Tips on Entertaining a Vegetarian or Vegan for Beginners from a Long Time Vegetarian
So you invite your sister’s family over for dinner… The day before, she calls you with one little problem: your niece has decided to follow a vegetarian diet. There goes your plan of pigs-in-a-blanket for appetizers and chicken as an entree. I’ve attended family gatherings where, as the only vegetarian, my meal consisted primarily of salad and dinner rolls.
What type of vegetarian is your guest? Many vegetarians will eat not meat or fish, but will eat eggs and milk (these are called lacto-ovan vegetarians). Vegans steer clear (no pun intended) of any animal product, including eggs, milk products, and even honey. Don’t worry about providing a well-balanced diet for your guest; just focus on including foods they can eat. Unless your niece is an Olympic athlete or will be staying with you for a week, she can get her balanced protein from another meal.
Breathe easy. Your guest is either a friend who wants to come for dinner or teenage niece, not Julia Child. Most teens have simple tastes and true friends should be accepting of your best try. You don’t have to make something you have never heard of before, and you may not even have to try something new. Think of that dish you already make that doesn’t contain meat (think: potato salad, spaghetti with marinara, tomato soup).
Simplify your job as the cook.
Instead of making two dishes, one meat and one vegetarian, make all of your entrees vegetarian with meat on the side. One suggestion is your famous mac and cheese but cook the ham on the side.
Don’t attempt to cook tofu!
It took me years to learn to cook it well. If you must, my best tip is to freeze extra firm tofu right in the package for a couple of days to improve the texture, slice it 1/2″ thick, and throw it in a George Foreman grill for 3 minutes. Season it the way you want (soy sauce or teriyaki are my favorites) and cook for 2 more minutes. Tofu only has a bad name because people try to cook it without knowing how to. It can be really delicious if you don’t expect it to taste like meat.
Watch out for hidden animal products.
Cook fresh so that you have control over what ingredients are in the meal. You don’t want to finish preparing a full meal only to realize that the worcestershire sauce contains anchovies or that the can of soup you added has chicken broth in it. Don’t expect your guest to pick the pepperoni off of a pizza, or to take the ham out of a sandwich that’s already assembled. Yes, these little things will matter to the teenage vegetarian. By the way, the jello mold with mini marshmallows for dessert is out too– it contains gelatin, an animal product.
When barbecueing, wrap up any veggie burgers or veggie dogs in foil before putting them on the grill. These items come precooked and just need warming. Plus, your husband will forget and flip the veggie burgers with a grease-covered spatula, another vegetarian no-no (don’t mix utensils that have been used for meat).
There are many meat substitutes in the natural section of your supermarket. You can use ground beef substitute in place of actual meat in many traditional foods such as stuffed peppers, sloppy joes or tacos. While you don’t have to plan your meal around these, it doesn’t hurt to have a box of vegan veggie burgers on hand in your freezer, just in case the main dish goes wrong.