I know the challenges eating out can have on a plant based lifestyle. In fact, for about the 1st year after my transition to a plant based diet, I was afraid to eat out and so I didn’t! I turned down social invitations all the time and my social life really started to suffer. That made me sad and I knew something had to change. I’ve learned a lot since my adoption of this lifestyle and have gained the needed confidence to be able to go out and eat right and still have fun! Honest, you don’t have to stop eating out just because you choose a plant based lifestyle. Yes, I understand the dilemma of supporting a restaurant that offers meat/dairy on the menu but unfortunately, I live in an area that doesn’t have many 100% vegan options. That said, you can still enjoy an occasional meal out without compromising a healthy diet if you don’t have vegan restaurant options or are not in charge of organizing the place!
Anyway, I really do understand. Eating out can be quite a challenge if you follow a plant based diet. But even if you must go to a non-vegan restaurant, you can still have fun and get enough food to be satisfying. Here are some tips that may help you.
First, find out where you are going and always research the menu in advance. This is very important! If you see plant based options on the menu, you’re in luck. If not, try calling the restaurant to see if they can accommodate a vegan meal request. Most nice restaurants can easily throw together a delicious stir fry with quinoa or a type of curry. To avoid confusion, I always confirm my desire for vegan (vs. vegetarian) so I don’t accidentally end up with a dish created with butter and/or cheese. I have learned to not take for granted that everyone knows the difference between vegetarian and vegan! I also am gluten free so a regular pasta isn’t an option; but most restaurants at a minimum have at least white rice. Not necessarily my choice for home, but I’m not at home and that will do if my choices are limited. I am finding that more restaurants are offering quinoa on the menu though and that base can allow for many delicious creations!
If a restaurant doesn’t offer suitable vegan options or can’t make a plant based meal, I find that I can always eat off the “sides” menu. Try a baked potato, steamed broccoli, a simple salad and perhaps some steamed rice. I’ve even had mushrooms sautéed in olive oil (not butter) as a delightful side dish. While at home I may limit my oils, asking the restaurant to cook in veggie broth or water instead of oil seems to be a lot to ask, so I deal with the olive oil! If you know there aren’t many choices on the menu to create your own meal ala carte, then be sure to eat something before you go so that if an iceberg lettuce wedge with no dressing is your only option (and sadly, that is sometimes the case!), you won’t be starving! For dressings, ask for some vinegar (and olive oil if you have oils in your diet); or a tomato salsa may be suitable. I’ve even taken small containers of my homemade dressing into a restaurant. A lot of restaurants put milk or cheese in their dressings so be sure you know what you are eating.
Don’t be afraid to ask the server questions and be very patient if they don’t know the answer. I always show much gratitude when the server offers to ask the chef. Just because he/she doesn’t know the answer doesn’t mean they aren’t accommodating; it just means that they don’t know. Be friendly and patient and most likely you will get the same courtesy in return!
Last but certainly not least – try focusing most on the company and not the food! I’m picky about my food so unless I’m at a dedicated vegan restaurant, I don’t have high expectations for this non-home cooked meal. Instead I focus on my friends or family, not the food.
Pre-planning will ensure that you aren’t starving, which can take away from the experience with your friends or family.
Enjoy your dining experience out!