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Catering for a Vegetarian
So, someone is bringing a guest to dinner. Casually they tell you "oh, by the way, she's a vegetarian". To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here is the worst case scenario:

You: I've spent ages making them something special! It's taken twice as long to get this meal ready!
Them: Oh no, she's made me something special... polenta... but I HATE polenta... and she's given me enough for four people!

Don't panic! Catering for us veggies can be painless - here are a few tips to make it go smoothly.

If you remember just one tip, let it be this:
  • If you're serving meat and veg, make a cheese sauce for the veggie (it can even be made in advance and microwaved) and let them have the same vegetables as everyone else, with cheese sauce instead of meat. This allows them to be included, it's tasty and it's a balanced meal. Plus, it's less fuss for you!
On with the other tips...
  • Check what the veggie will not eat - usually all kinds of meat and seafood are out. Generally, animal products such as lard, suet and gelatine are also out (so check desert ingredients too). Ask whether free-range eggs, milk and veggie cheese are ok, and avoid others to be on the safe side.

  • Check whether there is anything the veggie really cannot face. Although it is your house, and you should feel free to carry on as normal - in fact the veggie will feel bad if you don't - it can still be offputting if someone leaves the table to be sick.

    Foods that can be particularly hard for veggies to deal with are: food on the bone (e.g. people gnawing chicken legs), food with faces (e.g. whole shrimps, whole fish), food with a strong smell (e.g. crab pate) and the sound or sight of meat being carved, or ripped apart (e.g. ribs being torn from racks). If it is possible to carve in the kitchen rather than at table, it is much appreciated!

  • Cheeses can be veggie, or non-veggie (contain animal rennet). Note that there is no such thing as vegetarian Parmesan - however there are vegetarian "Italian style" chesses which you can use instead, such as Vegetalia or Twineham Grange. If an item is not labelled as being suitable for vegetarians, it may be that it contains non-veggie cheese. Pesto is a regular offender for this. Look for the veggie logo when shopping.

  • Veggies eat normal food, they just don't eat meat and fish! If you are serving something you would not normally eat, chances are that they would not normally eat it either!

  • Don't make them something "special" of their own! It will take you longer, and you have no idea of their taste. It is a nightmare to be looking at a pile of inedible spiced lentil mix, especially when you know the cook spent ages on it.

  • But if you do make something separate for the veggie, only give them enough for one person! Even if you had to make up enough for a whole family please, don't make them sit behind a mountain of food. However much they eat, they may feel bad at leaving the rest. Keep the rest in the kitchen and offer it when they clean their plate, if you wish.

  • And if you will make something separate, allow them to join in with the meal and have some of the other things on the table too. Don't stop them from having the vegetables "for everyone else" if they fancy it.

  • Don't worry about serving a balanced meal (squeezing vegetable protein, mushrooms and lentils into everything... ew...) just worry about serving something tasty. It is only one meal, the veggie won't get sick if it isn't perfectly balanced!

  • Don't serve imitation meat, such as Linda McCartney pies and sausages. Veggies who don't eat meat on principle will be reminded of meat and grossed out, and veggies who don't eat meat because they dislike it won't like imitation meat any better! If you plan to use mock-meat, check specifically with the vegetarian before you do so. Many find it difficult to eat. Instead, how about serving Nantwich Cheese Bake (or similar) in place of meat?

  • If you are making stuffing, why not cook some of the mix in a separate dish, so the veggie can have some too? (Obviously, not sausagemeat stuffing!)

  • If you make veggie gravy, many of the mixes (e.g. Bisto) are quite dull. The best I've found is Bisto Best, roast veg flavour. Add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar or mint sauce to sharpen it up a little and make it more interesting.

  • It is less of an issue to serve a veggie a separate desert. They would rather have this than no desert at all!

  • If you're looking for nice veggie deserts or soups, try the organic section of big supermarkets. A lot of organic food is also veggie.

  • Treat the veggie naturally, don't draw attention to them and make them feel awkward. Please be as welcoming as to any other guest, no matter what you think of their beliefs - after all, you have invited them to your home and surely want them to feel comfortable.

  • Don't ask them about their vegetarianism around the dinner table. They will feel awkward, and if they are descriptive the reply may well put you off your own meal!

  • Remember that the veggie is usually apprehensive about eating with people who aren't used to cooking for them. They probably feel just as awkward as you, and are willing the meal to go well just as much as you!

So remember, simply serve whatever you're having, minus the meat or fish, plus a veggie gravy or a cheese sauce, or perhaps a cheese bake, and you'll be well away!


This page last updated: 03 November 2009



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