How to Eat Healthy at Restaurants

Living a healthy plant-based lifestyle does not mean you have to forgo your social life and give up the pleasures of dining out. Plenty of options are available, and there are a few things you can do to make your restaurant experiences quite enjoyable. Find out how with this plant-based guide for dining out.

Finding Good Vegetarian Restaurants

  • Make recommendations when friends and family request input on where the group will dine.
  • Look up the menu online if friends or family have already picked the restaurant, and become familiar with the options.
  • Call ahead to ask questions, and have a good attitude.

I recently called ahead before dining at a restaurant, and the manager put me on the phone with the chef who asked a number of questions. Chefs enjoy a challenge and opportunity to use their culinary creativity in the kitchen. Don’t forget to leave great reviews for great experiences!

Eat Something Before You Go

If it looks like your healthy options will be very limited, eat something before you go. It’s better not to be ravenous if the only thing healthy on the menu is a salad. Being prepared can keep you from becoming “hangry” and make bad decisions when you are irritated and hungry.

Be Flexible and Polite

Don’t stress over every detail. It can be disappointing when there are no alternatives to refined foods like white rice and pasta. If brown rice and whole wheat pasta aren’t on the menu, just aim to select the best options available. Attitude is everything when dining out. When customers become difficult, servers and staff are less likely to accommodate you. They also know the menu much better than you do, so ask questions like, “Can you suggest something that is meat and dairy free?”

I did this a few years ago at a restaurant. When I politely asked the young waitress for assistance, she got so excited that she slid into the booth with us and started telling us all about their menu. She suggested we not order the rice because it came pre-seasoned with chicken stock, and the lemon sauce with vegetables had butter in it. She was able to make suggestions and talk with the chef, and we ended up with an excellent healthy meal. I can’t stress enough that it’s all about the attitude with which we ask.

Learn Where and What to Order

When you adopt a plant-based lifestyle, it is very important to empower yourself with knowledge about your options within different cuisines. Form a relationship with some restaurants that you visit frequently. A local Chinese restaurant that we order from regularly knows me well, and they know exactly what I want.

Types of Cuisine Choices

  • Thai restaurants usually offer numerous plant-based options. Always ask for dishes to be made without fish sauce. Some menu items that are good choices include:
    • Fresh Garden Spring Rolls, also known as rice paper rolls loaded with vegetables and even some fruit
    • Stir-Fried vegetable dishes
    • Tofu and vegetable dishes
    • Vegetarian noodle soups
    • Steamed rice
  • Chinese restaurants offer plenty of vegetable and tofu-based dishes, as well as noodles and rice. It is best to ask for things to be prepared without oil, fish sauce, or oyster sauce. Look for the following options on menus:
    • Stir-fried vegetable dishes
    • Steamed tofu and vegetable dishes
    • Vegetarian noodle soups
    • Steamed rice
  • Vietnamese food offer some delicious healthy options. Just make sure their broth is from vegetables or miso. Here are some options I have found healthy and delicious:
    • Fresh Garden Spring Rolls (AKA: Rice Paper Rolls)
    • Vegetable Pho
    • Vegetarian noodle soups
    • Steamed rice
  • Japanese cuisine typically offers plenty of low-fat vegan options, but make sure no cream cheese or fish product is added to your dish. Some of our favorites include:
    • Vegetable sushio
    • Miso Soup
    • Grilled tofu dishes
    • Vegetarian soba noodle dishes
    • Vegetarian rice dishes
  • Italian choices can be a tough one, but here are a few options for healthy Italian dishes:
    • Vegetable pizza without cheese and extra marinara
    • Pasta and veggies with marinara
    • House salad with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice
  • Mexican restaurants often have a vegetarian menu, and some dishes can be altered by removing the cheese and sour cream to make it a healthy plant-based meal. Always ask that your food be made without oil as most rice dishes have a lot of added oil, and make sure any beans you order are made without bacon or other animal products. Some of our Mexican favorites include:
    • Vegetable Fajitas
    • Avocado tacos
    • Bean and rice burritos
  • Delis and sandwiches made without cheese on whole wheat bread, loaded with vegetables and seasoned with oregano or vinegar are healthy and delicious. Options at these types of restaurants might be:
    • Whole wheat bread with
    • Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, beets, carrots and avocado
    • Mustard, pickles and balsamic vinegar
    • Black Bean Burger
    • Portobello Burger
    • Garden salad
    • Baked potato with salad bar toppings

Other Resources

Learn more about Terri Edwards’ nutrition education, cooking classes and more at EatPlant-Based.com.

 

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