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Nearly half of Americans are afraid of cooking for vegans—here's how to do it

Eat more veggies

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Juicy burgers, ice cold beer, the summer sunshine... there's nothing better than a backyard barbecue this time of year. Unless there will be vegans there, that is, according to a new study.

The poll found that nearly half (46 percent) of Americans "panic or get nervous" when they know that a vegan is coming to their get-together. But with more than 2 in 5 people expecting that they will have guests with dietary restrictions, it's a fear that many people will have to overcome.

To help, we've asked our kitchen and cooking experts to share their best advice for making sure all of your guests—yes, even the vegans—feel welcome at your summer cookouts.

Why people aren't comfortable cooking for vegans

Whether you're dealing with a guest who has a fatal allergy or simply worried about making your plant-eating friends happy, preparing vegan dishes can be a lot of pressure if you aren't used to it.

Our Kitchen & Cooking Editor Cassidy Olsen understands the struggle all too well. "It doesn't surprise me at all that about half of Americans get nervous cooking for vegans. I get it! " she says. "I'm young, on the border between millennial and Gen Z, and a ton of people in my life are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten- or dairy-free for a ton of reasons, from serious allergies and intolerances to general preference. One of my friend's partners is so severely allergic to dairy, he could die if he consumes any."

How to cook for your vegan friends (without panicking)

Credit: Rachel Slepekis/Getty Images

You can't go wrong with veggie skewers.

While being forced outside of your comfort zone can be terrifying, it's necessary if you have friends who are vegetarian or vegan. "I absolutely love hosting (and can be kind of a control freak about it), so I always want to be accommodating of my guests," Olsen, who understands the struggle all too well, says. "But it's not easy, and I totally understand why people would be nervous." She and our Kitchen & Cooking Writer Valerie Li share some of their tips below.

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1. Ask your guests ahead of time about any dietary restrictions

Olsen recommends doing this before you even start planning your party or your menu. "How many people need different food? What do they like? If you plan a whole vegan spread and like, 2 people are vegetarian, that's going to a waste of your time and money," she cautions.

2. Know what to grill—and what not to

Not all veggies (or plant-based proteins) are created equal when it comes to the BBQ. Olsen's suggestions? "Grill tons and tons of corn, prepare a big pot of vegan chili, make one or two big summer salads, and buy a bulk pack of vegan grillables like Impossible/Beyond burgers and hot dogs, marinated tofu, and portobello mushrooms."

She adds that getting creative with your flavors can be fun, too. "Take cues from other cultures that have more vegan options—Indian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, etc.," she says. "Try rice and grilled vegetable Korean BBQ lettuce wraps, Thai papaya salads, or even falafel-esque chickpea fritters. Your guests will thank you for the variety!"

3. Cook food separately

Li, who has a lot of friends who are either vegetarian or pescetarian, says that she uses a smoker like this one from Char-Griller to keep meat and veggies apart. "It allows you to cook food separately without compromising the taste," she notes.

4. Consider hosting a potluck instead

Turn your get-together into a potluck by asking everyone to come with a side dish or dessert. "If everyone contributes something, including those with restrictions, you don't need to worry about anyone going hungry," Olsen explains.

5. Let people bring their own food

Even if you don't host a potluck, make it clear that your guests are more than welcome to bring food that meets their own dietary needs if they're more comfortable. Olsen says that you shouldn't be offended or think of it as rude, joking, "It's not a wedding!"

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