If your idea of a vegetarian Thanksgiving involves a sparse salad mix and Tofurky, think again. These days, more and more families are incorporating plant-based dishes into their Thanksgiving menus, and with good reason: countless studies have shown that people who consume vegetable-heavy diets generally stay healthier and live longer.
Nutrition is the eighth pillar of Florida Hospital’s CREATION Health model, and the praises of a plant-based diet have been sung everywhere from the scripture to modern scientific research. Recipes are growing more sophisticated, with bright, colorful dishes that even the carnivores and picky eaters in the family will gobble up.
Here are some versatile, meat-free ingredients to add to your Thanksgiving repertoire.
Soy & Seitan
Soy products like tofu typically come the closest to capturing the flavors and textures of real meat. There are many store-bought options for a meatless turkey alternative, which can be found in the plant-based foods section of your supermarket or at most natural foods grocers. Many of these come conveniently ready-made with stuffings and gravies.
You can also try a homemade version using tofu or seitan, a wheat-based meat alternative that soaks up classic poultry seasoning so well, your family may not even miss the bird. Bonus: these “un-turkeys” will take a fraction of the time to prepare.
It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pumpkin, and this nutritious fruit has a place at the table beyond pie. In fact, pumpkin blossoms in both sweet and savory recipes. Think of creative ways to put the pumpkin into your holiday favorites, like in pies, soups or casseroles.
The many varieties of squash often appear at Thanksgiving as part of your decorative centerpiece, but these funny-shaped veggies should be a staple of any fall diet. Roasted butternut squash works as a standalone dish, but you can also layer it into lasagna, concoct a creamy risotto or slice it into a delicate galette with apples and onions.
Acorn squash is perfect for stuffing. Simply halve the squash and load it up with quinoa or wild rice, cranberries, walnuts and other fall-friendly ingredients.
Lately, cauliflower has been flexing its muscle as a major meat substitute. The versatility of this cruciferous vegetable is owed in large part to its mildness, which readily absorbs the flavors around it. For a winning side dish, try a cauliflower mash (like your traditional mashed potatoes). Or, divide a head of cauliflower into two, season, broil and serve as hearty “steaks.”
A longtime staple for vegans and vegetarians, mushrooms – especially the portobello variety – can take on the satisfying meatiness of beef. Try them in a pastry-topped pot pie, in a pretty tart with gruyere or as the main ingredient in your Thanksgiving gravy.
Another fall and winter favorite, nutrient-packed sweet potatoes are classified as a superfood. Like pumpkin, they can go sweet or savory. You can include them in your chili as a simple, hearty main that can simmer in the slow cooker all day while you whip up side dishes. Or, impress your guests with sweet potato-based pasta, given the Thanksgiving treatment with flavors like sage and brown butter.
This protein-heavy ancient grain can do some heavy lifting as a stuffing ingredient – such as stuffed mushrooms or stuffed acorn squash, all dressed up with cranberries, walnuts or hazelnuts and herbs.
Nothing says fall like roasting vegetables – particularly the kind that grow underground. ’Tis the season for dishes made with these antioxidant-rich root veggies — from parsnips to carrots and turnips — which are a great substitute for starchy mashed potatoes. Top it all with mushroom gravy and voila – you’ll forget that Tom Turkey wasn’t invited this year.