Eating out as a vegan can often seem rather a nightmare! First of all there is the social stigma of being the ‘weird one’ with specific dietary requirements, then there is the stress of working out what you are actually going to eat!
Though, of course, vegans will have extra challenges when it comes to eating out, that does not mean that it has to be quite as bad as all that.
Here is some practical advice that should help you avoid the worst of the stress and perhaps even enjoy eating out as a vegan.
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR EATING OUT AS A VEGAN
Eating out as a vegan can be easy if you are well prepared, relaxed and prepared to compromise here and there. Not every meal out will be at a restaurant ideally suited to your dietary requirements – and that is as it should be – we all have to compromise every now and then.
For those times when you can’t choose, here are practical tips to make it easier to still have a nice night out:
Be organised. Ask where you will be going for the meal and if you cannot find out what food they offer online, consider phoning the restaurant to find out what vegan food they may be able to offer. When approached politely, many restaurants will be happy to help.
Explain clearly and politely to make sure staff realize that you do not eat any meat or dairy.
BE CLEAR WHILE ORDERING
Especially if you have not arranged something and explained your vegan dietary restrictions ahead of time, you need to be very clear when ordering your food.
Wait staff will not always understand what you do and don’t eat, so explain clearly and politely to make sure they realize that you do not eat any meat or dairy.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you would like – there is nothing wrong with politely requesting a substitution.
The worst you’ll hear is ‘no’, though most restaurants will be happy to oblige.
LOOK FOR MARKS OR CODES IN THE MENU
Quite often, when eating out, you will find marks or codes in the menu which will tell you whether or not a certain dish will be suitable for you. If you need to know more – don’t be afraid to politely ask questions about the cooking methods or ingredients.
GET CREATIVE WITH SIDE DISHES
Some restaurants really are not geared up to cater for vegan diners. This cannot be helped. However, when you are taken to a non-vegan restaurant by meat-eating friends, you can still join in to a degree by getting creative with side dishes.
EAT BEFOREHAND IF NECESSARY
Sometimes, you may find yourself feeling rather hungry on a day out with non-vegan friends or family, as it is not always easy to find something to eat when plans are flexible. If you think this might be the case, you can always eat before you go out so there is less pressure to find something when out and about.
TRY TO STEER FRIENDS TOWARDS ETHNIC OPTIONS
If you are out and about with friends and food is mooted, you could try to suggest an ethnic option.
Of course, it will not always be up to you, so when it is not, just relax and try to go with the flow as best you can.
GET APPS TO FIND VEGAN RESTAURANTS NEAR YOU
Technology can help get you out of a difficult situation while out and about, especially in a big city.
There are apps available for your smartphone which will tell you where there you can get vegan food nearby.
Even when the nutritional content of the food you can get leaves something to be desired, you can still have fun with family or friends.
Global cuisines from around the world tend to have more vegan options.
The most important thing to remember when out and about is to relax and enjoy yourself. If you can’t eat much – don’t worry – you can still contribute to the conversation around the table and enjoy spending time socializing.
TIPS FOR VEGANS IN CERTAIN SOCIAL SCENARIOS
Certain social scenarios are more difficult than others when you are a vegan. Here are some eating out tips to help you navigate, and even enjoy, these social scenarios:
BEING THE ONLY VEGAN IN THE GROUP
This is an unfortunately common situation. If you are a vegan who finds him or herself surrounded by confirmed meat-eaters, you will likely be used to explaining and perhaps even defending your views on a regular basis. You may also feel as though others are dismissing your views and not taking your dietary needs into account.
It is important to remember that you are only one member of a group, and though your views (on where and what to eat while out), are as valid as everyone else’s, it is also important to remember that the other members of your group have a right to choose where they want to eat sometimes too.
It can be easy to feel outnumbered and suppressed, but going with the flow and compromising is something you would have to do in any friendship group, whether or not you were vegan.
So express a preference where you can, and try to steer your friends towards options that are better for you at least some of the time – but do not become a food bore. Sometimes, it is better to let it go and eat a salad.
WORK NIGHTS OUT
There is sometimes an added pressure when you are eating out with colleagues, or for work. People are prone to making assumptions about people and veganism is often misunderstood.
Ideally, dietary morals should not become a topic of conversation on a work’s night out, unless with colleagues that you know very well. It is important to focus on the group dynamics and to try to avoid making everything about you.
Planning ahead and phoning a restaurant ahead of time to discuss options can save on the time you have to spend monopolizing the wait staff, making sure they get your order right. It can also help to have some short explanations ready should anyone ask you about your choices.
Explain briefly before changing the topic back to something that could prove less controversial for a work place or work outing.
