So a family of vegetarians walk into a birthday party...
April 1, 2016 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Your loveliest suggestions for vegetarian appetizers and finger foods, s.v.p... for a kid's birthday party?

My nephew's 3rd birthday is tomorrow afternoon, and his mom (dear SIL) is throwing a big party for friends and family. A lot of family will be driving in for the day from a city 2.5 hours away, including a vegetarian one - veg SIL, her husband, and two kids.

Though adept at throwing parties and feeding the masses, lately dear SIL's been downgrading her formerly formidable efforts, now primarily relying on cook-from-frozen appetizers from Costco. She doesn't usually include vegetarian options other than chips, veg'n'dip, and the desserts, to which veg SIL has expressed disappointment in the past. They're coming a long way and would like to eat something more substantial when they arrive, because they're hungry, filling up on chips makes them feel sick. For various reasons requiring a lot of unnecessary back-story, this is unlikely to change.

Well, since lately my dear SIL seems to be more likely to welcome additional food brought for these parties with her downgraded efforts (2 kids and a difficult pregnancy with her 3rd on the way), and I've got a lot of vegetarians in my life anyway, I think I should bring something to help out - for tomorrow, and the many parties in our future.

Please give me your finger foods/appetizers that are vegetarian-friendly but will still appeal to ALL partygoers. So if it's heavy on tofu or beans/legumes, it must be truly amazing. Main requirements:
- vegetarian
- kid-friendly
- appealing to non-vegetarians
- cooked but not deep-fried
- delicious!!!

Thanks in advance!

Not looking for salads or similar... we are adept at salads, and anyway you don't win friends with salad (at parties).
posted by lizbunny to Food & Drink (53 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Pea/ricotta dumplings! Dumplings are really not that hard to make.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:24 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Edamame is always a win, with all ages.
Vegetarian chili in a crock pot off to the side, to be used as an entree or a dip.

On a side note, I am on a restricted diet for health reasons and if I know that I will be somewhere for awhile, I bring my own food. Since the SIL doesn't seem know that that is the proper thing to do, I think that it is unbelievably generous of you to step in and take up her slack. You are a totally awesome relative.
posted by myselfasme at 12:26 PM on April 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

I've seen a number of different takes on mac-and-cheese balls/bites. Many are deep fried but some are just baked. I'd try a recipe like this probably - note that I haven't made that one myself and can't vouch for it. You don't get much more kid-friendly than mac and cheese.
posted by town of cats at 12:26 PM on April 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

A little paper cup with a scoop of hummus or dip in the bottom, and some raw veggie sticks dipped into it? (carrot, celery, or pepper sticks, green beans, snap peas, etc)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:30 PM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, maybe consider adding a bean or seven-layer dip with the chips rather than just salsa, or doing pita/pita chips with hummus and/or crackers and cheese, so at least the chips and dip component of the offering has some fat and protein instead of being empty carbs.

You can also do vegetarian pinwheel sandwiches with cream cheese, roasted bell peppers and spinach. They serve those at my daughter's preschool sometimes and it seems that a reasonable proportion of the three-year-olds are willing to eat them.
posted by town of cats at 12:32 PM on April 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

It's questionably a finger-food, but my (vegan!) go-to for any kind of potluck situation is black-bean salad. (If you serve it with chips, which I totally recommend, you can call it a finger-food/dip). It keeps well, it's healthy, and basically everybody seems to like it.

Canned black beans
Halved cherry tomatoes
Chunks of avocado
Lightly cooked frozen corn
Finely diced red onion, presoaked in water OR sliced green onion
Cilantro, unless you have cilantro-haters
(Optional: diced bell pepper)
Drizzle with lime juice and a little olive oil, add salt and pepper, maybe a dash of cayenne for grown-ups
posted by chocotaco at 12:34 PM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Samosas are a bit heartier than chips, snacky, and easy to make vegan. I usually bake them.

Little spanakopitas are often available in the kinds of mass-marketed appetizer packages you're talking about. So just encouraging the party-thrower to add a package of those might help. If she can't find some it's not too hard to make. I've also made little puff pastry triangles with sauteed mushrooms and/or caramelized onions and/or roasted asparagus and/or goat cheese.

Falafel, with hummus and pita and veggies? It'd be a nice addition if the kind of spread you're expecting is of the cold cuts and bread variety. Some kind of roast veggie wrap could also be nice for that kind of thing.

