6 Tips for Eating Out on a Plant-Based Diet

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

Outdoor TableMost 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.     

Get creative

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:

>>Chinese

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. 

Suggestions: 

  • 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. 

Suggestions:

  • 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.

>>Indian

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.

Suggestions:

  • 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

>>Italian

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.

Suggestions:

  • Veggie pizza without cheese;
  • Pasta with fresh vegetables – NO oil;
  • Tomato and basil bruschetta;
  • Pasta and beans with escarole

>>Japanese

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. 

Suggestions:

  • Cucumber, Avocado, or Mixed Vegetable Sushi;
  • Miso soup;
  • Seaweed and soba noodles (no oil);
  • Vegetarian rice dishes (no oil)

>>Tex Mex

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.

Suggestions:

  • 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! 

Suggestions:

  • 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!  

 

 

 

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13 thoughts on “6 Tips for Eating Out on a Plant-Based Diet”

  • Hi Amy! What do you think of Olive Oil for vegetables? I think the best idea ( for me ) that I learned here is eating BEFORE you go out where you don’t know what to expect, because at least you won’t be all hungry & cranky and not engaging with anyone else at the table. What practical advice! With all these yummy ideas you gave me, I feel like making a trip to the grocery store and stocking up on all these ingredients.

    • Yes, eating before you go out is a great strategy so that you aren’t hungry and cranky, and you won’t make unhealthy food choices! As for oil, please read my post here on cooking without oil. I think you will be surprised at how delicious vegetables are without oil…! Thanks for writing!

  • Hi Amy,

    Thanks for sharing the post.

    Reading about a different way to eat out , especially a plant based diet is unusual for me. But it’s definitely something I am going to try and encourage my girlfriend and friends when we next eat out to use your advice and see if we like it or not.

    Thanks again for sharing and I’ll let you know what we think of a plant based diet when eating out.

    All the best,

    Tom

    • I look forward to seeing how you and your girlfriend manage when staying plant-strong and eating out at the same time. You can see that there are many options — you just have to find one that works for you, and a restaurant able to accommodate your requests. Thanks for writing and let me know how it goes!

  • Hi Amy, I love this post as it covers all bases for plant based eater, vegans, and vegetarians. When I first started my plant based diet I did find it difficult, especially when it came to eating out. It never ceases to amaze me the way people are often shocked when you ask for healthy versions of things, it’s unbelievable and I still get it a lot even though eating healthily is huge now.
    Your list of alternatives to different cuisines is fantastic as I used to LOVE all of those, especially Thai and Vietnamese. I just don’t even bother going to these places anymore but now I know what I can order I will. Thanks

    • Hi Stephanie! SO happy that my post was helpful to you. I find it astounding as well, when eating out, how shocked people are when you order a custom dish that is a bit different from the original version. I always get an eye-roll or a head-shake, but I don’t care, because I’m not eating buttery, fried foods, meats or anything else that is unhealthy for me. So I think we can feel good about knowing that we have options in various cuisines, and that’s a great thing! Thanks for writing!

  • Very useful post indeed, particularly as this is becoming more and more popular. You have gone into a good amount of detail and I like the fact you have provided ways of not having to give up food from certain cultures.

  • Hi, Amy,

    Thank you for this post! It is full of valuable information to me, as recently I try to switch to healthy plant-based diet at home. Your tips will help me do this when eating out, as well!
    I liked the tip very much for bringing my salad dressing – I have never thought of this:) This almond one you showed looked great and will give it a try!

    • Hi Tony — glad you enjoyed my post! Let me know how you like the dressing! Eating out doesn’t have to be difficult on a plant-based diet. With a few adjustments, it’s pretty easy…!

  • Hi Amy,

    I have noticed that most restaurants offer healthier choices, and although I don’t eat anything fast-food style they offer great choices as well.

    I have been eating a Mediterranean style diet my whole life which is healthy, so eating home made pea or lentil soup is part of it along with salads topped with balsamic vinegar. You have so many great suggestions for eating out and tips thank you!

    I appreciate that you left the link for the Happy Cow, I just bookmarked it and will definitely get the app!

    Patsy

    • Thanks, Patsy! Yes, a lot of restaurants these days are offering healthier choices, which is a great thing. A Mediterranean-style diet is great, too, except for the oil component. While no oil is best, a small amount is fine, I think, although some plant-strong doctor/scientists out there would disagree with me. Here is a post I wrote about the Mediterranean diet…!
      Happy Cow is a great app — thanks again for writing!

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