Vegans can often find festive occasions such as holiday meals out a bit of a strain, especially if someone else has chosen the restaurant. Vegan options at restaurants can sometimes feel somewhat restricted during the festive period, though on the plus side, there are usually tonnes of delicious side dishes to choose from.
Often, you can have all the additions to a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal, for example, without the meat, and your plate will likely be almost as laden as everyone else’s.
MEAL IDEAS FOR VEGANS AT DIFFERENT TYPES OF RESTAURANT
How well you eat out as a vegan will obviously depend on what sort of restaurant you are at and whether or not they are used to catering to those with a more restricted diet.
If you are wondering what vegans can eat at different sorts of establishments, here are some of the vegan foods that you will find at different types of restaurant:
AMERICAN OR CANADIAN
American or Canadian restaurants come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and some will be far better than others at catering to vegan needs. Try ordering a Tex-Mex option (minus any meat), look out for veggie burgers (watch out for condiments), or go for a rice or pasta dish with the meaty component removed.
It may sound impossible, but a vegan can peacefully co-exist with no vegans even during a holiday dinner.
Salads don’t have to be boring either – and a jacket potato (minus toppings) could be added to really fill you up.
BBQ OR STEAK
At a BBQ or Steak joint you will usually be looking at a good salad – they can be really good and pretty varied at good restaurants. You may also find baked potatoes or fries, sweet potato fries or even BBQ tofu dishes.
At a number of fast food outlets, your options will be rather sparse – though not at all. At Burger King and Chick-Fil-A you can really only have some fries/waffle potato fries and at Domino’s Pizza, only the Thin Crust is vegan.
At Denny’s you can have a veggie patty in their ‘build your own burger’ options, along with the burger buns and fries, which are also vegan.
At Au Bon Pain there are a range of vegan soups and chilli and there is plenty to eat at The Cheesecake Factory if you just ask for dishes without chicken or cheese, and the Vegan Cobb Salad… there are plenty more examples.
Mexican restaurants are often quite a good option for vegans, who can enjoy a range of salsas, guacamole, tortilla chips, vegetable or bean dishes such as burritos or tacos and a range of other dishes.
These dishes are often just as good with meat component removed.
Just be alert for sour cream, cheese, lard and ask politely that those ingredients be left out.
At Jamaican restaurants you can enjoy fried plantain, vegetable patties, bammy, jerk vegetables, veggie or potato roti, callalloo, rice and peas, and curry vegetables, to name a few vegan suitable common dishes.
Indian restaurants are often one of the best choices for vegans (after, or course, dedicated vegan restaurants). There are a whole range of vegetable curries, and sides to enjoy, such as vegetable samosas, pakoras, and simple flat breads such as chapatis. Just ask that your meal be made without ghee, cream or paneer cheese.
Thai food is also well suited to vegans, with plenty of good vegan Thai food options. Try a vegetable pad thai, vegetable cold rolls, vegetable curries and rice dishes, or a lemon grass or coconut soup. Just ask for your food to be prepared without fish sauce or egg.
Japanese cuisine is often also great for vegan customers. Order edamame, vegetable sushi rolls, vegetable tempura, miso dishes, tofu dishes or noodle soups, again, asking for no fish sauce or egg to be used.
In a Chinese restaurant, a vegan diner can also enjoy varied options. Go for vegetable soups, rice or noodle dishes or dumplings, and vegetable spring rolls. Look out for egg, fish sauce or oyster sauce.
Italian cuisine is often heavy on the cheese, but it is often easy to ask for dishes without it added. Many pastas are egg free and there are plenty of choices for pasta dishes that vegans can eat, especially those with tomato sauces and/or olive oil. You can also enjoy bruschetta, balsamic salads and other sides and breads.
The French do tend to use a lot of butter and cheese in their recipes, as well as beef/chicken stocks. However, there will still be some soups, roasted vegetable platters, bread, salads and potato dishes that you could ask to be made free from dairy and meat.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you would like – there is nothing wrong with politely requesting a substitution.
Greek food lends itself very well to a vegan who wants to eat out. Think hummus, tahini, olives, pita bread and grilled vegetables. Simply check to make sure there is no yogurt in any dish you are thinking about choosing.
Ethiopian cuisine incorporates a lot of beans and pulses which are ideal for a vegan diet. There is also green veg and injera (flatbread) which are also fantastic (and healthy) for vegans who want to eat out. Just ask about egg, butter and cheese when ordering.
Ask for no cheese or yoghurt and you will have plenty of options in a middle eastern restaurant. Try falafels, or vegetable samosas with tahini and pita bread, tabouleh and salads with rice or cous cous.
As you can see from the above, it is possible for vegans to eat well when they eat out at wide range of different restaurants. Even where it is more difficult, there will always be something to eat, so just relax and have a good time.