I remember the first time I went out to eat after changing my diet to fully plant-based. I was really worried at first. I thought it would be hard for me to find something to eat and that I would be stuck with a boring salad (Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a great salad but its not really my first choice when I go out to eat). I was also mostly gluten-free at the time and was trying to avoid processed foods for the most part as well. We were going to an Italian restaurant and I already knew my family was getting pizza, which was off the table for me (although now I do get pizza on occasion when I go out to eat..I’ll talk about how a little later in this post). I thought Italian food (pizza, pasta, cheese) was probably going to be the hardest for me to find something suitable to eat. Before this, I had gone out multiple times with friends of mine who were plant-based and saw what they ordered at Mexican and Asian restaurants. There were often many substitutes. But what could I do with Italian food?
It turned out to not be even close to as hard as I thought it would be to choose something to eat. I looked at the menu and noticed they had a gluten-free option for pasta. So now I knew I was having a pasta dish. But then another problem arose when I noticed almost all their pasta dishes had either meat, seafood or cheese in them. I almost panicked but as I looked around at the rest of the menu I realized how many different veggies they had on their menu. Zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, peas…It was super simple from here. I asked for a gluten-free pasta with tomato sauce and A LOT of veggies. I realized there was no reason for me to be worried when I went out to eat because as long as there is some type of veggies on the menu, there will be something for me to eat.
You don’t need to order exactly what is on the menu and it is not too much to ask for a few sides of veggies mixed together to make a salad, or sautéed with a side of rice, or to substitute the meat for beans and leave out the cheese. I have been amazed at how delicious some of the dishes I have had at restaurants are. Just today, I ordered a beet root goat cheese and kale quesadilla without the cheese and asked for them to add asparagus and tofu (because I saw they had it on the menu) and it was AMAZING.
Eating out does not need to be stressful. Its almost like a buffet. Look at the menu. Pick the things you can eat and throw them all together on one plate. Who could complain about that? I know I can’t.
Here are some easy choices for eating out at different types of restaurants…
- Salad. You can usually get a salad anywhere. I know it can be boring sometimes but a lot of restaurants have amazing ones. When it comes to salad dressing it can get a little bit trickier but if you are unsure of what dressing you can have you can always ask. General rule of thumb: white dressings are usually dairy based, so avoid those. If you don’t think their are any dressing options make your own by asking for a side of oil, vinegar, lemon and salt and pepper!
- Mexican. Sub rice and beans and hold the cheese. Also, don’t be scared to ask for extra veggies! Mexican food is actually great because beans are always an option and they have other veggies such as peppers, avocado, onion, tomato, etc. I always get a taco salad with beans instead of meat, no cheese and extra guacamole. If thats not enough food for you, you can always add rice too!
- Asian. Another great option for eating out. There are so many veggies incorporated in asian dishes. Broccoli is my favorite add on when I get asian food. I usually go for a Pad Thai (no egg), Sushi Veggie Roll or Veggie Lo Mein and ask for extra broccoli. Most asian restaurants also have tofu as an option!
- Pizza. I always thought it was almost impossible to find something to eat at a pizza place. There are also a lot of places that ONLY have pizza. But its actually really easy. Extra veggies, no cheese. A lot of places are getting very creative with their pizzas too and adding things like sweet potato, and nut based cheeses making it easier and more fun to have options. And I keep seeing more and more places adding non-dairy cheeses to the menu (aside from nut-cheeses) so look out for those!
Other tips and suggestions for eating out…
- Suggest a place to go that you know other’s will enjoy, but also that has options for you.
- Look at the menu before you go. This will allow you to know what options you have and save you any worry.
- If you are worried/know you won’t have many options, eat something before hand. You can get something small at the restaurant without getting hungry.