Having a vegan over for dinner might be on your mind, given the preponderance of plant-based eating showing up throughout the media. Even among my carnivore friends and family, I hear more and more people talking about wanting to try to eat a more plant-based diet.
April 1, 2020
Addendum to this post:
When we first got ready to launch this article, my team and I were excited about how relevant it seemed to us, namely sharing vegan meals. This was in the olden days when we were actually sharing meals with friends, outside of our bunker mates.
My how things have changed dramatically in the last three weeks!
Why don't you save this and read it later?
Thanks to thought leaders Dr. Michael Greger, there just might be a massive wake-up call among people that eating plants is one way to avoid future pandemics.
I did not anticipate the potential and ironic relevance of this article until this moment.
Be well, love each other, and take astonishingly good care of yourself.
Sending virtual elbow bumps and air kisses during our quarantine,
Did you know that the meal served at the Golden Globes held on January 6, 2020, was completely plant-based? Yes, even in Hollywood, eating this way has taken hold.
Chances are you know someone personally (not including Beyoncé, Michelle Pfeiffer, Woody Harrelson, and Ellen DeGeneres) who does not eat animal flesh or fluid.
What you will learn here:
- How to Prepare for a Vegan Guest
- Being Left Out by Your Friends
- What Can I Feed My Vegan Friends?
- Oh! The Stress of Feeding a Vegan
- Keep it Simple
- Ten Ingredients in Every Vegan's Cupboard
- Vegan Cooking Tips
- What to Avoid When a Vegan Comes for Dinner
Coincidentally, recently, during the month of Veganuary – an international event during which those celebrating do not eat any animal products or their derivatives – I just happened into two amazing conversations on this very topic with two different good friends. The topic was about hosting a meal for friends who are vegans. Having a vegan for dinner turned out to be a pretty juicy and somewhat charged topic. I felt somewhat enlightened as well as concerned by what they shared with me.
This was what inspired me to write this for you.
How to Prepare for Vegan Guests
As one who is committed to a whole-foods plant-based (vegan) lifestyle, I cannot possibly represent all guests nor all hosts. However, the chances are becoming greater that if you are a non-vegan host you will find yourself preparing a meal for someone who eats no animal products because of this trend which is continuing to evolve.
I am offering you some helpful host and guest tips here.
Whether you are having a vegan for dinner or if you are the vegan guest of someone, perhaps you can relate to my experience.
What if you practice a vegan lifestyle, and carnivorous or pescatarian friends come for dinner… do you have to serve them animal-based protein? I’ll show you how I handle this in a bit.
This discussion is about friends with different eating styles coming together to share a meal, with ample happiness, camaraderie and satisfaction to pass around.
I’ll show you how to get prepared, meet in the middle in terms of people’s preferences, and learn from other’s who eat differently than you do. I’ll include some terrific recipes at the end of this article.
Being Left Out by Your Friends
My good friend Darlene recently welcomed about ten friends to her home for a special occasion feast. Darlene is a very good cook. Her husband, our friend Dominick, mentioned that we (my husband and I) were not included because it was a carnivorous-based meal. When I told them that we would be happy to “just eat the salad,” Darlene enlightened me to the fact that that would not be acceptable to her, as the host and chef. Why? Because for an elegant dinner party that Darlene is planning and for which she is creating the entire meal, she wants all her guests to be fed by her as well as experience complete satisfaction. (At a separate occasion, Darlene and Dominick have been excellent hosts to Mark and me and have served us delicious plant-based cuisine.)
What Darlene told me was eye-opening. I respected her prerogative as a host. I was naïve in thinking that just because it was okay for Mark and me to “just eat the salad”, for hosts like Darlene, that still did not work. Really, I had not thought of this before. This made me feel better about not being invited.
I bet that some of you reading this can relate. Having a vegan for dinner might mean not for a particular meal, but perhaps for a different one.
What Can I Feed My Vegan Friends?
Here is an idea for non-vegan hosts. If you love to prepare beautiful food for your guests like Darlene does, you may decide that for different guests you will make different food. When you have a vegan for dinner, you might have one chicken Parmesan and one dairy-free eggplant one, for example. Or you might serve a salad but keep the shredded cheese and bacon bits on the side for guests to choose for themselves. If the soup calls for chicken broth, you may discover some delicious plant-based options, which are easy to find at your local market. Veggie broth and mushroom broth are full of flavor.
But clearly this is not always possible. When you are creating a non-vegetarian based meal, this does not mean that you are expected to make special dishes for your vegan friends, or more to the point, even invite them. Mark and I suspect that some of our friends do not invite us for dinner because they simply do not want to deal with this challenge.
Another friend helped me understand this challenge at an even deeper level. What if, when you have a vegan for dinner, you make a special meal for your plant-loving friends and you need to buy special ingredients for one or more recipes? I don’t think anybody wants to waste money on food. I understand a reluctance to buy items that might go to waste after the meal, especially if you don’t plan on cooking with them again.
