If the December holiday party season is not in full swing for you yet, it will be soon. And with the increasing number of diet labels floating around, it can be difficult to navigate the waters of holiday entertaining. Vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free’s, pescatarians, macriobiotics and raw dieters. . . it can all get very confusing for the holiday host. What to serve? Whom to accommodate? How to label?
I was recently asked for ideas on what to serve at a party with vegetarians and vegans in attendance and I was eager to help out. I follow a vegetarian diet myself, and while I am not at all an authority on vegan food, I cook a lot of vegan meals at home without realizing it (until it hits the plate and I am struck by the absence of cheese, cream or butter). So I guess I have a few more tricks up my veggie eating sleeve than the average home cook. If you need help figuring out what all the labels mean, there is a great resource from GAIAM that gives a brief description of each diet.
Vegetarians and vegans can enjoy a variety of party foods, and accommodating them requires just a little bit of forethought. Here are my favorite vegan-friendly party foods:
- Tofu Lettuce Wraps from Whole Foods
- Chips, Salsa and Guacamole (some prepared guacamole includes sour cream and some chips are fried in lard so be sure to check the ingredient lists)
- Veggies and hummus or white bean dip
- Tofu Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce from Eating Bird Food
- Mexican Bean Salad from AllRecipes (a favorite in my office for herbivores and omnivores alike)
- Olive Medley Pinwheels from Better Homes & Gardens (substitute Tofutti brand vegan “cream cheese”)
- Mixed Nuts
- Seven Layer Dip from Peas and Thank You (substitute Tofutti brand vegan “sour cream” and vegan cheese substitute like Daiya brand shreds)
Also, I thought I would remind you of some of the things to stay away from to make sure you are truly serving vegan food. It usually gets trickiest with prepared and bottled or canned foods, so be sure to check ingredient lists on anything that isn’t fresh produce. If you have any other suggestions or corrections, please jump in on the comments.
- meat and fish (of course)
- eggs (some pastas contain egg)
- milk, cheese, butter and other dairy
- honey (yes, some hard core vegans avoid honey)
- whey protein (this common ingredient is milk-derived and sometimes added to vegetarian items for protein)
- other hidden non-vegan items to look out for on ingredient lists: dehydrated chicken or beef, anchovies or anchovy paste, chicken broth, dehydrated milk
You do not have to make a big deal about what each guest can eat, so some labels can get your message across concisely. That way you do not feel like you have to usher your guest around the food table or constantly field questions about what is “safe.” I recommend that you use small place cards or signs to label foods as “vegetarian” or “vegan”. Or you could simply list animal products and common allergens in each prepared dish, like “contains chicken” or “contains peanuts.”
I think that if you have just a few options for the vegans and vegetarians in attendance, even if it isn’t the most exciting food on the planet, they are really going to appreciate the gesture. You are already going out of your way by inviting us into your home, and throwing a few vegetables our way doesn’t hurt. However I am always extremely impressed and grateful when a party host thinks to prepare something creative and meatless that I can enjoy. Most people don’t even think to have something vegan or vegetarian friendly so you will make your guests feel welcome just by making an effort.