Peanut noodles or sesame noodles edge farther into "dish to pass" than "appetizer" territory but it depends on your family. Quiche, too.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:37 PM on April 1, 2016

(I specifically requested no salads, falafels are deep fried, and the raw veg w/. dip has been covered. Thanks to everyone else so far, keep them coming.)
posted by lizbunny at 12:38 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Argh, I missed the no salad requirement in my excitement about black-bean salad. Apologies!

I will offer my second-favorite potluck thing, which little kids like, too: Korean kimbap. It seems fancy, but doesn't have to be. If you fill it with child-friendly things (avocado, cucumber, carrot matchsticks), it should go over. Nice and bite-size, and picky kids can easily pick out the things they don't like.
posted by chocotaco at 12:38 PM on April 1, 2016

Cucumber sandwiches (this basic thing) travel really well and can be made a day ahead. Deviled eggs are a pain in the butt to make or transport but also work well.

Joy the Baker's puff pastry tomato tart is a good finger food for vegetarian parties.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:38 PM on April 1, 2016

I bake falafel. Sorry, should have clarified.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:39 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Quiche/mini quiche?
posted by The Toad at 12:50 PM on April 1, 2016

Quiche - use store bought pie crust,,eggs, cheese and whatever veggies are desired
posted by MadMadam at 12:50 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

How about savory cupcakes? I don't have any specific recipes, but I've done both baked mac and cheese and quiches as mini cupcakes and they were big hits with kids and adults.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 12:51 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Whole cubes of cheese and cubes of bread with an olive oil and herbs dipping oil. A few pickles and olives.

Mini quiches or even easier mini frittatas don't have crust though the purchased crusts are fine.

Roasted chickpeas.

Devilled eggs.

Stuffed tomatoes with egg salad. Scoop out, salt, and drain bite-sized tomatoes.

A long sandwich roll filled with cheeses, lettuce, tomato and sliced into 2 inch portions. Serve hummus, mustard, mayo, pickles on the side. Local bakeries here sell 3 foot longs if ordered ahead.

Cheese tortellini (from frozen) on toothpicks with small tomatoes/olives or plain. Sprinkle with parmesan.

Slices of potatoes baked then topped with: sour cream and onion powder OR sun-dried tomato and olive OR sauteed mushroom and onion. (Like tiny mini pizzas). Use toothpicks as needed.

Mozzarella balls marinated.

Garlic bread.
posted by RoadScholar at 12:53 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Stuffed mushrooms with cheese and Soyrizo (veg sausage)

Cheddar walnut crackers

Baked empanadas (you can use pie crust or store bought puff pastry) filled with fresh mozzarella, basil, and sliced tomatoes
posted by ananci at 12:58 PM on April 1, 2016

Lots of grocery stores sell sushi now, and vegetarian sushi is a terrific finger food for kids and adults.
posted by FencingGal at 1:01 PM on April 1, 2016

Christmas on my mom's side was a potluck this year. I made chickpea fries, aka panisse, according to the recipe in How To Cook Everything. It was a huge hit amongst the carnivores, and it's easy to customize according to taste. I made one batch of parmesan-rosemary ones and another of curry-flavored ones served withyogurt-tahini dipping sauce.

Here's a similar recipe. They don't need to be deep-fried.
posted by blue t-shirt at 1:12 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Please not falafel! I always worry I'll get an upset tummy with that; it's true it's made from chickpeas, but chickpeas are largely balls of carbohydrate -- not your most proteiny bean. Ditto hummus, although it tends to be easier to digest.

Here are some easy things that I'd be thrilled to find at a party. They might be a little expensive, but maybe the ease of preparation and deliciousness/substantialness will be worth it.

If you're near a store that carries them (a co-op grocery near here has them), Quorn bites are yummy and extremely easy. I think they contain some egg, so they're not vegan, but they're vegetarian and delicious. You'll have to fend off the non-vegetarians somehow to make sure the vegetarians get some.

Also, cheese ravioli (or any vegetarian ravioli), from the freezer section, with some tomato marinara is always quite welcome.

Quorn also makes a "roast" that cooks in 30 minutes from thawed (50 from frozen), which is quite nice sliced thin.

You can also find vegetarian/vegan meatballs. I'm sure you can think what you could make from that!

If you can't find anything but veggie burger patties, that's an option too; just heat them up in an oven, maybe cut into quarters, add some cheese and/or veggies and put on a toothpick.

Finally, Tofurkey cold cut sandwiches are great and also welcome.
posted by amtho at 1:13 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Vegetarian chili. Stir fry vegetables with noodles and peanut sauce. Bagel bites.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 1:14 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

A deli plate of cheeses and crackers.

Mini pizzas.

Stuffed pita bread sandwiches. Mjeddra or some kind of bean based filling is great. You cut the pita bread in half, pop it open, spoon in filling.