Ten Ingredients in Every Vegan's Cupboard
Here are few examples of foods that plant-based eaters use on a regular basis. These are all versatile, easy to cook with, loaded with nutrition and taste great. Yes, you are reading this correctly. I am suggesting that, since you are reading this, you might want to become aware of and consider adding some of these ingredients into your cooking in general, including not plant-based.
- Nutritional yeast (tastes like Parmesan cheese, good source of vitamin B12, which vegans sometimes lack)
- Ground flax (egg substitute for baking)
- Soy or Coconut Amino Acids (perfect substitute for soy sauce, minus the wheat, gluten, caramel, chemicals, and other additives). My brand of choice is Bragg’s, which is fairly easy to find online or at your local market.
- Fruits and vegetables. The greater variety the better. Raw, steamed, grilled, sautéed, baked. This includes the more common veggies (lettuce, apples, oranges, broccoli, etc.) plus all types of potatoes, beets, squashes, and peppers. We love our veggies! Salads, over pasta, in wraps, in sandwiches… there is no limit as food like this is among the most versatile.
- Beans and legumes. All beans, lentils, chick peas, etc. You will find that this type of food is a hearty addition to your dishes and among the most satisfying.
- Flax, hemp, chia seeds for salads, cooked veggies, cooked quinoa. (Adds flavor and texture. Seriously pro-nutritious, so recommended for everyone. Good source of plant protein, omega-3 oils, and fiber. Good for heart health.)
- Tofu, tempeh, soy sausage, miso (soup, stir fry, salad, burgers) (Don’t worry about soy products. They are very good for your health, in spite of some misinformation that circulated around correlating soy with breast cancer.)
- Plant-based beverages (oat, almond, soy, other nuts). For soups, baking, over cereal, anytime you would use milk. Even for creaming your coffee. Here’s a great article on selecting your plant-based beverage. Mark and I were thrilled that oat beverage came out as the winner.
- Burgers and sausages. Homemade burgers made with beans, veggies, cooked brown rice or quinoa, onions… the works… are among the tastiest food there is.
I make the one from NutritionFacts.org all the time. With all the fixings – onions, pickles, avocado, lettuce, tomato – this is a remarkably satisfying dish. Whole grain or, even better, sprouted grain, buns are more nutritious than those made with white flour, and to some palettes, tastier and more satisfying.
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, millet, barley, oats, and quinoa (actually a seed). Even better are whole grains that are also sprouted, such as in tortillas, bagels, bread, and pasta.
Oh, the Stress of Feeding a Vegan!
Mark and I live in a community where dining at other peoples’ homes is a big part of our social lives. I’ve not seen this topic explored down to the nitty gritty, although I have heard more than a few people describe their challenge from both perspectives – the host and the guest. Having a vegan for dinner can be something that people avoid, or about which might even get stressed out.
One of my neighbors confessed that when we are over, she feels guilty for eating chicken from the grill. She knows that I do not project any judgements whatsoever, that it was, in her words, her “stuff.” But you can see how this would make it difficult for someone who feels this way to invite a vegan for dinner. Yikes! No wonder people get freaked out about this.
The next conversation occurred over the New Year’s Eve weekend.
Mark and I were visiting our dear friends, Jack and Lucy, at their lovely home in the Seattle area. We have stayed in each other’s homes before and shared countless wonderful meals. Since I was never aware of any challenges around meal preparation, and since I knew that Jack and Lucy have other vegan friends, I just assumed that Mark and I would eat the vegan dishes and that Jack and Lucy would prepare non-vegan dishes for themselves and our other friends who were also there for the weekend.
Well, not so fast! Unbeknownst to me, Lucy was struggling with the stress of feeding Mark and me prior to our arrival. Fortunately, we spoke openly to figure out what everyone felt, and how best we could resolve any differences and issues that needed to see the light of day.
Take away: Speak frankly about what to eat and how to feed friends and family for all parties to feel okay about these events.
The conversation was not completely comfortable, but it was entirely helpful. Mark and I were coming from the place that there is always enough food, that Lucy and Jack always serve ample plant-based dishes (along with other non-vegetarian items) and all was easy. Lucy was concerned that we wouldn’t have enough food, that we might not get enough amino acids, and we might go home hungry.
Lucy was worried about how much she and Jack needed to make allowances. For example, using Lucy’s words, how strict were we, meaning Mark and me? If there was butter in the dish, or a little cheese, would that be okay? Are you getting a sense of how delicate this topic can be, even among seasoned friends? Like with Darlene, I wanted Lucy to know that I respected her concerns, and I wanted to know how best to support her. Not sharing meals and not staying in each other’s homes was not an option. We needed to figure this out.
My suggestions with Lucy were to assure her that there was always enough food. She realized that was something she did not need to worry about. We had a meeting of the minds, and stomachs too, I suppose. I asked her to let go of worrying about protein and amino acids. That would be unfair and unreasonable for any host to try to meet the nutritional needs of her guests at that level. God forbid I would enter someone’s homes as a guest with this expectation!
Keep it Simple
I explained to Lucy that a plate of steamed veggies and/or a salad would be plenty for Mark and me. This was difficult for her to comprehend since a plate for vegans looks very different than a plate for carnivores. So, we talked about this. For the salad I suggested that if Mark and I wanted more than lettuce (and whatever other veggies were in the mix), we could always grab a handful of nuts from her pantry. Incidentally, we did not need to do this. The food was marvelous, and we felt quite satisfied.
