More and more people are embracing a vegetarian diet, whether it’s for health reasons, to reduce their environmental impact or because they’re concerned about animal welfare. That means it’s pretty likely someone at your holiday dinner table will be opting out of the meaty main. Not sure what to serve? Our crowd-pleasing recipes and tips will help you make guests feel welcome and comfortable, and ensure they enjoy a satisfying meal.
Three Types of Vegetarian Diets
It’s no surprise that vegetarians don’t eat meat, but you may not realize that there are various types of diets that fall under this term.
- Lacto-ovo (or ovo-lacto) vegetarians consume both dairy and eggs; this is the most common type.
- Lacto vegetarians consume dairy but avoid eggs.
- Ovo vegetarians consume eggs but avoid dairy.
Since different vegetarians follow different rules, always ask what’s on their do and don’t lists before you decide what to serve.
Wait! What About Fish?
Don’t rush to dust off your salmon poacher just yet. It’s a common misconception, but vegetarians don’t eat fish or shellfish, either. People who follow a mostly vegetarian diet but also consume seafood are called pescatarians.
What to Serve
The good news is there are plenty of easy, delicious dishes vegetarians will love digging in to at the holiday table. Our ideas will help you kick-start your menu planning — and you may be pleasantly surprised by how quickly the carnivores eat them up, too!
- Devilled Eggs with Chives: This classic, festive app is a crowd-pleaser. It’s dairy-free, so it’s suitable for lacto-ovo and ovo vegetarians.
- Cucumber Rolls: Stuffed with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes, these pretty rolls are egg-free, so they’re a hit with lacto-ovo and lacto vegetarians.
- Couscous Crunch Salad: Couscous, a tiny type of pasta rather than a whole grain, is as filling as it is delicious — and it goes with almost anything. Here it’s matched with crunchy almonds and pine nuts, sweet raisins and a tangy dressing. Be sure to cook the couscous in vegetable (not chicken) broth to keep this dish meat-free.
- “Crisper” Chopped Salad with Tahini Dressing: No holiday spread is complete without a veg-packed salad. This one features a tasty tahini dressing, which is a nice change from the basic vinegar-based variety. Vegetarians will be happy to have hearty chickpeas, and you’ll like the flexibility this recipe offers — any veggies in your crisper can be the stars!
- Cumin Honey Carrots: These spiced carrots are sweet and tasty, and add a hit of vibrant colour to the table. To make them dairy-free, simply replace the butter with olive oil.
- Maple-Rosemary Roasted Root Vegetables: This sweet, herbed mix of root veggies keeps it simple by using baby-cut carrots and small fingerling potatoes. Substitute olive oil for the butter, and it’s dairy-free, too.
- Vegetarian Stuffed Potatoes: Mashes are great for the holidays, but this twice-baked potato is a fancier treat for meat-free eaters. It also makes a nice anytime main with soup or a salad.
- Make-Ahead Rustic Swiss Chard Pie: Can anyone resist pie? Probably not, especially when it’s this savoury galette made with creamy goat brie and ricotta cheeses. To be sure the pie is vegetarian, check the label on the pastry (some contain lard) and choose one made with all-vegetable shortening or butter.
- Vegetarian Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie: This take on the casserole-dish classic is so hearty and delicious, the carnivores at your table might just help themselves to a second serving. To make the dish dairy-free, use nut milk and substitute olive oil for the butter.
- Lentil Loaf with Classic Onion Gravy: Yes, vegetarians can enjoy savoury gravy, too — when it’s made with onions and vegetable broth like this one. The loaf contains eggs to bind it all together, but the recipe is dairy-free. If you use gluten-free oats, this recipe is perfect for those avoiding gluten, too!
- Marzipan-Stuffed Dates: These little sweet treats are surprisingly addictive. They make an exciting addition to a spread of cookies, cakes and squares. And they’re gluten-free!
- Dairy-Free Lemon Cake with Berry Sauce: Finding a dessert that does not contain milk, butter or cheese can be a bit of a challenge. But this cake does it all without dairy and has a light, lemony flavour that makes an elegant end to a big meal.
- Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Bars: These pretty bars are always a hit on the dessert table. They contain both dairy and eggs, but they’re a luscious indulgence for lacto-ovo vegetarians.
5 Ingredients to Watch When You’re Cooking for Vegetarians
- Pie crust: Lard is a common ingredient in pie crusts. Look for pastry made with butter or all-vegetable shortening.
- Broth: Make sure any broth listed on prepared food labels is vegetable-based. When cooking at home, you can always swap vegetable broth for animal-based varieties.
- Gelatin: This animal-based ingredient is found in marshmallows, certain gummi candies and, sometimes, yogurt. Other easy-to-miss meat-related words to look out for on labels: pork or beef by-product, and collagen. Gelatin and isinglass (a fish-based product) are also sometimes used to clarify beer and wine, so it’s best to research your favourite drinks to see whether they’re vegetarian-friendly.
- Worcestershire sauce: Anchovies give this seasoning its umami taste. Try substituting tamari or soy sauce in recipes.
- Cheeses made with animal rennet: Rennet is the ingredient used to separate milk into whey and curds, which become cheese. It can be calf- or vegetable-based, so choose a cheese that specifies it’s vegetarian-friendly. One exception: Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Italy must contain animal-based rennet, so it’s always off limits for strict vegetarians.