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Enjoy the holiday without talking turkey

Guess who's coming to Thanksgiving dinner? It could be a vegetarian or two.

For many hosts and hostesses this Thanksgiving, the odds are good that someone is coming to dinner who doesn't eat turkey or other animal meats. Over the years, I've been both the visiting vegetarian and the hostess welcoming vegetarian guests.

Interest in vegetarianism is on the rise, with about 6% of the American population saying they never eat meat (the figure goes up to 10% among those aged 18-34), according to a recent Vegetarian Resource Group Harris Interactive Survey.

Whether people become committed to vegetarianism due to religious, ethical, or health considerations, or out of concern for the environment or animal rights, they are all most likely receiving health benefits.

In a recent position statement, the American Dietetic Association says that the nutritional benefits of vegetarian diets include lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein, as well as higher levels of fiber, folate, phytochemicals, and antioxidants such as vitamin C and E.

Vegetarians may also have lower body mass indexes (compared to non-vegetarians) and lower rates of death from heart disease. They're also likely to have lower bloodcholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, as well as lower rates of type 2 diabetes and prostate and colon cancers.

If you're expecting vegetarians to dinner (who may or may not include yourself), there are two ways to look at it. You can either make sure you have so many vegetarian side dishes that your non-meat-eating guests can make a meal of them, or you can include vegetarian main dishes out of respect for their meatless mandate.

I'll tackle both in this article. Below, you'll find a recipe for savory vegetable gravy so your vegetarian guests can enjoy the classic Thanksgiving comfort food of mashed potatoes and gravy. There's also a recipe for a main dish, Yuletide Manicotti, and a festive dinner roll.

All of the recipes will be acceptable for lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who eat eggs and milk products). If you're expecting a vegan for dinner, experiment with vegan substitutes, such as soy milk, soy cheese, and soy-based margarines.

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