Nutrition Articles

How to Feed a Vegetarian

Meeting the Needs of Meatless Eaters

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It’s 6 o’clock. Your guests should be arriving in less than an hour. Then your friend calls. Guess who’s coming to dinner? Her new boyfriend, who's a vegetarian.

One night at the dinner table, your teenage daughter announces that she’s vegetarian and will no longer be eating meat, fish, dairy, or eggs.


That throws a wrench in your plans, doesn’t it? What do vegetarians eat? Is he going to start spouting off about animal rights as your husband carves the Christmas ham? Is she going to expect an entirely separate meal?

You can relax, even if you don’t know much about vegetarian cooking.  Have no fear. Cooking for a vegetarian is easy, and by the time you read our guide to feeding a vegetarian, you’ll be all set.

You probably have quite a few vegetarian meals in your repertoire and likely have at least a couple of vegetables and meatless foods on the menu or in the fridge.

As the name implies, vegetarians eat vegetables, but vegetarian cuisine is vast and exciting. With a few simple tips, any meal can accommodate a vegetarian, whether you have five minutes’ or a week’s notice.

First up, let’s figure out what “vegetarian” actually means. Some people call themselves “vegetarians” but eat fish or chicken, and others are much stricter about what they’ll eat.
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About The Author

Stepfanie Romine Stepfanie Romine
A former newspaper reporter, Stepfanie now writes about nutrition, health, fitness and cooking. She is a certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who enjoys running, international travel and all kinds of vegetables. See all of Stepfanie's articles.

Member Comments

  • No, please do not "egg them on" without checking! Many vegetarians and all vegans do not eat eggs. The commenter below me refuses to do anything for vegetarians. Okay. There's still things you can avoid - like being rude or intolerant, lying about ingredients etcetera.
    Many of us are coming from a place of kindness (to animals) and we appreciate kindness in return (to us.) But hey, if you don't want to have us over, we are probably fine with that.

    Great article! Thanks for posting it. - 4/17/2016 2:25:17 PM
  • I refuse to cook a special meal for -tarians any more. On more than one occasion I've been asked to cook for church functions, and then have several different people ask for social've got one that wants no onions, one that wants no garlic, one that wants no meat but garlic is OK, and one that garlic is a demon. I've literally had to cook 4 or 5 versions of the same meal for 20 people on occasion. It gets to be impossible. For example, the "absolutely no onion" people cannot eat my spaghetti a sauce, canned spaghetti sauce, ketchup, ranch dressing, any other off the shelf dressing, seasoned salt, any mixed seasoning whatsoever, most store bought broths, etc. I've gently suggested that they bring something they are able to eat, but have been offended that they aren't catered to, and I cannot cook two entirely separate meals. So, they are no longer invited to any functions at our home. My message to any -tarians is this: when you are invited and you aren't willing to eat what The host serves, be honest. Tell the host you'd love to join but that you will bring your own food because you cannot eat (insert your issue here). Don't expect the host to make a separate meal. That is offensive. Then, at the meal, don't insist that what others choose to eat is bad, or cruel or whatever, based on your own beliefs. That will earn you a disinvite from my table for future gatherings pretty quickly (and it has happened on more than one occasion at my home by ungrateful vegans, onion haters and other haters who have been invited to my home). - 3/29/2016 9:02:36 AM
  • My husband's work had ONE vegan (he has moved for work now). I researched and adapted a vegetarian recipe into a vegan one just for him at a giant Pot-luck Thanksgiving (or maybe Christmas) gathering. I had to do either turkey or ham, and figured nobody else would make anything he could have as a main (Despite about 60 people bringing things!) I was right, and even his choice of sides was limited since butter, cheese or mayonnaise was fairly prevalent. Non-vegetarians loved it too! - 9/5/2015 11:22:52 PM
  • Definitely invite a vegetarian! I got to hear all about my best friend's (in a city where we didn't know many people/foreign country) Thanksgiving dinner that she purposely excluded me from because I don't eat turkey and assumed I'd be unable or unwilling to eat anything at all. I guess because the bird is the centerpiece for her. I didn't want to make a fuss about it, but I wish she had known I'm happy to eat sides and have fun like we usually do, or that I could bring something to share. It really isn't a big deal to long-time vegetarians. We're used to all sorts of situations and adapting to them, and are happy to not soapbox on animals rights. - 6/30/2015 1:59:23 PM
  • I had to laugh when I read "Don't try sneaking meat in". I am vegan and I will ask my sister if the sauce, vegetables or whatever has any meat and she will say "Not that you cab tell." - 6/30/2015 9:00:40 AM
  • I am a vegetarian, and I would bring something with vegetarian protein to eat in case nothing like that was available. A lot of people think, just give them cheese! But that's not always vegetarian. Most cheeses contain rennet, which is from the stomach lining of cows or sheep. Also, they were telling people to only have one or two eggs a week. What's going on with how SparkPeople is always saying to eat a bunch of eggs? - 5/15/2015 10:38:34 PM
  • I guess if someone told me an hour before supper was ready that they are bringing someone who had special needs they will just have to go with the flow and eat what they can, same with the daughter unless she wants to pitch in and make her supper. - 4/5/2015 12:12:49 AM
  • I haven't eaten meat for more than 30 years now, and I don't eat most cheese and fish. Even so, I'm in good health and I can have a varied diet... People still have this prejudice about meat, that it has to be the center of a meal, the main protein source etc. I'm always asked if only eat salad, avoiding meat... I guess I eat and experiment many more foods than most people I know, probably! - 12/6/2014 1:14:57 PM
  • I prefer fresh veggies lightly sautéed with mushrooms and a little sesame oil and a dash or tamari. I like to add things like quinoa or millet to a veggie sauté to add some protein. I also love hummus and black bean dips. I will never pass up lentils or chickpeas either. I do not eat a lot of packaged foods, so fresh is best. Sometimes even peanut butter and apple slices is a nice snack. Just be sure whatever you serve is made with love. If I cannot or will not eat something, it is my decision and issue not yours. I appreciate your efforts. - 10/5/2014 4:00:36 PM
  • Several of the vegetarians and vegans have commented that they are insulted when people assume that they just eat salad, but no one has said what they prefer. So, what is your favorite dish? - 9/1/2014 6:40:13 AM
    Barring food allergies, I think it is simply common courtesy to eat what is offered to you. Even when I was a strict vegetarian at home, I did not expect my hosts to cater to my dietary preferences. When I visit friends who are vegans, I expect a vegan meal. When I visit friends who are not, I eat what is offered and don't sweat it. If you are that rigid in your thinking, offer to bring your own food but it is in poor taste to expect a host to cater to you. This is really a first world problem. Be grateful you are being offered a meal. - 8/6/2014 6:15:37 PM
  • I've read through a lot of the comments and am surprised at some of the things I was reading.

