Vegetarian Cookout Ideas

Reviewed by Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN
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The beginning of summer brings the unofficial start of grilling season. For some vegetarians and vegans, however, this means making do at backyard picnics with the same old crudités and soggy green salads — or worse — filling up at the chip bowl. But barbecues don't have to be a washout for those who don't eat meat.

Classic cookout foods can be easily transformed into delicious vegetarian or vegan fare:

Main Dishes

You'll find meat-free burgers and hot dogs in most grocery stores. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, make your own homemade burgers out of beans, rice, grains or tofu. Marinated and grilled portobello mushroom caps are not only tasty, but they offer a meaty texture that's appealing to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Or skewer mushrooms, peppers, squash and tomatoes, then grill them until slightly charred. If you're making chili for meat eaters, simply make another batch without the meat; add extra beans and veggies to thicken.

Side Dishes

Deviled eggs, potato salad, and macaroni salads are safe foods for lacto-ovo vegetarians, but even vegans can alter some of these recipes by substituting with dairy- and egg-free products. If you think you have to skip the classic Caesar salad, you're in for a treat. There are delicious vegetarian Caesar dressings on the market, but it's easy enough to make your own out of a base of ground almonds or cashews seasoned with nutritional yeast and soy sauce — you won't miss the anchovies.

For another chip option, offer guests homemade kale chips. Simply tear up a bunch of washed and dried kale leaves, drizzle with two tablespoons of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes in a 275ºF oven until crisp.

Another traditional favorite you can enjoy is grilled corn on the cob.

Desserts

Soy, rice and coconut milk-based ice creams command more shelf space in today's frozen food aisle, and for good reason: they taste absolutely delicious! And if you want to join in for some s'mores around the campfire, gelatin-free marshmallows guarantee your place. Grilling? Try peaches, mangos, pineapples bananas and other fruit. The heat caramelizes their natural sweetness.

On the Road

New vegetarians and vegans often find it difficult to ask hosts about food — what will be served and how it will prepared. Most hosts, however, want their guests to enjoy themselves, so let them know you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. You may be pleasantly surprised with their response. Some hosts will even go so far as to prepare dishes that are vegetarian- or vegan-friendly or at least won't mind if you bring your own food.

If most dishes include meat, dairy, eggs or cheese, offer to bring food to share with the crowd so you won't go hungry. As a courtesy, let the host know, as there may already be a crowded refrigerator or limited oven space, in which case, you can bring your own cooler or decide on a different recipe.

You'll also want to follow good food safety practices. Bacteria grow rapidly when temperatures rise, and vegetarians and vegans aren't immune from food poisoning. Keep perishable foods in the refrigerator until you're ready to leave, and then keep chilled in an ice-filled cooler or by packing with frozen gel packs. Vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products may keep these food items at room temperature for up to two hours at most (or just one hour if the temperature is over 90ºF) before they'll need to be refrigerated. The same goes for cut fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as cooked food.

If refrigeration is unavailable at your holiday site or it will be difficult keeping foods cold, consider packing non-perishable foods that don't need refrigeration like whole fruits and vegetables (wash before eating), canned beans, chips, bread, crackers, nuts, peanut butter, mustard and pickles.

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