By Lenora Dernoga and Katie V. Jones

Do you have a vegan or vegetarian in your family who will be joining you for Thanksgiving?  Are you interested in trying non-traditional, plant-based meals this holiday season?  Thanksgiving is one of the easiest holidays to create delicious alternative recipes, as so many dishes traditionally enjoyed, like sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and stuffing, are often close to vegan already.    

“When you think about vegetarian or vegan food, people think it sounds really weird or different,” said Mandy Katz, a nutritionist at Giant, which has a store in Laurel Shopping Center. “That’s wrong. Think roasted vegetables, like roasted Brussels sprouts. Most stuffings start with celery, onions, sage and bread, all things vegetarian or plant based. If you add vegetable broth, it is appropriate for all.”

For those tried and true recipes that you draw on every year for the holidays, many of the dairy and meat ingredients can be replaced to accommodate a vegan diet. Most grocery stores like Giant carry vegan products that  closely mimic more conventional ingredients. Non-dairy milks like almond, oat and soy, can substitute for dairy milks, and coconut cream is an alternative to heavy cream. There are numerous butter substitutes and cheese substitutes, from cheddar to feta to mozzarella. 

“While adding plant-based items to your Thanksgiving menu, add herbs and spices to enhance flavors and bring a special taste to the meal. In addition to making everything taste good, you’ll be adding loads of health benefits,” wrote Stacee Johnson, a culinary educator and founder of StaCentered Yoga & Wellness, in an email.  “Add herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme to gravies and sauces and you will have the benefit of improved digestion from the heavy meal.  Or, consider including fresh parsley and mint into green salads to brighten the flavors and provide powerful antioxidants that can also help with indigestion.  For those that are mindful of controlling blood sugar spikes, combine a sprinkle of cinnamon with fruits like apples and pears for a tasty treat. “

While there are faux turkey roasts available, lentils are a great way, Katz said, to provide protein and can be mixed with brown rice as a stuffing for both butternut and acorn squashes.

“Protein makes us feel full,” Katz said. “This is  a beautiful dish for a fall table that is fun for people to eat.”

A good host, Katz said, should ask their vegetarian/vegan guests what they would prefer to eat at the dinner as there are many reasons, from environmental concerns and health benefits to being an animal lover, that people become vegetarians or vegan.


“Animal lovers probably don’t want anything that looks or tastes like meat,” Katz said. “Those with health issues may miss and still want those traditional Thanksgiving foods.”


Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to ask a vegetarian or vegan guest to bring a dish.

“Not a salad, but something unexpected to introduce how good eating a plant-based diet can be,” Katz said. 

For an added health benefit, head outside after the feast, Katz said.“There is nothing better than a crisp walk,” Katz said. “Then come back and have a cup of coffee and pumpkin pie.”

Here are some links to plant-based recipes that are brimming with a wide range of texture, color and flavor, along with some great nutrition, too.  Many use fresh, seasonal ingredients and are surprisingly easy to make. 


Butternut squash shepherd’s pie:  This impressive main dish features a crustless casserole of lentils, carrots and mushrooms with a tangy cider and smokey, butternut squash topping. 

Lentil-Stuffed Acorn Squash | Giant Food 


Crispy mustard Brussels sprouts:  You won’t miss bacon in this super-tasty Brussels sprouts dish.  Sprouts are roasted with mustard seeds for an extra crunch in a creamy mustard/maple glaze.

Vegan green bean casserole: Creamy, flavorful and made-from-scratch delicious.


Vegan pumpkin-pecan pie: Egg- and dairy-free, made with a simple homemade crust, a caramel sauce filling and a crunchy pecan topping.