Making Thanksgiving a special experience for vegetarians involves more than making sure there are plenty of veggie side dishes. It's the holiday season, after all, when the right Thanksgiving recipes will let vegetarians at your table feel that same sense of abundance and tradition that meat eaters do. So whether you're a vegetarian yourself or you just cook for one, it's time to tailor Thanksgiving dinner to everyone, not just the carnivores. And if you're considering skipping the turkey this year and crossing meat off your menu permanently, the following findings may encourage you down that path: Reducing or eliminating meat from your diet lowers your risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes — and it's healthier for the environment. Cutting back on factory-farmed meat is a particularly good idea, as a 2006 United Nations report showed that the meat industry produces more greenhouse gases than all vehicles combined.

Read on for recipes that take vegetarians' dietary needs into consideration, providing plenty of whole grains, legumes, dairy and nuts. They're also special enough to deserve a prime spot on the Thanksgiving table.

1. Baked Stuffed Acorn Squash. Vegetarians deserve a show-stopping entrée, too. Stuffed, baked squash serves as a beautiful, protein-rich main dish for vegetarians. It also allows them to enjoy their very own meatless bread stuffing. This version's stuffing is filled with sage, mushrooms and almonds. Or try this nutmeg-scented version made with cornbread; 1/4 cup of chopped, toasted walnuts adds protein.

2. Lentil, Mushroom, and Spinach Gratin. The cheesy, crunchy topping of a gratin appeals to almost everyone. Lentils add a powerful dose of protein, elevating it from side dish to entrée status. Feta, limas and thyme are featured in this Greek-inspired gratin.

3. Spinach Barleycakes. When preparing dishes geared toward the vegetarians at your gathering, think hearty, flavorful and satisfying. These tender little cakes fit the bill.

4. Quick Garbanzo Gravy. With this recipe, meat eaters aren't the only ones able to drizzle gravy over their mashed potatoes. It goes great with the stuffed squash and complements the Spinach Barleycakes, too.

5. Squash-Stuffed Shells. This recipe using squash puree will please the pasta lovers at your table. For another seasonal pasta idea, try this cheesy, lasagnalike layered dish, which features spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, roasted red peppers and plenty of flavorful herbs.

Story by Amy Ahlberg. This article originally appeared on and is reprinted here with permission.

Related stories on MNN: 

5 amazingly tasty vegetarian Thanksgiving options
Vegetarians and meat eaters alike will give thanks for these festive, delicious, meatless menu choices.