What to Feed Your Vegetarian Dinner Guests
Hosting a dinner party can be stressful, and understandably, cooking for guests who eat differently than you do can be intimidating. But don’t worry. As a long-time vegetarian, I have fielded the question, “but what do you EAT?” more times than I can count. Keep reading for tips on how to host a fantastic dinner party that your vegetarian guests will love!
Don’t be afraid to ask about dietary restrictions.
Ask your friends if they avoid all animal products (including eggs, dairy, and honey), or if they are comfortable with those choices. It’s best to know before you begin planning your menu if there are any certain foods they chose to avoid.
Beware of “hidden” animal products.
Most vegetarians also avoid animal products such as chicken or beef broth, fish sauce, gelatin, or foods prepared with lard. Read the ingredients labels of any prepared foods or ingredients you may buy, and cook with fresh ingredients, or those labeled “suitable for vegetarians” whenever possible. Caesar salad dressing and Worcestershire sauce are unacceptable to most vegetarians, as well, as they contain anchovies.
Consider serving a “build-your-own” menu.
Some meals, such as a Mexican-themed taco night, or baked potato bars, easily lend themselves to vegetarian and non-vegetarian customizations. By serving each ingredient on the side, your guests will have the option to choose what they enjoy, while still allowing other dinner guests to do the same. Again, be sure to check ingredient lists. Refried beans, for example, are a great meat-alternative for taco night, but unless specifically marked “vegetarian” or “fat free”, they are most likely prepared with lard, and would be objectionable to vegetarians. Pasta is always an easy choice, as well. Serve up meat-free marinara sauce, and allow your non-vegetarian guests to add cheese and meatballs separately, if they desire.
Explore vegetarian meat-substitutes.
If your party happens to be a cookout, there are a plethora of meat-substitutes readily available in the freezer section of your grocery store or health food store. It’s easy to throw a few veggie burgers or veggie hotdogs on the grill! Ask your guests if they have a brand preference, or serve up some great grilled veggies or Stuffed Portobello mushroom caps.
Avoid cross contamination.
When preparing food, always use dedicated utensils, cooking pans, and serving plates to avoid allowing the meat products to come into contact with vegetarian foods. Remember, most of us are not trying to make things more difficult for the people around us, but we do hold our dietary convictions for very strong reasons.
Always serve a few veggies and a salad.
When all else fails, it’s good to have some absolutely safe side dishes to make your vegetarian guests feel comfortable. A nice, colorful dinner salad with a variety of chopped veggies will be appreciated by everyone. . Again, remember that Caesar dressing is a no-no.
Don’t try to fool your friends.
This seems to be common sense, but every so often, I will hear someone joke about “sneaking in” some animal products in a dish that they are serving, as if it is a funny joke. Your friends will likely know, anyway, and even if they don’t, your goal is to make your friends feel loved and appreciated. When the meal is served, quietly offer reassurances to your vegetarian guests where dishes have been modified to fit their needs.
Avoid talking about their dietary choices during dinner.
Look, I know it’s unusual to many. I understand that perhaps the idea that my children and I don’t eat meat is confusing and something of a novelty. But truthfully, the topic gets old. I can’t even tell you the number of times that I’ve been put in a position where I have to try to tactfully explain our dietary choices to others right in the middle of our meal. After all, I’m not going to exactly go into the truth about slaughterhouse practices and animal cruelty, or about the presence of pathogens in meat while other guests at the table are chowing down on their steaks!
Invite your guest to bring their favorite dish.
As a vegetarian, I’m painfully aware that my dietary choices can make others uncomfortable when hosting. Because of this, I will almost always offer to bring one or two dishes that I know will be safe for my kids and I to eat, no matter the menu. Your vegetarian guests don’t want to cause you extra work, and are generally very happy to share their veggie creations with their friends.
Your vegetarian guests will appreciate your thoughtfulness in planning a menu that everyone can enjoy. Ultimately, a dinner party is not only about food, but about the fun and fellowship that happens around the table.