Unless you are eating at a vegan restaurant, which are fortunately beginning to pop up here and there, it can be difficult to know which foods are vegan friendly. I personally do not eat out all that often, mostly because I harvest more than enough food that provides plenty of variety in my backyard garden, but from time to time there is a simple pleasure that comes from paying someone to prepare the food for me. More than anything, going to a restaurant provides the opportunity to relax and enjoy the company of friends and family. You should not need to worry about which foods are safe for you to eat, and you should not need to play a game of 20 questions with the server, either. Below are a list of 10 simple tips and tricks for following your vegan meal plan while eating at a restaurant.
- Check the restaurant menu online before you go
If you are eating at a corporate chain restaurant, you will likely be able to find the menu on their website. In some unique cases, the vegan options will be marked as such, which will certainly remove the stress from the situation.
- Visit the Happy Cow website
Happy Cow is a cool website designed to help vegans and vegetarians find restaurants that will suit their needs. As the website is still in it's early stages, if you live in a particularly remote location you may find difficulty with your local search results. With that said, if you live in or near a city or major metro area (like NYC, Philly, LA, etc.), this tool can really come in handy.
It is worth noting, users are able to add restaurants that meet criteria to be hotspots for vegans, vegetarians, and "veg-friendly."
- Call the restaurant and ask about vegan options
If you are visiting a restaurant for the first time, or perhaps going to one you've visited countless times in the past but never as a vegan, it may be useful to give them a call ahead of time and just simply ask if they provide vegan meal options. Assuming they do not respond by laughing, you can believe they will try to cater to your dietary restrictions in the same way many restaurants will when someone has a nut allergy.
- Select simple, whole foods for your meal
No one wants to be "that person" who orders food that appears to be boring, but in instances where it can be particularly difficult to find a healthy, veg-friendly meal, choosing from a selection of sides (which often include whole food, plant-based diet options) can create a meal. A garden salad, potato wedges, small spaghetti, etc. can be ordered together to create a full meal. Of course, add a special drink to the mix to feel right at home.
- Ask the server for their recommendation for a vegan meal
This option can be a hit or miss. In some cases, a knowledgeable server may be able to point you in the right direction. In other instances, a server might not completely understand what vegan is really being defined as. For example, they may know it involves a diet without meat, but may overlook the need to remove dairy products as well. A part of this conversation should always include your specific dietary restrictions. Some vegan diets are even more specific than the "normal" definition, such as those that are of the "no oil" variety.
- Visit an "ethnic" restaurant
With a lack of better words, an "ethnic" restaurant is really a restaurant that is classified based on the cultural background of the food there. For example, going to a French, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, etc. restaurant will provide you with, primarily, foods common to those regions of the world. One of the problems in the USA with the standard big box chain restaurants (like McDonalds, Applebees, TGI Fridays, etc.) is that they primarily cater to the Standard American Diet (SAD). Given that most American's eat foods containing a lot of saturated fat, meat, and dairy products, it is no wonder it can be difficult to find vegan options there. Not to say it's impossible, as veganism is a growing dietary trend in the US, even though we remain a small minority. Certain ethnic restaurants, like those with Middle Eastern or Indian food cultures, will likely have more options to appeal to your plant-based sensibilities.
- Reference PETA's online source on Eating Vegan at Fast Food Chain Restaurants
A really useful resource available for free online is over on PETA's website. Their piece Eating Vegan at Fast Food Chain Restaurants covers a large array of common, chain restaurants you may be wanting to eat at. PETA provides specific options you may enjoy, and helps remove some of the hassle of looking for a vegan-friendly option.
- Type "vegan restaurant" into Google and see what comes up!
A little tip I just learned is that if you search for the phrase "vegan restaurant" in Google, it will come up with local restaurant selections. It may not be perfect, but it can be a good starting point. When I did this, a few restaurants I never heard of in my area came to my attention!
- Suggest a vegan restaurant option
If you are going out to eat with friends or family, consider making a restaurant suggestion yourself instead of letting it be decided without you. You may already know a place or two in your area you can trust, and it might be easiest for you to just suggest that location. If your friends are not veg-friendly, they may find it to be a new and exciting experience as well. The great thing about vegan restaurants is that they can often showcase how good a vegan diet can taste, and that it is more than just eating garden salads every day!
- Most Importantly: Relax
Being a vegan can be difficult at times, especially when you want to enjoy going out to eat with friends and family, but not wanting to fall of your diet just for their sake. In general, you should be able to find at least 1 or 2 options that will appeal to you most places you go. Of course, if you are going to a Steak House, you will likely run into problems around every corner as these restaurants tend to overindulge in meat, oils, fats, and dairy products. They can be gastro nightmares. But otherwise, it should be smooth sailing with a little bit of legwork.
While your diet is important, don't let it be a major source of stress. Eating out should be a fun opportunity to try different foods and get to be with friends and family. This may be an opportunity often missed, and you should make every effort to cherish it. Following your vegan meal plan will come naturally once you begin exploring the menu at any restaurant you step into!