People follow a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons, including concerns about health, the environment, food safety and the treatment of animals. Others find the taste or texture of meat to be objectionable, making their vegetarianism a personal preference with no underlying agenda. A 2008 Harris Interactive Study found that 7.3 million Americans identify as being vegetarian, so how can you be sure your celebration meets the dietary requirements of everyone assembled?
Don’t rely too heavily on salad. Making a huge bowl of salad is a great start, not an end, to vegetarian cuisine. While vegetables are great sources of vitamins and minerals, their calorie content is incredibly low and diners will feel hungry again within the hour. Online calorie counter Calorie King estimates that a 3/4 cup serving of mixed salad with no dressing is only 17 calories. Health-conscious vegetarians may balk at using creamy, heavy dressings to beef up the calorie count, so making a salad the main attraction can lead to some awfully unsatisfied and grumpy guests.
Seek out meat substitutes. Right next to the pre-formed hamburger patties in the freezer section are soy burgers in a wide variety of flavors. While some vegetarians will turn their nose up at them, others love them. The same goes for tofu hot dogs or pan-fried tempeh on the grill. Try refried bean paste in place of ground beef for nachos and vegetarian egg rolls or potstickers for appetizers. Be aware that some meat substitutes contain cheese, which may be a deal breaker for vegans.
Focus on buffet-style goodies. Macaroni salad, potato salad, chili, a cheese sandwich tray and a large vegetable tray with a selection of dips not only provides all-day snacking, but can be made vegetarian without alienating the omnivores at the gathering. Hummus and chickpea salad paired with heated pitta bread are also delicious, and perfect for summer fun. Vegetarian varieties of the above dishes will be eaten by everyone in attendance, and you will avoid any uncomfortable conversations.
Thank your guests berry much for coming! The New York Times included blueberries on their 2008 list of The Best 11 Foods You Aren’t Eating. Loaded with vitamins, fiber and antioxidants, berries make for a great, easy-to-prepare fruit salad when combined with cubed melon and sliced strawberries, or can be featured in delicious desserts ranging from pie to cake. Cover some strawberries with melted chocolate and allow to harden, or slice up some bananas and drizzle blackberry syrup over them.
Go nuts. The Mayo Clinic advises that nuts lower levels of bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol, so mixed nuts are not only delicious, but heart-healthy. Set out a bowl for snacking or mix them into the cake or ice cream. Nuts also help your guests feel full which discourages overeating, so their waistlines will thank you, too.
Keep a variety of condiments and spices at hand. Tofu and soy products can sometimes be a little bland. Your guests will be grateful to have a variety of condiments, sauces and spices from which to choose. Carefully read the ingredients of barbecue sauces, however, as some contain meat-based stocks for flavor.
Variety is the spice of life, so don’t get bogged down at the prospect of vegetarian meal preparation. With these guidelines in mind, your 4th of July party is bound to be a hit with omnivores and vegetarians alike.