6 Tips for Eating Out on a Plant-Based Diet
So you’ve finally gotten the hang of eating plant-based, and all set with meal prep, batching your foods, and planning ahead. Your fridge is stocked with organic veggies, fruits and legumes. Except once in awhile, you’re exhausted, and can’t deal with any mess in the kitchen. No worries! There are plenty of options for eating out, because most restaurants realize that more and more people are reclaiming their health. So, take a look at these 6 tips for eating out on a plant-based diet, and know that you can give yourself a break and still stay plant-strong!
Don’t be afraid to ask
Most restaurants want to be accommodating and will help you come up with a whole food, plant-based option. There is always a way to leave off the cream sauce, sauté without oil, or substitute the chicken for another vegetable or a grain dish. If you know the chef, perhaps they can add something to the menu on your behalf, especially if you go there often.
Lots of restaurants enjoy the marketing spin of “farm to table” – so you can capitalize on that and ask them to provide something plant-strong.
Download the app for the Happy Cow, which is a great website providing suggestions on eating plant-strong around the world. They have an amazing online community, who are passionate about a whole foods, plant-strong lifestyle as a healthy, compassionate, and environmentally sustainable way of living.
The app can identify and find local eateries in your area, which means you don’t have to ask the restaurant to accommodate your needs — you can find a restaurant that already does!
Beware of oil and salt
Most meals in typical restaurants are prepared using way too much oil and salt. Vegetables, too, are usually sautéed in a lot of oil, so you can always ask them to prepare the veggies “dry” or without oil. I always ask and they look at me like I am crazy. The thing is, that most people don’t get why oil is so unhealthy, so I tell them that oil has 14 grams of fat and 120 calories in one tablespoon of oil. Check out my post about oil here.
Eat before you go
If you think your options are going to be limited, have something to eat before you leave the house. If you know that you will only be able to have a salad and a slice of toast, you will be hungry and irritable, so a quick bowl of rice, beans and veggies will hold you over, and you can then enjoy your dining experience without such a huge focus on your meal.
Plus, if there happens to be a workable option for you, you’ll still have room to enjoy it. A hot cup of tea also helps to quell an appetite should you find yourself in a pickle about food options.
Make a meal out of side dishes that typically include veggies choices, hummos, guacamole and other bean and grain dishes. I have actually had appetizers for dinner, especially if I could get hummos with whole grain pita and a salad on the side with some beans. What a great meal!
Another favorite: guacamole on whole grain toast, with tomatoes. Very filling with a cup of split pea or lentil soup on the side.
Beware of salad dressings
Choosing a healthy, plant-based meal could be out the window if you choose a dressing loaded with calories, oil, eggs and cream. Try a fat-free alternative, sprinkle your salad with balsamic vinegar, or just ask for the dressing on the side.
Now’s the time to master the art of fork-dipping — a little goes a long way, and you won’t compromise your health. Hint: bring your own. This is one of my favorites, and I have been known to put 2 tablespoons in a very tiny container and bring it to the restaurant. Most servers will look the other way.
Learn what to order where
This is probably the most important tip, and very basic when it comes to following a plant-based diet. Being smart about your options within various cuisines makes for a much more pleasurable dining experience.
Here’s a list of some plant-based options according to cuisine:
While most Chinese restaurants offer vegetable and tofu-based dishes, it’s best to ask for food to be prepared without oil or MSG. Also, they will be glad to bring the sauce on the side so you can manage your intake of salt, and not feel bloated 3 days later.
- Stir-fried veggies with brown rice, no oil;
- Tofu and veggies — no oil;
- Veggie noodle soups, hot and sour soup without meat;
- Steamed rice
>>Thai or Vietnamese
There are plenty of plant-based options on Thai and Vietnamese menus. Choose light options such as salads and soups, and ask for dishes to be made without fish sauce or oil.
- Vegetarian Spring Rolls – a/k/a rice paper rolls (no oil, no eggs);
- Stir-fried veggies with brown rice, no oil;
- Tofu and veggies — again, no oil;
- Some of the better restaurants will prepare Pad Thai using zucchini noodles instead of the white rice noodles.
Call ahead to make sure that their vegetarian dishes are not made with ghee (clarified butter.) Some Indian meals tend to be oily and very heavy. Just ask if these options can be prepared oil-free. Best bet: stick to veggie-based curries and skip the fried foods.
- Tomato-based chickpea, lentil and vegetable curries;
- Flatbread (Roti) made with 100% wholemeal flour, with hummos;
- Pickles and chutney sauces with whole grain Naan bread;
- Steamed Rice
Out of all the cuisines, this is the most difficult. Why? Because most of the time when we are running out for pizza, we are tired and wrung out, not wanting to sacrifice anything “comforting” about comfort food. However, there are some viable options where you can still feel satisfied.
- Veggie pizza without cheese;
- Pasta with fresh vegetables – NO oil;
- Tomato and basil bruschetta;
- Pasta and beans with escarole
Japanese cuisine usually offers plenty of low-fat and plant-strong options, but always double-check about the use of fish stock and oil. Another warning: if you eat sushi, take time to ask about the “crunchy mayo” options which, while delicious, are nothing more than mayo — eggs, cream, fat, oil.
- Cucumber, Avocado, or Mixed Vegetable Sushi;
- Miso soup;
- Seaweed and soba noodles (no oil);
- Vegetarian rice dishes (no oil)
This one’s pretty simple, as most Mexican dishes can be easily converted to plant-based simply by leaving off the cheese and sour cream. Just make sure that whatever bean dish you order doesn’t include cheese or meat products.
- Fresh salad with beans and rice corn tortillas;
- Beans and rice with salsa;
- Vegetarian Chili with rice or salad;
- Bean and vegetable-based soups
>>Grill or Steakhouse
Don’t be so quick to decline an invitation to a steakhouse! I know that you probably don’t think there would be anything available to you at a grill or steakhouse, but in fact, these restaurants tend to be some of the easiest places to find a meal that is completely WFPB-compliant!
- Baked potato with beans, corn or fresh salsa;
- Fresh salads or salad bar selections (no cheese or animal products);
- Sides of rice, beans or steamed vegetables (no butter or oil);
- Soup and whole grain bread on the side
Sometimes we just gotta have fun, so don’t stress over the details. There will be times when a restaurant only serves white rice or when the broccoli is already steamed in oil — and this doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.
Of course we all aim to eat whole grains and other plant-based options, but if we have to compromise here and there for the sake of a nice evening with friends or a break from cooking, so be it.
Ultimately, we all aim to select the best option available, and we can’t do any better than that.
As long as you have these 6 tips for eating out on a plant-based diet, you’ll be good to go. Let me know in the comments below if you have any other suggestions that were not covered here! I’m always up for new ideas on eating healthy and eating out!