Simple meets delicious and nutritious with brown rice, veggies, and kidney beans.
Rather than make our hosts responsible for all our meals during our visit, Lucy and I decided that I would oversee one dinner. I brought a big pot of black bean soup and some chocolate brownies – all plant-based. The great thing about many people, I have found, including the friends whom I have mentioned, is that they often enjoy a plant-based meal. They just don’t want to eat that way all the time. Fortunately, our friends told us that they felt satisfied and plenty full following the meal that I made.
Vegan Cooking Tips
Last week I received a text from my lovely, gracious, and decidedly carnivorous friend, Judy. She decided to prepare dinner for Mark and me, plus two other dear friends. Judy announced that she was going to prepare… get ready for this… squash soup, sweet potato bruschetta, artichoke spread, vegetable pasta, and salad. And fresh fruit and sorbet for dessert. If you are blown away by this ambitious menu, then you and I had the same reaction. I sent Judy a string of kissy face, hands clapping, and lip-smacking happy face emojis.
News flash: you do not have to prepare food like Judy! This is an example of a spectacular and ambitious plant-based meal, not for nervous newbies who are trying to learn how to cook for vegans the very first time. Judy confessed that she was a bit anxious to prepare so much food, especially how unfamiliar this style of cooking was to her. But she made the choice and we all agreed that the meal was spectacular. She made the best squash soup I had ever tasted using no animal products at all. The meal was a huge success including for our brave host.
My five best tips for cooking vegan style:
- Don't complicate things.
Basic plant-based recipes can be incredibly delicious. Brown rice with steamed broccoli, cubed tofu, served with a blend of sesame tahini and miso with a little garlic powder is quite tasty. A spinach salad with cranberries, red onions, black beans, cubed sweet potato, and pumpkin seeds plus some flavored vinegars and fresh herbs is delicious and refreshing.
- Do not worry about protein.
If you are concerned how vegans get protein you can use tofu, beans, and legumes, chickpeas, lentils, nutritional yeast, nuts, seeds (flax, chia, hemp, sunflower, pumpkin), tempeh, quinoa, and one of the greatest sources for vegan protein – vegetables! But it’s worth reiterating, don’t worry about the protein. (You can learn about the protein myth.)
- Have some go-to recipes online that are easily accessible.
My favorites are Forks Over Knives and https://nutritionfacts.org/cookbook/ available on Kindle. Look at the recipes because there might be some ingredients that are unfamiliar. Miso, sriracha tofu, nutritional yeast, and Bragg’s Amino Acids are often used in recipes, as examples. You might enjoy these flavors so much that you use them even after the meal for your vegan friends. Other excellent online resources for recipes include www.forksoverknives.com, www.engine2diets.com, and https://cleanfooddirtygirl.com/. You might want to practice making a dish in advance of your guests coming.
- Wraps are your friends.
This might be my favorite part of this entire document. This might lead you to your own breakthrough in cooking for vegan friends. Take a sprouted grain tortilla. I buy mine at our local Trader Joe’s and Sprouts Market. Lay each tortilla out on the counter. Now your choices are endless! Any of the following make a delicious, filling, and attractive dinner for your vegan guests: Hummus; cooked, rinsed, and drained beans; any veggies imaginable, raw or cooked and chopped; slices of avocado; store-bought or homegrown sprouts; slices of sriracha tofu; cooked sweet potato; sliced pitted olives; raw or cooked sliced onions; roasted or raw mushrooms; cherry tomatoes; herbs; hemp/chia/ground flax combo…
I meant it when I wrote that your choices are endless. Pile these ingredients to that they cover about one-third of the tortilla and roll it so it is snug, tucking the ingredients in as you go. You may have to practice. And if your first tortilla falls apart, you don’t have to fall apart because the “droppings” will taste just as good.
- Quinoa is also your friend.
The same way you could pile all those yummy ingredients into a wrap, you could add to cooked quinoa. I love to add to cooked quinoa a ginger-garlic-miso-sesame dressing. Another excellent way to jazz up the flavor of the quinoa, which works just as well with the wraps is store-bought or fresh homemade salsa. Talk about a party in your mouth!
- Get in a good state when you prepare food.
Cooking for vegans or otherwise, so much of the stress of meal prep can be mitigated by taking your time in an unhurried environment. I often play music and I always sip a cup of tea while preparing a meal. Breathing helps, as does reminding yourself to relax if you feel like you are getting worked up. I recommend reading recipes several times in advance of trying something new. Visualizing the process empowers you to make the dish with confidence and calmness. Are there items you can prepare in advance? Breaking up the food prep does wonders for you being a relaxed and happy host.
The Bottom Line
Remember that love is the first ingredient in all the food that we prepare in our kitchens for our loved ones.
Be blessed with your health and with love in your heart. I hope you and your precious friends and family can figure this out. The rewards of coming together are great. In addition to being well fed, everyone might just get a little more enlightened along the way.
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