I have been a vegetarian since I was four years old. I am the only vegetarian in my family. I was the only vegetarian in my school. I am still the only vegetarian in my social circle.
For me, being a vegetarian is a personal choice. My husband is not a vegetarian. It doesn’t bother me if other people eat meat, and I rarely talk about my dietary choices.
With the exception of undergraduate school, graduate school, and my first four years of life, I have lived in very small towns. In recent years, I have seen some vegetarian options appear on menus, but a lot of my friends and acquaintances still struggle with what to feed me when they invite me over.
I always tell people that they do not need to make anything special. If it is a dinner party, I do not want the host to have to force a vegetarian meal down everyone’s throat. When I entertain, I sometimes cook vegetarian and sometimes cook meat dishes. The crucial step, for me, is to make dishes customizable, so they are suitable for vegetarians and non-vegetarians. When I say “customizable”, I mean serving meals family style or buffet style to allow guests to assemble their own meal, with or without meat.
So, if you are looking for a simple way to accommodate a vegetarian, or if you are a vegetarian looking for a simple way to accommodate non-vegetarians, I have prepared a list of a few easy customizable meal ideas.
Pasta in marinara sauce with optional meatballs
One simple customization is to serve pasta with meatballs. Instead of making a meat-based sauce for my guests, I make a vegetarian tomato sauce with optional meatballs. I bake meatballs in tomato sauce in the oven, and then allow my guests to select if they would like meat on top of their pasta. I normally make a homemade tomato sauce (click here for recipe), but most store bought marinara sauces are vegetarian. Just check the label.
Salad with optional chicken (or other meat topping)
If you would like some lighter fare, you can serve salad as an entree. If you are serving salad in the form of a salad bar, put all of your toppings in bowls and allow your guests to make their own topping choices. If you are serving the salads at the dinner table, you can leave the chicken off of the vegetarian’s salad. Or, you can serve all of the salads meatless and put a plate of chicken on the table for the guests.
One great customizable salad is a Tex-Mex salad (click here for recipe). This salad could easily be topped with your choice of meat. Otherwise, it is great vegetarian! Another salad option is an avocado salad with roasted potatoes (click here for recipe). It is delicious as is, but you could give guests the option of adding grilled chicken.
Taco or Nacho Bar
Allow your guests to stuff their own tacos or make their own plate of nachos. This is something I frequently do when we entertain. I make a skillet of some form of taco meat, and then fill small bowls with beans (black or vegetarian refried beans), Mexican rice, lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa, and guacamole. This allows the vegetarian or vegan to select what they want to eat, allows everyone else to enjoy a standard taco, and doesn’t create much additional work for the host.
I make my own vegetarian refried beans (click here for recipe), but you can buy beans at the grocery store. Just make sure they are actually vegetarian, as some are made with animal lard. You can also serve a black beans and rice side dish (click here for recipe).
Sandwich or Grilled Cheese Bar
Sandwiches are another easy meal to customize. If you are serving cold sandwiches, you can set it up similarly to a salad bar. Provide bread, vegetables, deli cheeses, and deli meats, so your guests have options for their sandwiches.
Another fun option is to make a grilled cheese sandwich bar. Assuming your guest is vegetarian rather than vegan, you can allow your guests to choose from cheese, tomato, chicken, basil, etc. for a grilled cheese sandwich. Then, bake the sandwiches in mass quantity in the oven! All you have to do is butter the outside ends of each piece of bread., stuff the sandwiches with the desired toppings, and bake in the oven on a large baking sheet (flipping halfway through).
Risotto with optional chicken (or other meat topping)
Risotto is one of my favorite things to eat. For me, the right meatless risotto is a delicious entree. If, however, you would like to add meat, simply make the risotto and top with prepared chicken (or other meat topping).
When we entertain, I make my favorite pea risotto (click here for recipe) and bake lemon chicken separately in the oven. I then allow guests to either to either eat the chicken on the side, or top their risotto with the chicken.
Customizable meal options are an easy way to accommodate a vegetarian diet. Another option is to serve a variety of side dishes alongside the meat dish, or to offer meat substitutes. An example of a meat substitute is serving a meatless burgers in lieu of beef patties. Perhaps I will make another post addressing those alternatives.
If you have any additional suggestions, please leave a comment below! I am always looking for new ideas. 🙂 -Kristin