I've heard from family and friends that it is impossible to be vegan and still eat at restaurants. I have found that to be untrue. There are a couple restaurants (I use that term very loosely here) that do not offer healthful meal options. But most eateries have options for everyone, and some even cater to those of us on a plant-based diet.
I, of course, believe that you should cook and eat at home. Vegan cooking (especially raw) is very fast and easy and is good for you. Getting your family involved in meal plans and prep is fun and a good way to teach healthful eating. But we live in the real world and we don't always eat at home. So I've tried to put together a little guide for restaurant eating.
I'm not sure about the legalities of mentioning brand names, so I'll try not to do that. I stuck mostly with restaurants here locally in Iowa. I also am just letting you know what I would order if I were eating at these establishments, but I don't necessarily list all the options for vegan eating. Some of these foods are vegan, but may not be a healthy food. I love fries, but even vegan fries are an indulgence. Fast food restaurants are really not for the person trying to eat healthier.
The one trick to eating vegan out and about is to ASK. Nicer restaurants have a chef or cook. If you tell them you want something vegan, chances are they'll make you something. I love to do this and to not specify anything else. I think it's an adventure to just see what you get, and a lot of chefs like the opportunity to do something more creative than the usual menu. If there is a certain type of food or a particular restaurant you enjoy, please let me know and I will see if I can't find a vegan option. If you've found a good place to eat with good vegan food, please let me know!
FAST FOOD BURGERS
The king of burgers actually offers a veggie patty instead of a beef (or beef-ish) burger. It's not always listed, but it is an option. Just ask. They offer the Morningstar Farms Veggie Burger which is vegetarian but technically not vegan. Still, it's a far better option. Order it without the mayo or cheese and you're only at 310 calories!
At the golden arches, I order a side salad and fries. That's about it there. You could get the apple/walnut salad without the yogurt, or just order side of apples if you like. They also offer oatmeal now, but be sure to ask if it's made with milk or water. I've heard rumors that they are testing a veggie burger in California and New York. Ask for it locally. If enough of us want it, maybe they'll bring it.
The frosty place actually is a pretty good place to get a baked potato, side salad and mandarin oranges. Skip the sour cream.
Most of these places offer tofu and/or veggie dishes. Some dishes and noodles are made with eggs, so be sure to specifically order without eggs. I go with rice instead of noodles just to be safe. There are a lot of veggie combinations and you can ask for sweet or spicy. Even the grocery store Chinese take-out place will make me a hot plate of veggies even if it's not offered on the line.
Sushi. No, it's not vegan. Well, I guess some of it is vegan. You can order all the veggie rolls you want. But I don't care. It is the one ultimate reason why I could never be 100% vegan. I love sushi. And sashimi. And sake. Lots and lots of sake. Sushi, Sashimi and Sake. Yum.
Easy enough. Go with flat bread whenever possible, skip the cheese and meat. I like lots of veggies and sweet onion sauce or oil and vinegar. No need for mayo. And get a foot long. It's just filling you up with lots of veggies!
FAST FOOD MEXICAN/TEX-MEX
Most will make nachos with beans instead of meat, and just go with lettuce, tomato, salsa on top instead of sour cream and cheese. Bean burritos are also an option. Just be sure to specify no meat and no cheese. Those potato round things are tasty, too.
MEXICAN RESTAURANT (not fast food)
I love a big plate of refried beans (no cheese) and a guacamole salad. Of course, chips and salsa on the side. Fill up on three or four fishbowl margaritas and you'll never miss the meat and cheese. Take a good friend, though, since you'll probably need help getting home.
Pancheros: okay, I mentioned a name here. But this really is very good option and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it. Order anything except the quesadilla, get grilled veggies, beans, rice and top it with corn salsa, hot salsa, pico de gallo and guacamole. Love it. The burrito is big enough to split with a friend, so don't worry about going hungry just because you didn't get the meat.
Most people would think a vegan could never set foot in a steakhouse. But most have really good baked potatoes, sweet potatoes and grilled or steamed veggies. Side salads, too. Most have a rice option, some have fresh fruit and/or veggie plates. Just order without butter. And if you mention to the wait staff that you are vegan, they will pass that on to the chef.
In Ames, I like The Cafe and Cafe Shi. Both offer vegetarian options and will give you vegan if you ask. I love the May House for their veggie rice noodles. They also have meat substitutes (faux beef, pork or chicken) if you like that sort of thing.
I try to avoid them, but if I go I get a salad. Barbeque places often times have fries (white or sweet potato) and maybe a vinegar based coleslaw. I would not recommend telling anyone in a barbeque joint that you are vegan. It could get ugly.
I recommend two places for their amazingly wonderful pizza: Black Market and Great Plains. Neither are vegan. Both are soooooo good. I just recommend going once or twice a year, not every weekend. And I try to fill up on beer. Most beers are vegan, you know.
Sometimes I get take-n-bake pizzas with red sauce and veggies and skip the cheese. Turns out more like focaccia than pizza, but it's a good carbo-load with the crust. What I really recommend is making your own at home on a healthy pita or homemade crust. Or pick up an Amy's pizza in the frozen food aisle at the store. Amy's offers gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options that are pretty good.
Italian food is famous for butter, bread, and meat. But a pasta with veggies and red sauce is still a healthier option than a meat lasagna smothered in cheese. Try the garlic and oil sauce or the Pomodoro, or try zucchini marinara. Order tomato bruschetta without cheese, and go for the vinegarette on the salad.
Hopefully this little guide will help you to make a healthier choice next time you stop in a hurry between trumpet lessons, swim practice and the school musical. Just a reminder, too, that when you make a healthier choice you are also influencing your family!