Nutrition Articles

How to Feed a Vegetarian

Meeting the Needs of Meatless Eaters

542SHARES

Glossary
  • Pescetarian: Someone who doesn’t eat meat but eats fish or seafood.
  • Flexitarian: A hip and trendy word for what some people call a semi-vegetarian. Someone who isn’t a vegetarian but eats several vegetarian meals a week and might be selective about what types of meat she does eat (such as organic chicken only) and how often.
  • Vegetarian: Someone who doesn’t eat any meat, including poultry, game, fish, and seafood, or any meat by-products, such as broth, gravy, or fat, or foods cooked with meat. A vegetarian may or may not eat other animals products like eggs or dairy (ovo-vegetarians do eat eggs, lacto-vegetarians still eat dairy products, and ovo-lacto vegetarians eats both eggs and dairy).
  • Vegan: A strict vegetarian (see above) who doesn’t eat anything that comes from an animal—no meat, dairy products, eggs, honey or other animal by-products.
Here is some helpful (and humorous) advice about feeding a vegetarian and anyone else with dietary restrictions. We’ve called upon experts, SparkPeople members, and personal experience to offer tips to help everyone break bread in peace.

How to Feed a Vegetarian: The Do’s and Don’ts
  • DO be honest. Please don’t try to sneak meat, broth, or seafood into a vegetarian's food. If you put bacon in the broccoli salad, chicken broth in the risotto, or lard in the pie crust, tell your guests.
  • DO invite them. I would have invited you, but I didn’t think you’d...feel comfortable, eat anything I served, enjoy yourself, etc. Even a serious lack of veggie-friendly food isn’t going to stop the fun if the people and atmosphere are warm and inviting.
  • DON'T apologize. You eat meat. Some people don’t. You don’t have to apologize for eating meat in front of a vegetarian.
  • DON'T make a big deal about it. Vegetarians have various reasons for not eating meat, but some of those reasons might not be ideal dinner table or cocktail party discussions. Perhaps save the discussion for another time.
  • DON'T be afraid to ask questions. Ask what foods your guest eats and likes. Perhaps you’ll find a new family favorite or elevate a vegetable from side dish to entrée status.
  • DO ask your guest to bring a dish. Most vegetarians have experience cooking for themselves. Let them bring food to share, if they wish. Many will do it without being asked.
  • DON'T be offended if he brings food. Many vegetarians don’t want to complicate your duties as host. They will often bring something they know they can eat and share with others, so don't take it personally.
  • DO cook enough food. Make sure there is enough of the vegetarian dish for everyone to try (because they will) and for the vegetarians to take seconds. Continued ›
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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

  • 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
  • MELISSABRILL
    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
  • MELISSABRILL
    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
  • When I have company, I want to enjoy their company and the meal. As a result, I cook a roast with carrots and potatoes, etc. cooked around the roast. Then half-an-hour before dinner it comes out of the oven. Then it is carved at the table and I am away from my guests for no more than 10 minutes and can get all ready between getting home from work and serving. You can't do that with vegetables.

    And I loath vegetables!

    If I must eat with a vegetarian, I will do it in a restaurant or they can bring their own food. I am not into being the kitchen wench to satisfy a variety of diets.

    Two of my own children went vegetarian for awhile, they cooked for themselves. And I have no problem with someone else cooking in my kitchen: although it would certainly interfere with the reason they were there in the first place . . . to spend time chatting, eating and enjoying their company.

    - 6/24/2013 8:15:18 PM
  • After browsing some of the other comments, I'll also add: it is *always* easier to remove an ingredient from a meal than to try to add one in. It's easier to accommodate someone who doesn't want everything you serve, than expect someone to serve something they weren't originally making.

    On top of that, some more creative vegetarian meal ideas in this article would have been nice. Vegetable stir-fry over rice or rice-noddles. Even omnivores won't notice the lack of meat if you use the rice spices, and mushrooms are great for that heartier bite.