    Somebody mentioned that a vegan dish takes too much effort to make on short notice. Most of my meals on days we don't have a "family dinner" are planned and cooked in 30 minutes or less with very little effort and with stuff laying around the house. There are a variety of quick veggie soups that take a total of 20-30 minutes to prep and make, or like somebody else mentioned steaming/stir-fry up some veggies over rice (add a bit of seseme oil and/or mix up a little simple sauce and you have a filling yummy meal in 30min or less). You know, some of my dinners tend to be a plate of broccoli & cauliflour or a thing of frozen brussel sprouts. Not much for variety, but it's vegan and takes 10-15 minutes and there you go. LoL

    I do appreciate what they said about the allergies though. I'm deathly allergic to dairy and do have an epi pen. Vegan is one of the safest ways to go for me and I prefer it. I'm afraid for my life to eat outside of the house though. I don't eat at restaraunts because they don't listen to what you say about stuff like that and I don't eat at anybody else's house because nobody understands how bad it is. When you say your allergic to dairy they always assume milk and figure cheese and butter and such are okay still. You can't guarentee those foods will remain safe for you to eat (if they even are to begin with) after other people make contact with it. Once on a small trip to Spokane, OR with my mom's friend when I was a teenager, she took me to a vegan restaraunt and I didn't even know where to begin. I'd never been able to eat anywhere before and there needs to be more places like that available everywhere in the world, within reach of every town. The world needs to consider other people's needs instead of going with the majority. It's such an unfair world we live in when a person isn't allowed to eat anywhere because of their health or personal choices. :( - 12/4/2013 9:58:43 PM
  • I agree with the last comment. It's not always a personal choice. Like the previous poster, for some reason meat makes me sick. It's not an allergic reaction, it just hurts my stomach something awful and I don't really like meat enough to go through that pain. I'm so picky about it to begin with so I only eat a little if I have to for dinners, since I currently do not have much of a say in what kind of food I get to eat around here. If I had it my way I'd be vegan though. I really don't care for meat at all and could do without it and vegan is the safest with my deadly dairy allergy anyway...
    - 12/4/2013 9:36:55 PM
    One thing that really struck me about the comments is how many people make the automatic assumption that if you say you're vegetarian then it must be a choice and therefore it's your personal choice that is potentially inconveniencing them. Some have pointed out that if it's an allergy then of course you should accommodate it, implying that other health-related reasons for being vegetarian aren't worthy.

    While I am currently vegetarian for both health and other reasons, when I first became veg it was mostly because meat made me feel physically ill. Do I have an allergy? Would eating a bit of meat or something that "accidentally" contained meat products put me into an allergic reaction? No. Does that mean that my "vegetarian for health reasons" was a "personal choice"? Only in a way that would be similar to a migraine sufferer religiously avoiding caffeine to avoid the migraine it might cause would be considered a personal choice.

    So, I guess my point is that people need to stop making the assumption that being vegetarian is a personal choice and as such those who are need to be the ones who need to somehow not inconvenience you. And even if it is a choice, most of the comments from the veggies here (myself included) show that we're actually really used to trying hard not to inconvenience or bother our hosts with our "special requirements". Lighten up everyone. If you like someone enough to invite them over then why wouldn't you want them to enjoy the meal too? (Though I'm 100% behind the comment that if they don't tell you in advance OR if they spring it on you and expect accommodation an hour before then they're out of luck). - 10/2/2013 8:32:35 AM
    Good tip about making/ bringing enough for the vegetarian AND others - and for the veg to have seconds. Often there is one dish suitable for vegetarians, but they're not the only one who eats it, so if you're not served first you might not get much or by the time everyone takes some there isn't enough for seconds. I always have to remind people that it's not just the vegetarians who eat the non-meat part of the meal. - 10/2/2013 3:47:28 AM

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