No turkey? No problem! Try a plant-based Thanksgiving menu this year

Scallion-cheddar cornbread stuffing

(CNN)Thinking about ditching the turkey this Thanksgiving? You're not the only one. Whether you're hosting a smaller group, concerned about the rising cost of groceries, or just looking for an excuse not to roast a bird this year, there are a number or reasons to skip putting a big turkey on the table.

For those who have been choosing to eat more plant-based meals, holidays like Thanksgiving have always been a balancing act between nostalgia and commitment. However, as food technology continues to develop meat- and dairy-free alternatives that are better and better at mimicking the usual ingredients, it's becoming easier than ever to enjoy the traditional feast without the meat.
If you feel like flocking to a turkey-free feast this year, try these suggestions for a flavor-packed Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. There's no nemed to put a whole bird on the table when you've got this much goodness to share.

    Load up the table with lots of sides

      Turkey might hog the spotlight when it comes to prep time, but for many people, Thanksgiving sides are the true stars of the meal. If you're trying more plant-based cooking, side dishes are also fairly easy to adjust for guests who are vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free or bringing other food allergies to the party.
        Apart from the turkey, "pretty much everything else you make on Thanksgiving is indistinguishable if you make it with vegan butter and 'no-chicken' stock," said Joy Manning, a plant-based recipe developer and food writer in Philadelphia.
        The two most beloved sides? Stuffing and mashed potatoes, which vie with the turkey as the most satisfying ways of delivering gravy as well. "In my mind, stuffing is really the Thanksgiving centerpiece," Manning said.
          With a nearly endless buffet of bread choices and add-ins, stuffing can be as simple or as, well, stuffed as you desire. Sourdough bread adds an earthy taste and chewy texture to traditional herb stuffing. It's also the main element in the cult favorite artichoke Parmesan stuffing recipe. A vegetarian cornbread stuffing gets pops of texture from chopped nuts and apples.
          Mashed potatoes can also take on a variety of flavors to make them stand out as a starring dish. Garlic is a particularly friendly pairing to potatoes, especially when it's roasted. Make roasted garlic rosemary mashed potatoes or garlic-olive oil mashed potatoes, or add in another vegetable like cauliflower.
          The key to an all-sides Thanksgiving is to serve a diverse lineup of flavors and textures so you're not leaning too heavily on one element. For a mix-and-match strategy, pick one or two dishes from the following categories:
          • stuffing and bready carbs like dinner rolls
          • soft and creamy: mashed potatoes, potato gratin, corn pudding, or macaroni and cheese
          • roasted or sauteed vegetables: Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, or green beans
          • tangy, snappy and sweet: typically cranberry relish, or salads with ingredients such as cranberries and apples or pomegranate seeds and pears

          You can still have great gravy

          Find a gentle way to break it to your aunts who have been fussing over the turkey drippings all these years: They're not essential to the gravy after all.
          Vegan mushroom make-ahead gravy
          Make-ahead gravy has been Manning's (and this writer's) Thanksgiving standard for years, with no last-minute drippings necessary. This technique gets its rich flavor from a roux base of flour browned in fat (such as olive oil, butter or a vegan butter substitute) along with quality stock. The gravy can be made days in advance and reheated just before the meal is ready.
          Mushroom gravy is another tried-and-true plant-based gravy option, which can be made with cream or with vegetable stock for vegan guests. Using dried mushrooms is a two-for-one bonus: Their soaking liquid becomes part of the gravy to double up on the umami flavor. As a gluten-free option, white bean gravy is thick and creamy, with an added boost of protein.
          Other main courses
          While an all-sides Thanksgiving might sound like a dream dinner for some, it might not feel complete to others. Luckily, you don't have to forego a main dish entirely when planning a plant-based Thanksgiving.
          "Thanksgiving is not my favorite holiday," admitted Montana Horowitz, a lawyer and mother of two in New Jersey. Though she grew up in a "big Italian family where Thanksgiving is out of control -- my dad makes two turkeys and then there's ham and pasta and rice balls," she feels free to switch up the menu now that she and her husband follow a plant-based diet.