How to cater for non-vegan dinner guests

Author: Diana Goldman

Read Time:   |  13th December 2021

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With the holiday season in full swing, many of us are facing the challenge of what to feed our non-vegan guests. As Diana Goldman shows, when it comes to choosing what to feed non-vegan guests, vegan bowls are a crowd-pleasing option everyone can enjoy.


Recently jogging in New York City, I stopped every few blocks when something lovely caught my eye. I focused my phone, captured an image, and continued on.

Scrolling through my photos later that evening, I was delighted to view the winter foliage in Central Park, neo-Gothic architecture along Fifth Avenue, and talented buskers dancing in the streets.

In addition to these classic NYC scenes, I’d photographed sights that were far less touristy: A-frame sidewalk signs, strategically positioned outside restaurant establishments, advertising a beautiful bowl of vegan food.

At the time, I was quite surprised to see them. On reflection, less so. In my role as a culinary instructor, caterer, and enthusiastic entertainer, I’ve learned this. Regardless of dietary preference, people love vegan bowls!

What’s not to love? They’re health-promoting. They’re delicious. They’re sustainable. If a restaurant wants to capture the attention of passers-by, an A-frame sign highlighting a beautiful bowl of plant-based food is a sound marketing strategy.


As vegan bowls are such crowd-pleasers, they are one of my favourite dishes to serve when entertaining.

They’re easy to prepare. They’re fun to build. A little bit of simple strategising yields a palate-pleasing meal.

How to cater to non-vegan dinner guests with vegan bowls

Next time you are feeding a crowd, why not delight your guests with a vegan bowl meal. These five tips will ease the planning and set you on your way to entertaining like a star:

1. Set up a buffet table

This allows individuals to build their own bowls. Display the ingredients logically. Bowls (or plates work too) at the start.

Next in line, the base, then toppings, the dressing or sauce, followed by the garnishes. Be sure to provide serving pieces for each component.

Have fun setting the table and displaying all your offerings. Candles and flowers are always a nice touch.

2. Serve a number of options

Aim for at least seven different components. Guests will enjoy having choices as they build their own unique creations, including ingredients they love and avoiding those that are less appealing.

Once built, everyone’s bowl will be a little bit different, customised to their own liking.

Looking for more crowd-pleasing vegan meals? Try these vegan recipes!

3. Offer visual appeal

Provide variety in terms of colour, shape and texture.

Picture a Mexican bean bowl built with brown rice for the base; kale, roasted corn, diced bell pepper, black beans, avocado, and crispy chilli-spiced potatoes for the toppings; salsa and queso for the sauces; tortilla chips, toasted pepitas, and cilantro for the garnish.

A dish like this offers lots of interest with a rainbow of colour, a variety of shapes, and a range of crispy, crunchy, creamy, smooth and fibrous textures.


4. Choose from the categories of plant-based foods

Let these six plant types guide you: grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Don’t forget mushrooms, not a plant, but vegan and totally delicious.

This super delicious Bibimbap inspired bowl is built from many of the plant categories: rice, edamame beans, cucumber, carrots and kimchi, sesame seeds and mushrooms.

Easy Bibimbap Inspired Recipe - what to feed non-vegan guests

Building bowls with a variety of plant components leads to a flavorful, filling, and highly nutritious selection.

5. Include strong flavours

When planning, let flavour be the star of the show.

Balance sweet notes, with sour, bitter, salty and umami flavours. The latter provides a savoury, satisfying, depth of flavour and is considered a secret to creating delicious vegan bowls.

The following is a sampling of plant-based foods that are umami-rich: mushrooms, sauerkraut, kimchi, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, miso, tomatoes, nutritional yeast, tempeh, sea vegetables, toasted nuts and seeds, olives, and capers.

A sushi bowl with sushi rice as base; avocado, nori strips, carrots, cucumbers, roasted Brussels sprouts, marinated tempeh, and seared maitake mushrooms as toppings; ginger soy sauce dressing; and pickled ginger, wasabi, and toasted sesame seeds as toppings offers each of the five basic tastes with a dash of heat thrown in as well.

What I’d love for you to know is that it is absolutely possible to share vegan food with ease that is widely appealing, regardless of dietary preference.

Next time you’re catering for non-vegan guests, simply follow these steps and get creative; the options are unlimited.

A vegan bowl meal is a fun way for us to connect and enjoy delicious food together.

If you love bowl food, you’ll love this round-up of the best vegan Buddha bowl recipes!

Featured image credit: @ralphkayden

Written by

Diana Goldman

Diana Goldman is a vegan caterer, and plant-based Nutrition Educator based in Boston. She received a B.S. from Cornell University in Nutrition Science and an Ed.M. from Harvard University. Sign up to receive a free Healthy Vegan Made Easy ebook on her award-winning website, Beantown Kitchen.

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