If you think vegetarian Thanksgiving means salad and Tofurky, think again. These days, more and more families are incorporating plant-based dishes into their dinner 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, a philosophy designed to help each person achieve maximum health and wellness. And nutritious recipes are getting even more popular and tasty, with bright, flavorful 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:
Lately, cauliflower has been going mainstream 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, cut a head of cauliflower into thick slices, season, broil or grill 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 Gruyère cheese or as the main ingredient in your Thanksgiving gravy.
It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pumpkin, and this nutritious squash has a place at the table beyond pie. In fact, pumpkin lends itself to both sweet and savory recipes. Think of creative ways to put pumpkin into your holiday favorites, like soups, sides and casseroles.
This protein-heavy ancient grain can do some heavy lifting as a stuffing ingredient. Try 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 antioxidant-rich root veggies like parsnips, carrots and turnips, which are a great substitute for starchy potatoes. Give them a try with mushroom gravy to make the most of two vegetarian options at once.
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 stuffing and gravy.
You can also cook from scratch using seitan, a wheat-based meat alternative that soaks up classic poultry seasoning so well, your family may not even miss the bird. Fortunately, it will also take much less time than turkey to prepare.
The many varieties of squash often appear at Thanksgiving as part of your decorative centerpiece, but these veggies should also be a staple of your 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 seasonal ingredients.
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.
Even if you aren’t ready to give up your family’s traditional turkey, incorporating more veggies into your meal is an easy way to make Thanksgiving more nutritious and delicious — and ensure your guests don’t feel so overstuffed.