    Vegetable soups are a good starter in place of cold salad.

    Roasted vegetables of potato, carrots, onions, garlic, and/or squash is a fabulous dish. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle generously with herbs.

    Then there's just your basic vegetables: mashed or baked potatoes, steamed or boiled veggies (think simple: peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, whatever!), baked squash.

    I do think pasta is one of the best, and the article did mention both pasta itself and pasta sauce separated between meat and no meat. That's probably the easiest and the least "obvious" way to accommodate a vegetarian dish.

    - 6/4/2013 6:39:53 PM
  • I'm a semi-vegetarian on the other end of the spectrum, I occasionally eat a meal with meat, though mostly I don't. - 6/4/2013 6:28:33 PM
  • Thanks for the tip, BAMAJAM! - 6/4/2013 6:15:02 PM
  • BAMAJAM
    Just recently Burger King is offering "Veggie Burgers".... new on the menu! - 4/12/2013 12:02:16 PM
  • JWAYNE90
    I'm a vegan (2 years, vegetarian 6 years before that) and I'm not going to read the comments here because I dont care to be insulted by strangers on the internet making assumptions about my dietary choices.
    Anywho
    I just have to say that I'd disagree with the salad tip because I have to say that my biggest pet peeve is people assuming that because Im a vegan I love salad.
    Just remember that vegans are people too. We have favorite foods and preferences and we're more than happy to settle for the occasional salad when nothing else is available.
    Always feel free to ask questions about preferences. I usually just bring my own food with me to parties
    A recent bbq I went to I was the only non-meat eater. I brought myself a veggie burger (since everyone else would have their own burgers) and I brought homemade cupcakes so when it came time for dessert i wouldnt be left out. Everyone loved my cupcakes and couldnt beleive they didnt have egg or dairy. - 11/8/2012 10:14:41 PM
  • Please don't just serve cheese either. I'm a vegetarian and I've been served several meals where the meat is replaced with cheese (think cheese wellington...gros
    s). I like cheese and all, but not that much! I am always happy with salads and sides, no need to cook something extra in my opinion. If I know there won't be a ton of options I usually don't go to someone's house super hungry. - 11/8/2012 9:56:20 PM
  • I've been a vegetarian due to a developed meat allergy since 2009. I have a couple of things to say here. First, I can't only speak for myself but I actually will tell people not to accommodate me food wise when I come visit. Well my sister-in-law took that as a challenge and started learning how to cook vegetarian food and my brother learned too. Now I can proudly say that my big brother makes the best portabello burger on the planet! LOL The point is that I never expect anyone to accommodate and will go out of my way to make certain that my host or hostess doesn't feel awkward or uncomfortable. Honestly, I have always worried that if I should up with a dish that my host or hostess would feel insulted so I haven't. But from now on I will offer to do so! Great idea!

    I also wanted to say one thing about fixing a meal for a vegetarian. Not all of us are fans of salads simply because we are vegetarian. Over these last few years I have come to dread the word "salad". Going out to eat is the worst sometimes because I've had most waitstaff persons roll there eyes, sigh and say "Well we can always make you a salad and just take the meat off". Or when I do go to someone's house for a meal they say "Well a salad would be fine with you then huh?". To be honest, I don't like cold salads for the most part. I also have come to find it almost (not quite but almost) insulting to have people assume that just because I don't eat meat all I eat is salads. I usually keep my cool, smile, and explain that there are far more options than a salad that is typically drenched in some high calorie dressings. I know this makes me sound like a ...well an unkind person. I'm not. But just because someone isn't a vegetarian doesn't mean I'm going to assume they would love to have shark steak cooked on the grill when they come to my house for dinner. The stereotype attached to vegetarians is just narrow-minded. Not to mention boring.

    I am grateful to those of my friends who get excited about learning a new recipe that's vegetarian and consid... - 11/8/2012 2:07:06 PM

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