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Thanksgiving: Inviting a Vegetarian to the Table

As a host, it's time to cover all the bases if a vegetarian or vegan is coming to visit

There's no greater surprise - or conversation stopper - at a Thanksgiving dinner than passing that first plate of meat to someone who doesn't eat it. The "I don't eat meat" will cause carnivores to gasp, leaving the guest to fend alone. That's why it is wise to know about as many preferences ahead of time as possible.

If you're including someone new at the table this year, it is certainly not impolite to ask if they have any eating choices. These aren't so much "special" requests - being a vegetarian or vegan is a normal lifestyle shared by many. If a family member is introducing someone new to your little gathering, have them find out for you. This makes the platter passing so much easier. And gives you, the host, time to discover a few new dishes sans the meat.

While many mention that the feast revolves around the bird, there are so many wonderful side dishes that are companions. It shouldn't be difficult to create a few that will please your vegetarian guests.

First, it's important to understand the differences between vegetarians and vegans. This will affect the food you prepare in many ways. In general, vegans eat no dairy or eggs plus the exclusion of meat, poultry, and fish. They may also avoid honey. Vegetarians, on the other hand, may avoid only meat, poultry, and fish. Many who choose this lifestyle practice habits that are similar to a kosher kitchen. Utensils should not intermingle - in other words, prepare all vegetarian dishes with clean utensils. There are extremes, but hopefully you as a meat-loving host won't be subjected to unusual expectations in your own kitchen.

When shopping for ingredients for a vegetarian dish or two, you'll need to study each purchase beforehand. None should contain any animal byproducts such as whey, sodium caseinate, whey, and gelatin. Most products labeled with "natural flavorings" are also animal oriented. Look for appropriate labeling (such as vegetarian broth or vegetable stock).

You can prepare two dressings, if you wish. Just remove all meats, including the broth and the oysters, and use margarine and soy products instead of dairy.

While you prepare the mashed potatoes, make a second casserole with plain potatoes sprinkled with a few herbs. You can also serve breads and most other vegetables safely. You can also use vegetable based oils. There are also many dishes that can be made with wild rice, squash, cranberries, eggplant, corn, and carrots. Fruits also offer many options for a delicious dessert that's included with the regular favorites.

On the guest's side, there are also rules to follow. No guest should make the host feel uncomfortable. If there are selective eating choices, it is also not out of line for the guest to mention them. And then he or she should offer to bring a dish or two.

This is just the beginning of our diverse Thanksgiving dinner table. You'll also be entertaining those who are watching their sugars, fats, and carbohydrates. As the gracious host, you'll be preparing a feast for everyone.




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