Vegetarians at Thanksgiving: How to Keep Them Happy and Nourished

I see you over there in the freezer section, eyeing the Tofurkey and looking confused. I know you mean well. Perhaps you have vegetarian guests coming to your turkey dinner, and you want them to feel included. Or maybe this is your first Thanksgiving as a vegetarian, and you’re not sure what to do. The first thing I suggest is to put down the Tofurkey and look into some tastier options. Vegetarian Thanksgiving can be so much better than that.

I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years, so I know that it’s possible to enjoy Thanksgiving without anything turkey-ish. I thought I would share a few ideas of how to serve happy vegetarians and vegans at Thanksgiving.


Chances are that you don’t need to fret about the main course. If you serve several meat-free side dishes, most vegetarians will be delighted and won’t need a main dish at all. When I’m a guest for Thanksgiving, I never expect my hosts to create a separate main dish just for me.

If you would like to create a vegetarian main dish, I recommend stuffed squash. Stuffed squashes are attractive enough to be the centerpiece of a holiday dinner plate, and they can be nutritionally well balanced and complete. Fill them with proteins like quinoa, beans, and nuts. Include grains, fruits, vegetables, and oils, and you have a complete meal in one pretty little package.

Stuffed acorn squash with quinoa, cranberries, and pistachios

Stuffed acorn squash with quinoa, cranberries, and pistachios

I choose acorn squashes for my Thanksgiving dinners, mostly because they are pretty. They come in a variety of colors and make for a lovely display on a holiday table. I’ve found that the most colorful varieties of acorn squashes are easier to find at farmers markets than at grocery stores. I buy mine at the Fall Farmers Market at Lake Anne, which will remain open until December 20th of this year.

Delicata squashes are another great choice, especially since they have an edible skin and are therefore easy to eat on a plate crowded with Thanksgiving side dishes. In my opinion, the most delicious squashes are butternut, so that’s a great choice, too. For lots of useful information about squash, check out our Fall Squash Cheat Sheet.

Stuffed squash vegetarian Thanksgiving main dishes

Recipes for stuffed squash main dishes:

Stuffed Winter Squash + Quinoa, Cranberry & Pistachio, from the Simple Veganista
Holiday Stuffed Pumpkin, from Green Kitchen Stories
Roasted Squash with Shallots, Grapes, and Sage, from Martha Stewart
Rice-Stuffed Butternut Squash, from Taste of Home

Other vegetarian main course ideas:

Roasted Vegetable Galette, from Once Upon a Cutting Board
Classic Vegetarian Nutloaf, from The Kitchn
Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna, from Martha Stewart
Roasted Vegetable Terrine, from Saveur


Side dishes can be the best part of Thanksgiving! For the most part, vegetarians enjoy the same kinds of side dishes as anyone else. It’s important to consider the ingredients of your sides, though.

  • Use vegetable stock instead of chicken or turkey stock.
  • Omit bacon or turkey fat, and use butter, olive oil, or coconut oil instead.
  • If your guests are vegan, avoid butter, milk, cheese, and cream. Stick with plant-based oils instead.
  • Be aware that most marshmallows are not vegetarian, because they contain gelatin.

There are so many vegetarian side dishes to choose from. Salads, roasted vegetables, potatoes, grains – the choices are endless. Here are a few suggestions for vegan versions of some of the most popular Thanksgiving sides.

Vegan Thanksgiving side dishes

Vegan versions of classic Thanksgiving side dishes:

Vegan Herb Mashed Potatoes With a Super Simple Gravy, from Sweet Beet and Green Bean
Vegan Sourdough Stuffing, from the One Green Planet
Green Beans with Slivered Almonds, from the Savvy Vegetarian
Contemporary Candied Sweet Potatoes, from VegKitchen


Almost all desserts are meat-free, so it’s easy to plan this part of the menu for your vegetarian guests. Just skip any weird bacon-wrapped desserts, please. Desserts get trickier for vegans, though, because so many desserts involve butter, eggs, and cream.

  • Use a vegan butter substitute like Earth Balance. Note that most margarines contain whey and are therefore not vegan.
  • To replace eggs, use ground flaxseeds mixed with water, or a vegan egg replacers like Bob’s Red Mill. Ripe banana or applesauce can also be used in some recipes to replace eggs.
  • Replace dairy milk with soy, coconut, almond, or rice milk.

There are so many personal preferences in vegetarian and vegan diets, so when in doubt, ask your guests about specific ingredients.

Vegan Thanksgiving recipes

Vegan Thanksgiving desserts:

Healthy Pumpkin Pie, from Chocolate-Covered Katie
Double-Layer Chocolate Cake with Coffee Buttercream, from Hell Yeah It’s Vegan
Whipped Coco Cream Tart, from One Green Planet
Perfect Apple Pie, from Hell Yeah It’s Vegan


If you’d rather go out to eat, or buy some delicious Thanksgiving carryout, here are some vegetarian Thanksgiving options in the DC area this year. Reservations are required for all these locations, so book right away to reserve your spot.

Vegetarian Society of DC Live-Affirming Thanksgiving Celebration
Thursday, November 27, 2014, 12-4 pm
Hyatt Regency, 7400 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD
Celebrate with a gourmet vegan dinner, musical entertainment, a guest speaker, and a community of like-minded families.

Loving Hut
2842 Rogers Drive, Falls Church
The Thanksgiving menu for this vegetarian restaurant includes seitan loaf with stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes.

818 Connecticut Avenue, Washington NW
This restaurant has a three-course dinner planned for Thanksgiving, parsnip and leek chowder, roasted spaghetti squash with chanterelle bolognese, and a warm Hawaiian coconut cake for dessert.

6304 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church
My personal favorite vegetarian restaurant will be offering vegetarian turkey this year for you to carryout to your family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Related articles:
A Fall Squash Cheat Sheet
Thanksgiving Wine Pairings
Unconventional Turkey Ideas


  • Nice, and agreed about tofurkey – that stuff is just wrong. My favorite vegan side dish, British style roast potatoes 🙂

  • Janis Dworkis

    Wow — I came to ModernReston looking for fun things to do in the area when our sons come in this week! But I found these great veggie recipes — a HUGE help since 1/2 the family is vegetarian. Thank you!!

  • Janis Dworkis

    In addition to the fun things to do, of course!!