Fancier: baked potato bar with an assortment of fillings available, some vegetarian and some not.

Grilled fruits and veggies, such as thick slabs of pineapple alongside similar cuts of yams and onions.
posted by Michele in California at 1:14 PM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

All of the following are delicious.'s version of Dr. Fuhrman's tailgate chili.

Gathered Table's great take on Martha Stewart's sesame noodles:


1 head broccoli, cut into florets, stalks peeled and thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
12 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1. Chop/slice: broccoli, bell peppers, and onion.
2. Mince garlic.

1. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook spaghetti 5 minutes.
2. Add broccoli, bell peppers, and onion; cook until pasta is al dente and vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes more.
3. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water; drain pasta and vegetables.
4. In a bowl, whisk together peanut butter, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, oil, garlic, and red-pepper flakes.
5. Add hot pasta and vegetables; toss to coat, thinning sauce with a little pasta water, if necessary.
Serve: at room temperature or chilled.

And also of course vegetable lasagne.
posted by bearwife at 1:27 PM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

And a couple more recipes from Dr. Fuhrman:

Pita Pizza (serves 4)

1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 cup water
4 whole wheat pitas
2 cups low sodium pasta sauce
1/4 cup grated non-dairy mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Saute peppers, onions, and garlic in water just until tender.

Top pitas with sauce, sauteed veggies, and grated cheese, or cut pitas in half to form a pocket and spread sauce, veggies, and cheese inside.

Place on a cookie sheet & heat in oven for 20 minutes.

Tomato Almond Pocket Pitas (serves 4)

4 (100% whole grain) pitas
1/4 cup raw almond butter or 1/2 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup pasta sauce, no salt added or low sodium
1 tablespoon Dr. Fuhrman's Black Fig Vinegar or balsamic vinegar
pinch chili powder
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
1 tomato, chopped
2 cups shredded lettuce
2 cups shredded spinach
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
Lightly toast the pita.

Use a fork to mash the almond butter with the pasta sauce, vinegar and chili powder until it becomes a smooth consistency. If using raw almonds, blend ingredients together in a high-powered blender.

Cut pita in half to form a pocket. Stuff with almond butter mixture, avocado, tomato, lettuce, spinach and red onion.
posted by bearwife at 1:32 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

The midwest classic crescent roll veggie "pizza" is an easy food that is appealing to vegetarians and non.
posted by hydra77 at 1:32 PM on April 1, 2016

I always loved Hasty Hots when my grandmother would serve them at her cocktail parties. (Old fashioned vibe for sure, but super easy hot appetizer that tends to be a crowd pleaser.) She always used rye instead of baguette rounds, but mix might be good since rye probably not the kid-friendliest bread.
posted by HonoriaGlossop at 1:32 PM on April 1, 2016

I am a vegetarian with a kid: Bruschetta! Or, along similar lines, French bread pizza cut into slices?
posted by fussbudget at 1:34 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

You guys are doing great, lovely ideas in here. Keep' em coming, thank you!

However, please note I am NOT looking for full-on meal options where cutlery is required, just party food (thanks anyway though). Please limit suggestions to finger foods and appetizers.
posted by lizbunny at 1:38 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

How about caprese skewers? Very easy!
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:40 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I can't find a recipe, but you know those mini bell peppers you can buy? A friend of mine once made an appetizer where she sliced a bunch in half, cleaned out the seeds, and filled them with a mix of herbed cheese & mozzarella before putting them under the broiler. They were AMAZING.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:44 PM on April 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

tea sandwiches: cream cheese + cucumber; hard cheese plus jam; curried egg salad; cheddar + pickles; apple + brie, etc.

vegetarian spring rolls

Flatbread/puff pastry with artichoke and whatever else sounds good
posted by vunder at 1:46 PM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Tacos/nachos. The Fantastic Foods brand fake ground beef is pretty easy to find and quite good as a meat replacement. You can do basic fake meat and cheese ones for kids and kick it up into more interesting things for more adventurous grown-ups. It's something that's also easy to do as both meat and non-meat as long as you clearly label them.
posted by Candleman at 1:59 PM on April 1, 2016

These cherry tomato and mozzarella bites are really good. Also, pretty. The kids may need supervision with the small skewers.

