One feast to please them all: How to satisfy meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans at Thanksgiving

Cooking for a crowd on Thanksgiving is already challenging enough, and no one wants to make a whole lot of extra dishes. So, the name of the game is adaptability and streamlining

fall vegetables on a serving plate
Roasted fall vegetables on a serving plate.Cheyenne Cohen (AP)

I know there are some Thanksgiving gatherings without a vegan or a vegetarian at the table, but these days that seems like more of an anomaly than the norm.

We have had vegetarians at our Thanksgiving table my entire life. My sister, Lizzie, and her daughters are vegetarian and now vegan, and my mother became a vegetarian later in life. There are plenty of folks at the table who want to enjoy the turkey and all those trimmings, but a significant number of others are interested only in the vegetarian or vegan sides.

And there is no way anyone leaves a Workman family Thanksgiving anything less than full and happy, so we Bring It for everyone.

But cooking for a crowd on Thanksgiving is already challenging enough, and no one wants to make a whole lot of extra dishes. So, the name of the game is adaptability and streamlining.

The short of it is that we make plenty of meat-free sides, including some that are substantial enough to feel entrée-like for the non-meat eaters. And then we make modifications to certain dishes to make them vegan if possible.

Some ideas for making sure vegetarians and vegans have plenty of choices:


I make the base of the stuffing vegetarian, with vegetable broth. Then I separate part of it out into a smaller baking pan for the vegetarians, and drizzle some of the turkey pan juices over the larger pan of stuffing. If you want to make the smaller pan of stuffing vegan, use vegan butter to saute the vegetables.

You also might consider using vegan sausage or other crumbled meat substitute in the stuffing. Seitan, a wheat gluten-based product, is also a good addition to vegan stuffings.

Mashed potatoes

We boil up a whole lot of potatoes, and mash them or put them through a ricer or food mill. Then, as we did with the stuffing, we separate the potatoes into two pots. One gets blended up with milk, cream, butter, etc., and one gets whipped to fluffiness with plant-based milk, olive oil and vegan butter. My sister skips the olive oil, but adds some vegan sour cream. Options!


While a pile of leafy greens is fine, you can make salad a much more robust part of the menu. Consider adding some roasted vegetables, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, nuts (providing there are no nut allergies!), legumes (chickpeas are nice), and fresh or dried fruit. Adding some cooked whole grains like farro or bulgur wheat also boosts the nutritional value, and adds heft. Homemade croutons crisped up in the oven with olive oil are another good addition.


We usually make a vegan soup for lunch to inhale while we are cooking for dinner, but you might think about offering soup as part of the main event. Soups are so easy to make vegetarian or vegan. Think about mushroom barley (our favorite), split pea, lentil tomato, curried pumpkin soup, or butternut squash soup. Just remember to keep the broth vegetarian and sub in vegan products for any dairy ingredients. Offer any non-vegan garnishes on the side.

Roasted and baked vegetables

Roasted vegetables are the perfect crossover side, and if you roast them with olive oil or another cooking oil, they are naturally vegan. Make sure to season well with salt and pepper, and add springs of fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme or sage.

Also consider baked stuffed vegetables, such as acorn squash with a vegan stuffing or rice or grain mixture.

Grain salads

I love a side-dish-main-dish hybrid, and grain- and veggie-based one-dish recipes are Thanksgiving heros. The basic idea is to blend up some whole grains with some cooked vegetables and/or legumes, and add an olive oil based dressing. These types of dishes are often great either warm or at room temperature. Think about wild rice, cranberries, scallions, and an orange juice and balsamic vinaigrette. Mushrooms and barley are a hearty combo, as are diced cooked sweet potatoes and quinoa. Vegan Parmesan, cheddar and feta are good cheese choices to add.


For the vegetarians, dessert is usually not an issue, but for vegans, it’s tough. You’ll want to make sure to make, purchase or ask someone to bring a vegan option. My sister says the ingredient offerings and recipes for making vegan desserts improve all the time, a marked improvement from even a couple of years ago. Lizzie has been working on her vegan cheesecake for a few years now, and I think this is the year she’s going to perfect it.

I hope your Thanksgiving is warm, abundant and lovely!

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