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Woman preparing a healthy Thanksgiving meal with family

By Sarah Proctor
Registered Dietitian

A vegetarian diet has become increasingly popular for a variety of reasons. Whether you choose to go meatless for ethical, religious or medical reasons, you will likely benefit from better health. Following a wholefood, plant-based diet is recommended to decrease the intake of chemical additives, as well as increase intake of vitamins, minerals and cancer-fighting plant nutrients.

If you or a loved one recently committed to vegetarianism, you might be wondering if Thanksgiving can still be the same without turkey. Of course, it can! What matters most is that you're enjoying the company of family members and friends that you may not frequently see. So, whether you’re going meatless or not, you can still enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving feast. The most important thing to remember is to not forget about protein. Protein is a vital nutrient that helps rebuild damaged cells as well as maintain muscle mass.

Keeping up with dietary restrictions may seem like a daunting task. Make sure to ask anyone expected at your table this Thanksgiving if they have any restrictions, including allergies. If you're expecting vegetarians at your Thanksgiving table for the first time this year, you can make sure that your holiday spread has much to offer by planning the meal in one of two ways. The first is to serve enough vegetarian side dishes that your herbivore guests can make a meal of them. The second is to prepare a vegetarian main dish that respects the meatless mandate.

This might prove to be much easier than it sounds. Many traditional side dishes and desserts are already vegetarian-friendly, but watch out for hidden ingredients, like chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce and marshmallows.

pumpkin pie

If you’d like to replace the turkey with a main dish, you might consider a veggie-packed shepherd’s pie topped with mashed potatoes or pie crust. If served with gravy, you can add sautéed onions and mushrooms. To finish the gravy, just add vegetable broth, thicken with cornstarch and flavor with soy sauce. With so many tempting options for vegetarians on your table, you might even notice the turkey-eaters jumping on board as well!

Here are some ideas for vegetarian sides and adding more protein:

  • Salad — Mix in high-protein grains such as quinoa, farrow or buckwheat. Beans or lentils also add extra protein.
  • Cornbread — Opt for a packaged brand that offers a high-protein option.
  • Mashed potatoes — Add pureed chickpeas into your mashed potatoes.
  • Sweet potatoes — Top with roasted pecans or walnuts.
  • Green bean casserole — Top with sliced almonds.
  • Creamed spinach — Make with cream cheese and top with parmesan.
  • Stuffed mushrooms — Include a ground meat alternative in your stuffing.
  • Other seasonal options: Brussels sprouts, sweet corn, butternut squash, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

For more information about nutrition, please visit our Nutrition section or call 813-745-3609.