious food, herbs and spices I never even heard of--an absolute art form! Report
@EFFEFF: you are right, you deserve the same respect that we do. So when you come over for dinner, I will cook vegetarian for you, even vegan, if that is your lifestyle. But when I come over for dinner to your house, will you go out of your lifestyle to serve me a dish with meat? Or don't I deserve the same respect?
So, I fully agree with TIMOTHYNOHE. Why do I always have to be the nice one, showing respect for vegetarians, taking into consideration THEIR needs. Not one single vegetarian I know (at those are quite a few) would ever even think about cooking for me, when they invite me over. There can be 8 people at the table, only 2 are vegetarians.. and guess what... no meat!! Not even out of courtesy for the lifestyle I have chosen. I eat dead animals and will not apologize for it! Report
My son was a "rude" vegetarian for several years. When he started eating meat again we were invited to a party and one of the other guest was a rude vegetarian. When he commented on their behavior we all gasped and told him he used to be JUST LIKE THAT. I think we each need to be respectful of each others choices and not be rude and their voice of reason.

My husband and I have adopted a healthier food lifestyle and we have days/weeks/months that we will not eat meat or only eat seafood and we've been very successful in adapting to this. I have learned to make some very delicious vegetarian, vegan and raw dishes. The entire family has adapted to this healthier eating also.

When I am planning a party or family meal I will ask guest to call me with any food allergies or dietary request and I will make it a point to either provide a menu that has enough variety for all to enjoy or I will ask the person to bring a dish. I will never intentionally serve someone something they don't eat. Report
I've been vegetarian since 1993 and vegan since 2000. Things are much easier now than they used to be!

I'm always happy to bring a vegan dish when I go to a shared meal, or provide inspiring recipe blogs.

Vegan meals are often (not always!) cheaper and lower in fat. And there have been so many tainted meat incidents, going meatless seems safer. I believe that's why more people are eating vegan-ish meals "by accident" more often.

I look forward to the day that restaurants stop using beef or chicken stock in vegetable soups! Report
While I have no problem with a person being vegetarian/vegan for whatever reason, there are also some who need to learn to be more respectful of those who are not. I have a family member who is vegan and is very rude about those of us who don't live that lifestyle. The family goes out of their way to accommodate this person as best as we can, yet we get rude comments about the "gross" omnivore food served to the non-vegans of the family. I once got a very rude email from this relative because the meal I was serving for MY son's b-day was not 100% vegan!!! This relative was the only vegan at the party, I was not about the prepare a meal for everyone just to suit this person's diet. I had plenty of food offerings that were considered healthy, tasty and vegan, but the relative felt that the entire meal should have been made vegan. Then when I attended a b-day party that this relative was holding, they made sure to announce loudly in front of me that everything was 100% vegan and could be enjoyed by everyone in attendance. And out of the 20 people at the party, only 4 were vegan or vegetarian. And by the way, most of the food was not good at all and would not be food that I would seek out to eat. And I'm not a picky eater either. I have many friend who are also vegetarian and are not like this at all, but I have met a few vegans/vegetarians who treat us omnivores pretty badly for our food choices and as a result, makes me wary about inviting herbivores to any dinner party or food gathering. Report
This is for Timothynohe: Becoming vegetarian is akin to a religious choice, in that you make a life change for something that becomes completely unethical at a certain point in your life. Beyond that point, the preparation of meat in your home is not tolerated by most vegetarians because it goes against all of your beliefs. There are religions that either avoid meat altogether or at certain times of the year, and it would be considered very rude to expect special treatment in their homes, correct? Please try to view the basic idea of vegetarianism in the same way as you would a religious person - someone who stands for a belief system that betters humankind, improves the lives of animals, and improves the world as a whole. At the very least, we deserve the same respect. Report
Thanks for this blog post! If we love our friends and family members, then we will treat them well and respect their personal decisions about the food they eat. Whether by choice or requirement (how awful to be allergic to corn!), knowing the needs of those we feed before we offer food to them is an honor we shouldn't deny them. Honoring and respecting each other is lacking too often in this society... thanks for reminding us before the holidays! Report
I don't understand the difference either and I try to be one or the other. I don't care what I'm called. When I'm responsible to provide food for others, I always ask about the can't eats, and if there are any, I also ask for more information, to be sure I understand.

I once fixed food for a church Thanksgiving meal. A woman called and asked if there would be any food available without corn. I let her know I wasn't fixing any corn, but members might bring a corn dish. And I'd let her know the basic dishes I was fixing so she'd feel safe-turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, bread, fruit salad.

Well, when she arrived, she found me, and talked about her corn allergy saying she had just gotten out of the hospital because she had eaten something that was prepared with corn oil. Well, I had used corn oil margarine in the gravy, and on the mashed potatoes, and on the dressing. I felt awful. And let her know that I couldn't be responsible for all the places corn products might be lurking.

She had fruit and bread and found one other covered dish to be thankful for.

It's just a kindness to be respectful of the things your guests cannot eat, for whatever reason. And the lack of meat at one meal will not create a health problem for the diner who prefers to eat meat. However, the constant lack of fruit and vegetables in so many of our diets WILL create health problems.

It might be just what we need to reflect on vegetables, and including more of them without all the folderol in preparation. We might even learn what they really taste like if we just served a steamed veg. I mean does anyone know what a green bean tastes like outside of a green bean casserole?? Report
Guess a vegan should bring his own food to dinner and then not have a problem. Report
How about an article telling veggies that when an omnivore comes over it is just as polite to serve them meat as it is for you to be served a vegetarian meal when you go to their house. Report
These are great tips. I especially appreciate the invite us anyway tip - that really does hurt when people don't invite me just because I'm a vegetarian. Report
THANK YOU for this article!

My own family has lied to me on several occasions. It is disrespectful to me as a person, regardless of whether or not they agree with my choices. It also leaves me in the restroom for 3 days afterwards, only to find out later that they thought I "wouldn't know the difference". :-(

I would never treat a guest in my home that way.

I really appreciate these convenient and positive options for folks who are unsure how to proceed. Report
i wish i could send vegetarian recipes to my boyfriends mom. they invite us over and all they ever make is meat. sometimes she makes a salad and garlic bread with it but she likes to dress up the salad and sometimes sticks bacon or ham in there so all i can eat is the bread. and a lot of things she makes i dont trust even if they look vegetarian because none of them know what vegetarian food is so im sure its made with chicken broth. my boyfriend after living with me for 2 years still doesnt understand the difference between vegan and vegetarian even though ive told him so many times. Report