How to Go Vegetarian on Thanksgiving

As long as these side items weren't doused in bacon grease, they're a vegetarian's delight. See more pictures of holiday noshes.
As long as these side items weren't doused in bacon grease, they're a vegetarian's delight. See more pictures of holiday noshes.
Liza McCorkle/Getty Images

Thanksgiving is the most gluttonous of holidays. Once a year, families and friends gather around the table for a spread guaranteed to put them into a food coma by the time the football games end. The center of this meal? A 20-pound, glistening, buttery and crispy turkey with all the trimmings.

But what if you're a vegetarian? The days of sitting and eating nothing but mashed potatoes and cornbread are over. Vegetarians have a huge range of dishes to choose from on Thanksgiving -- vegans do, too. Sure, many side dishes are vegetarian, but everyone loves a main entrée to get excited about. We'll tell you about all the options for traditional and non-traditional feasts, as well as a few tips on what to avoid at the Thanksgiving table. Even if you're not vegetarian yourself, offering a vegetarian entrée alternative is always appreciated.


Keeping it Traditional

If you're a vegetarian, but still want your Thanksgiving "turkey," many groceries offer soy-based faux birds. Tofurky is probably the most famous of these products. Its Tofurky Roasts, made from a tofu-wheat protein blend, come complete with stuffing and gravy -- all vegetarian (and vegan). Tofurky even includes an edible "wishbone" in its roasts for real authenticity.

Turk'y is another faux turkey product, made by Quorn. It contains mostly mycoprotein, which is a member of the fungi (mushroom) family. It's high in proteins and amino acids. However, Turk'y does contain egg and milk by-products. So, although it's vegetarian, it's NOT vegan.

Round out your faux turkey with lots of side dishes. As long as you don't use any beef or chicken broth, or bacon fat for flavoring, vegetarian side dishes are no different than the traditional ones.

Who Needs Turkey, Anyway?

Some vegetarians don't believe in eating meat -- real or fake. Perhaps you don't want to eat a mock version of something you find distasteful to begin with. Or maybe you don't believe in mass-processed foods. Whichever the reason, your Thanksgiving dinner can still include a delicious and seasonal main course.

Try some of these hearty, autumnal-themed dishes for a vegetarian entrée on Thanksgiving, and you won't even miss the meat. Many of these recipes are also vegan.

  • Baked pumpkin with vegetable stew
  • Savory onion and leek tart
  • Baked squash with cranberry and rice stuffing
  • Lasagna with winter greens (kale, Swiss chard)
  • Mushroom and fennel bread pudding
  • Marinated lentil salad
  • Vegetable strudel with cheese and mushrooms

Things to Watch Out For

If you're a vegetarian having Thanksgiving dinner out -- either at a restaurant or someone's home -- make sure you know exactly what you're eating. Sometimes "vegetarian" dishes contain meat products. Just because you can't see the meat doesn't mean it's not there. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Stuffing -- Many people cook the stuffing right inside the bird.
  • Soups -- They may contain beef or chicken stock.
  • Salad dressing -- Caesar salad dressing traditionally contains anchovies.
  • Marshmallows -- They contain gelatin, which is made from animal bones.
  • Pie crusts -- They may contain lard.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, and don't forget to leave room for dessert!


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • "Faux Turkeys." 2009. (Aug. 28, 2009)
  • Mollenkamp, Aida. "10 Vegetarian Thanksgiving Dishes." CHOW. Nov. 3, 2008. (Aug. 28, 2009)
  • Siegle, Lucy. "Is it ethical to buy fake meat products?" The Observer. Feb. 1, 2009. (Aug. 28, 2009)
  • Spiridakis, Nicole. "A Vegetarian Thanksgiving." Nov. 19, 2008. (Aug. 28, 2009)
  • "Thanksgiving Fun Facts." 2008. (Aug. 28, 2009)
  • "Tofurky Holiday Products." Turtle Island Foods. 2009. (Aug. 28, 2009)
  • "Tofurky jurky." Turtle Island Foods. 2009. (Aug. 28, 2009)
  • "Turk'y Roast." Quorn. 2006. (Aug. 28, 2009)