You can also make mini crustless fritattas in a mini cupcake pan. The variations are really endless; I usually do eggs with frozen (thawed) spinach, chopped onion, Parmesan, cottage cheese, salt and pepper. Just mix everything together and pour into the tin (2/3 full). It's based on this recipe.
posted by JenMarie at 2:02 PM on April 1, 2016

Quesadillas. Kids LOVE quesadillas.
posted by freezer cake at 2:21 PM on April 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

These Taco Potato Crisps from the Oh She Glows cookbook are so good. You could use regular sour cream since you don't need them to be vegan. I've had omnivore friends be completely shocked the walnut taco topping was not meat.
posted by carolr at 2:31 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

rebaked potatoes are usually a hit with the kids in my family, and you really have a lot of options to spice them up as you like them. Bake potatos with skin on, cut them in half, scoop out the insides, mash them roughly, and mix it with shredded cheese and spices and whatever else you like. Stuff the potato skins with the mixture and sprinkle a bit more cheese on top, and stuff them back in the oven until the cheese melts. I've put shredded carrot and zuchini in the mashed mix, some grated cheddar cheese, usually some Spike seasoning, maybe a couple dashes of hot sauce, and some sour cream. Go nuts and taste it as you go.
posted by Hoopo at 2:33 PM on April 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisins.)

Hummus and pita chips

7 layer dip (beans, guacamole, cheese, tomatoes, green onion, sour cream, lettuce) with tortilla chips

Soften cream cheese and spread into a pie plate, pour hot vegetarian chili on top (can be canned, Amy's is good) top with shredded cheese. Serve with tortilla chips.

Spanakopita! Or buy at Costco or the grocery store, if you'd rather not fuss.

These are all filling, crowd pleasers and not so obviously vegetarian that no one else will eat them. In fact watch them get inhaled by carnivores.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:50 PM on April 1, 2016

Pizza, cut up small. Flatbread types are least messy; pesto feels more fancy.
posted by metasarah at 2:51 PM on April 1, 2016

I just made raw vegan brownies for my YouTube channel, and they turned out really well! You can find the recipe anywhere, not just on my channel.
posted by xingcat at 2:55 PM on April 1, 2016

I am raising a third-generation vegetarian and want to (1) thank you for your kindness (2) plead with you to call the guest of honour's parents and ask what his favourite foods are. Odds are they will not be too weird or unfamiliar to others. When my daughter turned two and I took her out for dinner and asked what sort of foods she would want to be able to order at a restaurant, she said "Cucumbers, hummus, pizza, salad, French fries, pasta with pesto," which would more-or-less make a decent buffet...

Vegetarian children will not go near faux meat/look-a-likes/smell-a-likes if they have not been raised on them. (Er, same with this picky old vegetarian.)

I have thrown several vegetarian children's parties, with grown-ups invited -- we have the hummus-and-veg as snacks over the next two days. Same with most of the fruit tray (exceptions: watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, and the sugary creamy dip).

We run out of pizza. It is easy-ish to buy a bunch of sacks of mini pitas, top with pesto (which is less messy and less likely to have a big glob that is burning hot than tomato sauce, I find) and chopped veg and cheese; these are fine at room temperature. Mini quiches are decent sellers. Devilled eggs: not so hot with the kids, hungry vegetarian adults will stuff down quite a few. Toast topped with recognizable things, "7-layer" and similar Tex-Mexish dips...

...I feel bad going on with "good" ideas because the odds are excellent that the kids are just going to eat through anything that is a pizza or quesadilla or grilled cheese and ignore all else (while waiting semi-patiently for cake). One thing we have done to great success every time is to buy a lot of pitas or naans, and set out loads of pizza toppings, sauce, cheese, and have somebody in charge of the oven for all the personalized pizzas (helps if you can talk them into making an initial out of peppers or something). We also once had a grilled cheese/panini party based around a similar 'here are the ingredients, here is the heat source' idea and it was much praised. Melted cheese is definitely your good friend here.
posted by kmennie at 4:41 PM on April 1, 2016

All great answers for the rest of the vegetarians out there, I'm sure - gave "best answer" to ones I'm likely to use, for quick reference.

A lot of people just repeated "spanakopita, quiche, pizza, and versions of caprese. Appreciate the vegetarian dumplings suggestion at the top, that's interesting. Needing more bite-sized "real food" suggestions if you've got them.

and yeah personally I have no interest in using faux meats, won't be using those recipes. Someone else might, though.
posted by lizbunny at 4:49 PM on April 1, 2016

Ravioli bites would go over well,I bet. Coat store bought ravioli with seasoned bread crumbs and bake them at 350 for about 15 minutes or till browned. Serve with marinara sauce as dip.
posted by peppermind at 5:10 PM on April 1, 2016

Others suggested quiche. The way you bring it to the party is:

*Muffin/cupcake pan
*Phyllo dough
*Vegetable oil spray

Get your quiche stuff ready -curried chard & cheddar, asparagus & swiss, spinach & mozzarella. Mix up your egg/cream stuff.

