Published on 11/06/08

Holiday season more than meat

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

There won’t be any meat on Robin Pratt’s holiday table. Without a turkey or ham to fuss over, the Winterville, Ga., Web designer spends her extra time “focused on friends and family instead of the food,” she said.

A vegetarian, Pratt doesn’t spend time looking for a turkey substitute either.

“If you’re a vegetarian and you go into the holiday thinking about finding a substitute for meat, you’re going to be disappointed because you can never replace a turkey,” Pratt said.

But that doesn’t mean she and her family will miss out on holiday flavors.

“We have so much food,” she said. “Eighteen people come to my house and bring two dishes each. That can be at least 20 casseroles…you can feel happy that you’ll still feel sleepy, even if you’re a vegetarian. You’ll still feel like you’re going to explode and fall asleep at the same time.”

As families gather around the table this holiday season, some are finding they may need to alter a traditional recipe so that their vegetarian and vegan family members can share in the feasting, said Connie Crawley, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension nutrition and health expert.

“So many people make so many side dishes, it’s like a meal anyway,” Crawley said. When it comes to making those dishes, they need to be “aware of animal products in the food and their substitutes.”

Many vegetarians consume butter, milk and eggs. But for those who don’t, putting butter in the potatoes or milk in a casserole can keep them from enjoying those foods.

“If you make all the side dishes with vegetable oil, dairy free margarine or soy milk, everyone can enjoy them,” Crawley said.

Pratt focuses on regional or cultural recipes, something she did before becoming a vegetarian. She suggests trying to cook a recipe that “you’ve always wanted to cook but didn’t have time,” she said. “That way, the holidays are still about food, but not just turkey.”

She and Crawley give tips on making the holidays tasty for vegetarians and meat-lovers.

Consider the eaters. “For families that have a vegetarian, vegetarian families that have a meat eater, or if you’re interested in eating less meat for your health, have a turkey and then have just vegetarian side dishes,” Pratt said. “For vegetarians, most of life is side dishes.”

Know your vegetarian’s eating habits. There are all kinds of vegetarians, Crawley said. Some are lacto, meaning they drink milk and eat cheese. Others are ovo, meaning they eat eggs. Still others are pesco, meaning they eat fish. Many are a combination of these. But some are vegan, meaning they eat no animal byproducts – including gelatin and butter.

Practice recipes beforehand. Crawley said that substituting vegan-friendly ingredients for common animal byproducts isn’t hard, especially if the recipe has been tried and tested before the holiday meal.

Use the Web. Vegetarian recipes can easily be found with a quick search online. Crawley found many dishes made from winter vegetables.

Keep it healthy. Crawley points out that even though vegetables are loading the table, the dishes are not necessarily low calorie or low fat. “Be reasonable about added fat,” she said. Many recipes will still be delicious if you substitute evaporated skim milk for the cream, low-fat cheese for full-fat varieties, low-cholesterol egg substitute for regular eggs and reduced-fat margarine for butter.

Label the side dishes. If you're serving food buffet-style, Crawley recommends putting cards next to the food to indicate whether a dish is vegetarian, vegan or not.

“The good thing about the South is that we’re already used to eating a lot of vegetables on the side,” Crawley said, so making the transition to a vegetarian menu isn’t as foreign as it would be in other parts of the country.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.