Restaurants and cafes are nice options when meeting friends or if you just want to take a break from the kitchen. I know it’s not easy to find places that cater to plant-based whole foods but it can be done.
When dining out, opt for vegan or vegetarian restaurants or restaurants that offer some vegetarian items on their menus. Do your research using Happy Cow (happycow.net).
Check the online menus of unfamiliar places. If you don’t see any obvious options for you then phone or e-mail the establishment and ask if it will accommodate you.
Already at a restaurant? Ask if they have a vegetarian menu.
Make sure you specify you’d like a meal without any animal products. Often people don’t know what vegan or plant-based means and you might end up with milk or cheese on your plate.
Don’t be shy about creating your own dish from the ingredients off the menu. Most restaurants should be happy to help you.
Eat before you eat. Once at the restaurant you can order a salad or a vegetable soup. Every restaurant should at least have one of those two items.
Ethnic restaurants are always good options for finding vegan or vegetarian meals. You can at least get rice and vegetables. Make sure to ask the chefs to leave out all the salt and oil, if they can.
Salad buffets can be hearty. Follow this simple plate rule: ½ non-starchy vegetables (raw and cooked), ⅓ whole grains and starchy vegetables and ⅓ protein (nuts, seeds, legumes).
If there is no whole food dressing at the salad bar, use vegetable puree soup, a veggie curry or just lemon juice instead. This will help you start to appreciate leaner options too.
Some restaurants offer macrobiotic options, i.e. a dish cooked without oils and salt, just simple and lean whole foods. I have been able to discover several lunch places like this in Barcelona.
If you know that the protein part of the meal is going to be disproportionate, ask them to substitute some of the protein with vegetables, whole grains, nuts/seeds or avocados.
Desserts look delicious at restaurants but it’s usually better to skip the sweets. They are generally high-fat and high-calorie bombs. There are exceptions and some places offer raw desserts like chia-pudding or nutty desserts without added oils and sugar.
Always be polite and friendly towards restaurant staff and your companions. If you’re nice to them, it’s more likely that they’ll be nice to you. Always be grateful after the staff has accommodated your needs.
The above being said, do make a change. I always encourage people to ask for oil-free, plant-based and whole grain options even if I know the place doesn’t offer them. If people keep asking for these selections, then who knows? One day the restaurant might add them to the menu.
You can also leave requests or messages on the establishment’s social media site or post an online review. I have done that several times and have received positive responses from the restaurants.
Nele Liivlaid: founder of Nutriplanet.org She has been into healthy eating for many years, but developed a more profound interest in nutrition and related diseases when she started reading The China Study and other special books on nutrition. After being in real estate and hospitality business for more than 10 years she decided to totally change her path to spread the word about healthy and sustainable nutrition and lifestyle.