Vegans and omnivores at the dinner table

If you're cooking for a vegan guest at a family meal or for a meal with friends, chances are you'll be cooking for omnivores and possibly vegetarians too. Question is - how to cater for everyone at once?

Before you start, remember that in most cases the reason for the meal is to enjoy each others' company and the food itself is secondary to this, so don't stress too much about whether the vegan option will be 'good enough'. Most vegans will just be glad of being given something suitable to eat and not being picked on for being 'different' or 'awkward'. If you are hosting a dinner party where the focus is on the food, use it as an excuse to get creative and experiment with some new dishes!

A fairly obvious point, but remember to check first whether any of your guests have food allergies, as some people do have allergies to common vegan ingredients such as nuts, soya or mushrooms.

If you have vegan and vegetarian guests, a vegan main course will also be a suitable vegetarian meal, so no need to cook separate meals for both.

Option 1: Have separate meat and vegan 'centrepieces' of the meal and make sure the potatoes/vegetables/other side dishes are vegan-friendly. This works well for meat-potatoes-vegetables meals such as a Sunday dinner or Christmas dinner, do a piece of meat for the meat-eaters and something else instead of the meat for the vegans/vegetarians.

Omnivores often like to help themselves to the vegan dish as an extra side dish, so make sure you make extra if it's going to be placed in the centre of the table for people to help themselves.

Advantages: the vegan(s) get to share most of the same food as everyone else, which is nicer from a social point of view. If everyone else is helping themselves to shared food placed in the middle of the table, it can feel a bit isolating for a lone vegan to be sitting there with their separate 'special' food while everyone else is sharing, so having at least some dishes which can be shared by everyone is often a good move.

If you haven't got much time to cook anything in addition to the omnivore meal, you can stick a vegan vegeburger under the grill and you're sorted.

Option 2: Make a separate self-contained meal for the vegan(s). Useful if you're making a self-contained meal for the omnivores (rather than a central piece of meat plus side dishes).

Advantage: you don't have to worry about making parts of the omnivores' meal vegan-friendly, just do the one dish for the vegan and do what you please with the rest of the food.

Disadvantage: Having to cook a whole separate meal (or you could use a ready meal if necessary).

Option 3: Make a dish where the meat or alternative vegan ingredient can be added in at the end. This works well for some quick meals such as stir-fries, DIY pizzas, pasta sauces or sausage casserole, where the meat can be cooked separately and added to some portions when the rest of the dish is ready. This is not a case of 'just leaving the meat out' - add a vegan alternative such as tofu pieces, nuts or beans instead. This also works for dishes based on pasta or rice: e.g. vegan and meat chilli or bolognese cooked in separate pans, but adding the same vegetables to each and cooking one lot of rice or pasta.

Option 4: Make everyone a vegan meal. Unless they're hardcore carnivores, people often enjoy the chance to eat something different to their usual fare and wouldn't object to eating a meatless meal. Nowadays more and more people don't eat meat at every meal anyway, either for health, cost or environmental reasons. Make something familiar, such as a pasta dish, and they may not even notice they're eating vegan food. Not that vegan food is any less tasty than non-vegan food, it's just people's preconceptions that may be a barrier sometimes.

Advantages: Making and serving one meal for everyone makes life simpler.

You get to cook something a bit different from the standard food your non-vegan guests wil be used to, therefore making it easier to impress them!

The vegan guest(s) get to share the same food as everyone else, which is more inclusive from a social point of view.

Option 5: Ask your vegan guest to bring their own food, either something to have instead of the meat or a whole separate meal. Not always the best option if you've specifically invited someone for dinner, but as Brits generally don't like to 'make a scene' or feel like they're being an inconvenience bringing a meal might be preferable to feeling like a nuisance. In this situation the vegan could bring something to share which will act as their main meal but the rest of the group could help themselves to as an extra side dish.

Option 6: Go to a restaurant! Eating out with vegans

A couple of good articles on the subject of vegan dinner guests, courtesy of h2g2:

For non-vegans
For vegans scroll down to the 'The Vegan Guest' section.