Adhering to a plant-based diet and being a clean eater doesn't mean you need to forgo your social life and give up the pleasures of dining out.
It does mean that you need to do a little detective work and be an advocate for yourself and your plate. Have a game plan, learn how to navigate a menu, and dine out healthfully without sacrificing your experience or your pants size.
For more tips on healthy, plant-based eating in any situation, check out my video course, The 14 Day Plant-Based Challenge: A Nutritionist's Guide to Reclaiming Your Energy and Finding Your Glow.
1. Take a sneak peek.
No one said you need to be surprised when you receive your dinner menu. Most restaurants provide their menus online. Check it out before your meal and have a few dishes in mind that you want to try.
Also, consider some modifications or questions that you have for your server, so you're not overwhelmed or taken off guard.
2. Learn the lingo.
Navigating a menu can be tricky as restaurant phrasing can be deceiving. Be mindful of certain phrases that typically indicate something is fried, cooked in butter, or layered with cream.
Crispy, crunchy, golden, and battered are all indicators that something is coated in flour and fried. Yes, totally delicious and OK on occasion and when shared but typically something you want to avoid.
Creamy, bisque, béarnaise, béchamel, au gratin are all terms that indicate something is finished with cream or has loads of butter and cheese.
3. Be a self-advocate.
Most restaurants are flexible regarding various types of dietary restrictions. So speak up, ask your server what the vegan or vegetarian options are on the menu or what modifications are possible.
Keep in mind that just because something indicates vegan or vegetarian it does not necessarily mean that it's healthy. If something on the menu is calling to you, ask the server if the item contains dairy, animal stock, eggs, or animal protein and see if the chef is willing to make modifications.
Be sure to ask how something is prepared. Restaurants are known for adding loads of sugar, butter, oil, and salt in the name of flavor and palatability. Kindly ask for substitutions. Most places will be happy to oblige.
4. Search the sides.
Sometimes a majority of the plant-based options are served as sides, such as herbed quinoa, garlic broccoli, and roasted carrots. Make a meal out of the sides, or order two appetizers—or a combo of both.
5. Get your greens.
Start your meal with a crunchy salad or even a side of sautéed greens. Try to have half of your meal made up of non-starchy veggies like broccoli, kale, zucchini, mixed greens, or Swiss chard for added fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
These vegetables are also full of water, which will help fill you up and prevent you from overdoing it on your entree.
6. Make some modifications.
Some simple plant-based modifications to make include these:
- Hold the mayo on a sandwich or wrap and adding mashed avocado.
- Lose the sour cream or buttermilk dressing and opt for olive oil and vinegar.
- Trade in the bacon on a salad for chickpeas or nuts.
- Switch out a side of fries or potatoes for mixed greens or sautéed veggies.
7. Channel the spirits—wisely.
When selecting your beverages, do your best to stick to water, sparkling or flat. If you want something with alcohol, steer clear of sugary beverages, mixed drinks with soda or tonic, liqueurs, and dessert wine.
Choose a glass of wine, or clear spirits (vodka, tequila, or gin) on the rocks or with sparkling water, fresh lemon or lime, or cucumber and mint.
8. Give in.
Dining out should be pleasurable and fun, not stressful. If there's something indulgent that you really want, share it with your dining companions.
You shouldn't live your life filled with deprivation. Have a few bites, savor the goodness, and move on. It is important to be mindful of your choices but also not to let a few indulgences throw you off from your healthy, clean-eating lifestyle.