Cooking Meals For Your Vegan Friend

Learn about the different types of vegetarian diets and some of the basics of meal planning for your vegan friend's visit to your home.

If you are a meat eater, cooking for your vegan friends requires not only some new recipes, but also an understanding of what "vegan" really means. There are many different diets that fall into the vegetarian category, and even within the general vegetarian diets there are individual differences. You will need to understand whether your friend is a true vegan, or if he is a lacto-vegetarian, an ova-vegetarian, a lacto-ovo vegetarian, or a semi-vegetarian (sometimes called "flexitarian").

A vegan is someone who does not eat any animal foods at all. They do not eat any by-products of animals in any form. That means that they do not eat honey, or butter, milk, eggs, or oils that are a derivative of an animal.

An ova-vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat, but they do eat eggs and products made with eggs. They do not eat dairy products, so milk, butter, ice cream, and cheese are not acceptable. A lacto-vegetarian is someone who will eat dairy products, but will not eat eggs. And a lacto-ovo vegetarian will eat eggs and dairy.

Vegetarianism can also include people who will eat fish (pesco-vegetarians) and poultry (polio-vegetarians), but not any other kind of meat. Sometimes one type of vegetarianism is combined with another, such as someone may be a pesco-vegetarian and an ova-vegetarian. This simply means that person will eat fish and eggs but not dairy products.

The word "flexitarian" was recently coined to describe people who consider themselves vegetarians for the most part, but on occasion will eat meat, fish, or poultry. Flexitarian's main food preferences, however, are fruits and vegetables, though they are not philosophically opposed, nor dietically restricted from meat consumption.

One concern about a vegan diet is the possibility of an insufficient intake of proteins. Proteins are the foods that make flesh and blood and repair the body and are most readily found in meat and dairy products. A complete protein must include all eight essential amino acids. Complete protein in non-meat products can be found in cheese, dried beans, eggs, whole milk, powdered skim milk, peanut flour, peanuts, soybean flour, soybean sprouts, wheat germ, and whole wheat flower. There are incomplete proteins included in natural brown rice, nuts, dried lima beans, whole grains, bran flakes, yellow corn meal, buckwheat flour, and yogurt. Food combinations of these foods with certain other foods help them attain complete protein status, however.

It is a great idea to keep a card of information about the dietary preferences of each person you cook for, including your vegetarian friends. It is a good idea to always ask your guests about dietary information when you extend an invitation to your home for a meal. It is important to know about dietary information, such as if your guests have food restrictions, preferences, or dislikes. Why go to the work of cooking if you aren't preparing something that your guests can eat and enjoy?

The dietary information you gather from your guests can be stored simply on a recipe card where you write the friend's name at the top of the card, followed by the type of vegetarian diet they prefer ( lacto-ovo vegetarian, ova-vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian). This record can also include foods they mention they especially like or dislike. Each card can also be a record of foods that you have served them in the past and the dates you served them so that you can find the recipes that were successful again when you want to, or to make sure that you don't always serve them the same foods.

If you are not comfortable in asking your guests dietary questions, or are not able to speak to them in advance, there are some general considerations which can and should be made. Use soy milk or silken tofu for making such things as fruit smoothies or sauces and dips. Add seeds and nuts to yogurt, breads, and desserts for added nutrition and protein. Prepare beans, nuts, lentils, and foods such as tofu and veggie burgers in place of meat. Make sure that you offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and use nut and seed butters on such things as rice cakes and whole grain breads. And keep in mind that even though sweets and fried vegetables and fried breads are acceptable components to many vegetarian diets, it is best to limit those as they are not healthy choices for your guests.

Making an attempt to understand your vegan friend's dietary considerations, is not only thoughtful, it is respectful. Your friend's choice of diet, if not based on medical need, is one of philosophical or spiritual choice. Cooking foods that fulfill the requirements of that choice tell them that you care about them as a person and want them to be comfortable and happy in your home. You don't have to be an excellent cook to have a successful dinner. You just have to be someone who truly cares about the guests at your table.

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