We all know how it goes, you’re in a groove, eating WFPB meals like a plant-based boss.
Then an event comes up and you have to dine out…
At a restaurant…
Where someone else cooks the food…
This can cause a lot of worry and concern for anyone who doesn’t eat the standard western diet, but it doesn’t have to. This week I’ve got you covered with some tips and tricks to help you navigate the murky waters of dining out plant-based.
Find a Veg-Friendly Restaurant
I know this isn’t always an option, but if you have some say in the restaurant selection, choose one that’s at least vegan-friendly. That’s not always easy to know in advance unless you use an app or website like Happy Cow to scout out restaurants in your area. They will show you which restaurants are vegan, which are vegetarian, and which have veg options. It helps to know this in advance and guide the restaurant selection to a place that at least has some veg options for you (if your party isn’t willing to try a vegan restaurant). Don’t fret if the restaurant chosen doesn’t show up on those apps though. It doesn’t mean you won’t have any options. You just may need to play detective with the menu a bit.
Once the restaurant is selected, go online and check out their website. Most restaurants will have a menu online, and some may also have an allergy guide. Why would you need an allergy guide if you don’t have food allergies? Well, it will help you rule out any items that contain dairy or eggs, as these are common allergens. Give these a perusal so you know what options are available to you ahead of time. You’re likely to find at least an entrée or two that can be ordered as-is, or just modified slightly.
If you can’t find a menu online, you can always call the restaurant in advance. If you let them know your dietary preferences, many are willing to work with you. They can help guide you to some options on the menu that will fit your needs. If there aren’t any menu options available, some chefs will be willing to accommodate you with a special meal they can make from the plant-based components of other meals that are already on the menu.
Don’t be afraid to ask for some slight modifications to a menu item you’ve found. Often times you can find vegetarian options clearly marked and just ask to have the dairy components left off. Or perhaps a nice-looking pasta dish with lots of veggies, you can just ask them to hold the protein. If people are willing to walk into a restaurant and order a meal with a huge list of modifications, you should not feel awkward about asking them to hold the cheese. 😉
This should be a pretty obvious one, but be polite when making these requests while dining out at a restaurant. They will be much more willing to accommodate someone who is calm and polite rather than someone who’s snarky and rude. I know it can be frustrating when there is a lack of options, but don’t take it out on your server, their job is stressful enough.
If you’re having trouble finding an entrée that will work for you, look to the ‘sides’ section of the menu. You’ll often find good options there, like a baked potato, steamed vegetables, rice, beans, side salad or vegetable soup. Have a peek and see what they have. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting together a meal of sides.
Speak to Your Server
Chances are good that your server is well versed in dietary restrictions and what the restaurant is willing to do to accommodate them. Let him or her know what you’re looking for and ask if there’s anything they can suggest that meets these criteria. They will be able to point you in the direction of a meal they may offer, or something they can easily whip up from existing components to make a meal for you.
If you’re comfortable doing so, you can also ask them questions, like “how is this prepared?” to suss out any options that may be doused in oil, cooked with chicken broth or similar. Often times you can ask if they can prepare that dish without the oil, or with vegetable broth instead.
Really Read the Menu
When dining out, there are certain words you should look out for. Items that are described as breaded, battered or crispy are often fried in oil. Also, descriptors like creamy, and buttery often suggest the meal or sauce component contains dairy.
Instead, look for words like steamed, baked, grilled, broiled, roasted or sautéed. These tend to be healthier cooking methods. Also, keep a look out for a ‘lighter options’ section. Many restaurants offer some healthier meals, and you might be able to find a dish that only has to be modified slightly.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
If you’re too shy to ask for your food to be made without oil, don’t sweat it for a one-off meal. I personally don’t eat out very often, so when I do I’m happy to find a tasty-sounding vegan option. If I can find one that would be oil-free as well, I consider that a bonus. However, if you dine out regularly, for lunches perhaps, you may want to be a little stricter on the oil issue. Daily consumption is definitely not advised.
Eat in Advance
If you’ve looked at the menu or called ahead and can’t find a satisfying meal option, consider eating at home beforehand. Have something small so you won’t be too hungry, and then order a side or salad that will work for you at the restaurant. This way you can focus on socializing with your dinner companions instead of internally grumbling about how hungry you are. The sad fact is, you won’t win them all. Sometimes you’ll end up in a place with limited options. Make the best of it and enjoy the company.
Some Other Quick Tips
- Ethnic restaurants are a great option. Think Indian, Asian, Mexican or Mediterranean. Many of these will have a good amount of vegetarian options that may only need slight tweaking. Or, better yet, items clearly marked as vegan.
- Restaurants with a buffet or a big salad bar are also great options. This way you can wander around and put together a meal that suits you without having to order a bunch of sides or ask a ton of questions.
- When in doubt, bring your own dressing. Finding a dairy-free dressing is doable at a restaurant, but an oil-free dressing is a little tougher. Sometimes you can ask for a little balsamic vinegar or some lemon wedges to squeeze over your salad, but if you’re looking for more than that, bring your own. Just pack a little container. They probably won’t even notice.
The Bottom Line
I know that dining out WFPB can be a little tricky at times, but the good news is it’s getting easier every day. More restaurants are offering meals to accommodate different dietary preferences. So, don’t let your food choices become an excuse to miss out on social time with your family and friends. That time is precious.
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