Grab your cupcake tins. Spray with vegetable oil. Break your phyllo dough into 3*3 squares. Layer these into each cupcake indent. Mix batches of each filling with some egg stuff. Ladle into indents. Bake. Reign supreme at all family gatherings, but know you will need to do this for the rest of your life.

This is assuming your SIL family is not vegan. You can sub in egg beaters, and tofu cheese, but I claim no responsibility for the end result. Again, you are so thanked for thinking of the vegetarians.
posted by kellyblah at 7:28 PM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dollar-sized banana-chocolate pancakes with whipped cream .

Potato skins without bacon.

Cheese and onion pierogies with sour cream and chives


Cheese fondue

If you can't cook there, I might do finger sandwiches, the fancy kind, with cucumber, cheese and cucumber, cheese and relish, olive tapenade and roasted red pepper, egg salad, watercress, thinly sliced raddish/carrot, avocado almond, and so on.

If you want any elaborations just memail me.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:23 PM on April 1, 2016

A few people have mentioned frozen puff pastry appetizers. Here is a version that could work if you have Indian spices on hand: potato pastry puffs. This and this seem like a good starting points.

Also delicious: slices of Spanish tortilla and this garlic and cheese bread. I also love baked brie and baked polenta fries. I made both for a potluck recently, and they went over well.
posted by girasoli at 9:35 PM on April 1, 2016

I'm the vegetarian who brings deviled eggs to every potluck so I'll know I have a protein dish. They're always very popular among vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Kids love 'em, too.

There's also that thing where you take a big round loaf of rye bread, scoop it out into a breadbowl, fill the cavity with dill dip, cube the part of the loaf you cut out earlier, and arrange the cubes around the loaf for dipping. People also rip off pieces of the bread bowl to dip. If I'm feeling like something more substantial, I swap out the dill dip for hummus.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:12 AM on April 2, 2016

Tabbouleh served in hollowed out cherry tomatoes
Marinated and then roasted mushroom caps stuffed with herbs and cheese
Vietnamese inspired fresh spring rolls (leave out the fish sauce, use extra baked tofu in place of animal protein)
Mini pizzas with fun but minimal topping combos like a dollop of goat cheese and diced pears, or a roasted onion slice and gruyere
Grilled fruit skewers with a sour cream and mint dipping sauce (pineapple, peaches, apples... Lots of fruit grills well)
posted by Mizu at 1:14 AM on April 2, 2016

Long time vegetarian here with veg kids. Thanks for thinking of your SIL and family. We usually get hummus and carrot sticks, which are lovely but you can only eat so many carrot sticks.

If you have access to an oven, I suggest these special party foods:

french fries and onion rings and battered dill pickles and for the kids, mozzarella sticks because party food yum
ditto pizza
everybody likes grilled cheese; artisan bread and cheese and fig jam (or brie, apple slices and arugula) for the adults, less fancy for the kids unless they have adventurous palates
veggie potsticker dumplings (eat them with toothpicks), ditto samosas

no oven:

pita rolled up with veggies and savory cream cheese/blue cheese for the adults and PB&J for the kids
potato salad bites (basically you make potato salad and then jam it into small halved baked potatoes for fanciness)
potato pancakes
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:18 AM on April 2, 2016

Cut up some cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Shallow-fry it in really hot oil so it goes all golden and crispy. Season with rock salt. Serve with tahini for dipping.
posted by Panthalassa at 7:34 AM on April 2, 2016

The Indian cook Tarla Dalal has some fantastic vegetarian party starter ideas. I've used them and they've worked brilliantly. They're unusual, but most people have suggested the obvious greats.

Afghani paneer skewers

Broccoli and Green Pepper Dip

Cheese Poppers

Vegetable Gold Coins
Cheesy Corn Stuffed Jacket Potatoes

Good luck with your party!
posted by orangutan at 11:11 AM on April 3, 2016

Crap, the coins and poppers are deep fried (sorry!) but the others may work?
posted by orangutan at 11:13 AM on April 3, 2016

Thanks everyone - great inspiration!
posted by lizbunny at 8:43 PM on April 3, 2016

I hope this is the most boring thing I ever post on here, but since this turned into a big thread and will probably be referred to by many over the years, I wanted to warn that

> not vegan. You can sub in egg beaters

..."Egg Beaters" are an egg product, very non-vegan; they're dyed egg whites.
posted by kmennie at 1:08 PM on April 4, 2016

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