Let the Turkey Thank You: Vegetarian Alternatives For Thanksgiving Feast

For generations we have watched our great grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers agonize over preparing the perfect turkey for Thanksgiving–getting up at some ungodly hour to shove the bird into the oven, basting, stuffing, and glazing over and over again, and then, finally using every ounce of energy left to heave it on the table for all to say, "looks great mom, but when can we dig into the mashed potatoes and hit the pumpkin pie?"

Year after year, the turkey gets buried under mounds of succulent, tasty, and often more interesting vegetarian side dishes and deserts. So this year let the turkey (and your mom) thank you by choosing a less laborious, convenient and healthier vegetarian Thanksgiving meal.

Turning your Thanksgiving meal vegetarian is a no-brainer and can appeal to every family member. Remember, losing the turkey does not mean losing those traditional flavors and tastes that we all crave this time of year.

Creamy garlic mashed potatoes, wild mushroom gravy, honey and thyme glazed carrots, sweet potato soufflé, and yes, even classic bread stuffing, are just a few of the nostalgic vegetarian dishes that make the cut for this year's menu.

But what about the protein? Don't fear! Within the last decade great strides have been made in the soy-based meat alternatives department, making "going veg" more convenient and easier than ever before. Brands such as Tofurky make a delicious Tofurky Roast made with organic non-genetically engineered soybeans, which you can buy either frozen or pre-thawed.

Detailed baking instructions come with the Tofurky, but basically you just pop it in the oven either frozen for three hours, or a little over an hour for a thawed Tofurky (as opposed to 6 or 7 for a normal turkey).

Surround your Tofurky with all your favorite accompaniments, such as carrots, onions, potatoes and herbs, and voila! You have balanced Thanksgiving meal, protein included.

Check out the Tofurky website at www.tofurky.com for a complete listing of their products, recipes and locations.

If you and your family are feeling like the whole "fake meat" thing is pushing your comfort zone, then there are many other creative ways to go. Portobello mushrooms have a meaty texture and smoky, earthy flavor that is so satisfying. Stuff them with polenta, kale and Gruyere cheese for a tasty little health bomb.

Veggie Shepard's potpie, with a pastry puff top, served in individual ramekins, is a comfort food sure to please. Or hollow out halved baked acorn squashes and stuff them with a mix of quinoa, pronounced qeen-wa, (a nutty tasting grain from Peru that is packed with protein) wilted swiss chard, caramelized onions, toasted hazelnuts and top it all off with freshly grated Parmesan cheese to please everyone's palate.

You can easily make any recipe vegan (no meat, dairy or egg) for that one niece or nephew coming home from their first semester of liberal arts college by using soy or rice cheese substitutes, unsweetened plain soy milk, non-dairy butter spreads and oils, and "fake" meats-- all of which are found in most grocery stores.

These vegan items often cook and bake very similar to regular milk, cheese and meat, but it's always good to refer to the instructions on the back of the package. Visit www.WholeFoodsMarket.com for a complete list of vegan brands and products.

Thanksgiving is not just about eating good food and connecting with family, but also about expressing gratitude to yourself and others. By making conscious healthy food choices, you are carving a path to a lifetime of personal health and wellness.

And you are not alone! Big stars are also making a national statement by going vegetarian and vegan. Alicia Silverstone, Brad Pitt, Avril Lavigne, Carlos Santana and Gwyneth Paltrow are just a few of many celebrity herbivores making the change one turkey at a time.

Check out the Adopt-A-Turkey Project, www.adoptaturkey.org, an organization committed to saving thousands of turkeys from being slaughtered each year, and that several vegetarian stars are backing.

Let Thanks be the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table this year, and have a very Happy Gobble-free Day!