Our Editors’ Favorite Hacks for Eating Vegan Anywhere
If you're new to the vegan or plant-based lifestyle and a summer weekend of BBQs, endless cocktail and dinner parties, lunches at the beach, or a night out with friends is on the schedule, it can send pangs of anxiety through your heart. How to order and not look like you're not eating, or participate without being a killjoy?
If you're planning on eating out the quandary is: What to say when the waiter or waitress takes everyone's orders and you have to ask for the spinach steamed, no butter please, and the salad (or pizza) without the cheese? We've all been there, and whether you end up at a steak house or a lobster shack, there are ways to get around the menu and hold true to your dietary choices, and still feel full.
BBQs can be tricky when the burgers hit the grill, but here are the hacks that we use to get us through the days and nights of house parties and airport travel, beach picnics, and boardwalk strolls, and still have fun, eat healthily, and not have any awkward moments over your dietary restrictions or choices.
Consider this your vegan survivor's guide to the (meat-eating) universe, for a plant-leaning, plant-based, or plant-centric person, from the editors of The Beet. We share our hacks on how to be plant-based in a not-so-plant-based world.
Lucy's Plant-Based Hack
Everywhere I go (someone's house for dinner, an evening BBQ, or when I have people over, I make a large bowl of freshly chopped and mixed guacamole. Everyone loves the cold taste of the avocados, doused with lime juice, spiced up with cilantro and pepper, with finely chopped onion, on thin, salty crunchy chips. This vegan classic is the perfect snack to satisfy your need for a fresh bite to refuel after a day at the beach, on the links, or biking, walking, running or just gardening.
With about 3 grams of protein per avocado and 21 grams of healthy fat, avocados are helpful to your immune system and your diet, since they fill you up and keep you from eating too much for hours after you nibble on one. The fat content also appears to help your body burn fat for fuel if you don't opt for chips but instead serve it with crudites such as endive, carrots, celery, or jicama.
When traveling you can now get it at Dunkin Donuts, which serves avocado toast! Backup plan: if you're not finding any guacamole on your travels, such as when you're at the airport, just buy a small container of hummus, since that's a protein-filled snack made of chickpeas that will always hold you over till your next chance to cook a healthy vegan meal.
Ask for an allergen menu
When you're dining out, sometimes it seems like meat and dairy-centric restaurants don't dietary choices like veganism seriously enough. I want to be absolutely certain that my entree isn't going to accidentally get cooked in butter, or my salad won't be dusted in parmesan cheese. After a few years of being vegan, this one trick has allowed me to feel very comfortable ordering at restaurants that don't cater to plant-based cuisine.
The best way to reduce the chance of any animal products accidentally ending up in your food is to ask the waiter for an allergen menu before ordering. Restaurants are required to provide this information displayed prominently on the main menu, or as a list of dishes on a separate menu that are available without major allergens, which include dairy, eggs, and fish.
In my experience, when eating out with friends and family who aren't vegan or plant-based, this is the easiest way to flag to my waiter that I need my dietary restrictions taken seriously. Beware of meat as it isn't a major allergen, but it's usually easy enough to figure out which entrees contain beef, chicken, or pork as it's typically in the name or description.
As a foodie, trying new restaurants is one of my hobbies and I’m completely aware of the unhealthy side of eating out too often. Just because I order vegan dishes at restaurants doesn’t always mean the food is healthy. So, I like to create my own meals at the table, even if it’s avocado toast since most restaurants use an unnecessary amount of oil to enhance the creamy texture. Or, they over-salt food to make up for the lack of flavor. And as a little insider note, most servers don’t bring the food to the table without a little finishing salt after it’s been salted by the chef. So, I just order all the ingredients to make the dish at the table so I know exactly what’s in my food. This is my way to eat clean and still dine out.
If I go out for breakfast, my order likes like a side of sliced avocado, plain toast no butter, a small side salad, and occasionally I’ll ask for a small order of cherry tomatoes and make my own avo toast at the table and top it with the unsalted, oil-free sides. I’ve also found this super helpful when eating at Asian fusion restaurants where most dishes are filled with salt. I’ll ask for a side of rice, steamed bok choy, kimchi, and sliced avocado and make myself a vegan poke bowl. If you’re trying to eat clean at any restaurant, prepare the dish at the table with fresh ingredients.
Caitlin's Plant-Based Hack
Go all-in on sides
You may think that the most exciting meal at a steakhouse or seafood restaurant is a house salad but that isn't true. Next time you're at a restaurant that is the farthest thing from plant-based, go straight to the sides section of the menu.
Whether you're dining at an American or Mexican restaurant the sides will be packed with a variety of veggies, potato or rice dishes. Order any veggie side you like such as spinach with garlic, roasted carrots, corn on the cob or mushrooms and onions. If you want a more filling meal, sides usually have a carbohydrate option such as baked potato wedges or beans and rice.
The most important thing is to tell your waiter you're plant-based and specify that you want all sides steamed or sauteed without butter or any animal products in general. If you aren't seeing anything you love on the menu, don't be afraid to ask what they can make for you. Oftentimes, restaurants are willing to make accommodations to your dietary needs. The best part about ordering various sides is that altogether it makes a relatively healthy, delicious and filling meal.
Whether it's a seafood restaurant, a steakhouse, or a fine dining restaurant, the meat-based main courses typically come with an accenting vegetable. One of the most difficult parts about ordering can be finding a fulfilling and delicious meal. Sometimes when dragged out to a meat-centric establishment it can feel impossible to eat enough of what's offered to fill your stomach, but ask your waiter to get the accenting side vegetable from the main courses together. Although sometimes the plate is a mixed bag of vegetable dishes, it feels like a tasting menu straight from the entire restaurant's offerings.
I learned this trick when working at meat-centric fine dining restaurants. For years, I would have to rethink how I could eat off the existing menu with the available ingredients. I found that the easiest way to think about the menu is what comes prepared with the main courses. Most restaurants will accommodate the customer's dietary needs, and if you ask the server to have the kitchen prepare the side vegetables for the main courses or entrees, you will end up with a delicious, full plate that won't disappoint.