Dining Out...How To Survive On The Road As A Vegetarian
Without a doubt, learning how to master the fine art of dining out on the road as a practicing vegetarian can be one of the most intimidating of all challenges to our new vegetarian lifestyle.
In years past, we used to look forward to dining out at restaurants for special occasions like birthday's, etc. But today our focus has shifted and eating at home is what we look forward to more than anywhere else. It's just too difficult to consistently find what we now consider to be good cooking anywhere but at home sweet home.
But if you're traveling, on vacation or attending social functions, that option is not available and you need a survival plan that will help you to sail through those rough waters.
The following topics offer the best tips and helpful suggestions that we've developed over the years to help us adhere as closely as possible to our vegetarian meal plan while dining out.
It is unfortunately very difficult to consistently find "made fron scratch", wholesomely prepared foods on the road. But here are a number of things you can concentrate on that will increase the odds of your finding a decent meal when dining out at restaurants.
If you're staying at a motel or hotel, check the yellow pages directory in your room or the lobby brochure ads for local restaurants. Often times, some of these ads will include menus. Or if you have a computer with wi-fi you can do a search for the same type of information online. You can also ask the locals at the front desk for their advice on local fare.
We have found that it can be helpful to target specific types of restaurants that may offer acceptable options. For example, the higher-end steakhouse and seafood house restaurants often have baked potatoes and feature very nicely presented salad bars with lots of freshly prepared vegetables and salads. And sometimes one or two large blocks of cheese are provided for slicing. If you're lucky and they serve freshly baked whole grain breads with dinner, then you've found a winner.
Asian restaurants may represent some more good possibilities for dining out. Oriental and Indian restaurants generally don't skimp on the fresh vegetables and the better places often feature a number of vegetarian menu options to choose from. It's unlikely that you'll find a place that serves whole grain rice instead of the ever-present processed white variety, but this can represent an acceptable compromise.
Of course Italian restaurants specialize in all things pasta. Once again, it's a long shot to find one that serves whole wheat pasta and they're notorious for skimping on the veggies. But in a small town this may be your best alternative to fast food eateries, which we vigorously avoid. One shining star that you might get lucky and find is a little family-run Italian place that makes its own whole wheat pizza dough and a decently prepared house salad with homemade house vinaigrette dressing. Just tell your server that you'll gladly pay for double the toppings on your small veggie pizza.
Dining out includes eating over at someone else's house. If you are invited over for dinner to a friend or relative's place your best move is to let them know right up front that you are vegetarian and, generally, what you do not eat. Otherwise the embarassing situation will surely arise where nothing that is served is eaten, the cook becomes sorely offended and you go to bed hungry. This is not a "happy meal" and nobody has a good time.
Depending on the occasion, it might be appropriate for you to offer to bring some items to the event. For example, if it's a casual event and the meal is being prepared on the grill outside, you might offer to bring some marinated vegetables for grilling, some whole wheat wraps or tortillas and some shredded cheeses. Be sure to bring enough so that others can sample your contributions.
Brown bagging is a way of life for us and it is an important part of our vegetarian lifestyle by necessity.
During the workweek, dining out for lunch is not only expensive, it can easily grow into a regular routine that may eventually undermine your best efforts to maintain your healthy vegetarian lifestyle.
It's easy to yield to social pressures from fellow employees and join the crowd in going to this restaurant, that lunch buffet or to order out for pizza. Your best defense is to religiously bring your own lunch with you every day. This way everyone knows ahead of time that you don't eat out and you never have to say "no" to their invitations.
Our vegetarian meal plan calls for a "splurge snack" for our evening meal. It's always something simple and easy to prepare. This leaves us plenty of time in the evenings to prepare our lunches for the next workday.
We usually pack a mid-morning snack of mixed nuts with some cheese and crackers. For the mid-day meal we pack a container of tossed vegetable salad with a small container of our dressing, and a container of soup, stew, roasted veggies or a sandwich. We also pack an assortment of fresh vegetable crudites with some good olives and a small container of hummus of tahini for dipping. At work we have a pyrex bowl for heating up soups or stews in the microwave if we want to.
This routine is quick and easy to follow and provides a far more satisfying meal than anything you're likely to find at the restaurants dining out.
We usually prepare our soups, stews or roasted vegetables on the weekends so these are ready to go and only need to be portioned out into containers. Everything fits nicely into a small, insulated lunch bucket with a flat freezer packet added to help keep things cool.
Give this routine, or one similar to it, a try and we think you'll not only save money and time in the long run, but also your peace of mind and your overall health and well-being, as well. Bon appetit!
This one's easy...we brown bag it.
Years ago you could order an in-flight vegetarian meal (sort of) on the airlines when purchasing your tickets in advance. Today, if you're flying coach, you'll never find any kind of fresh produce on an airplane with the exception of a stray carrot stick or a very small apple.
Instead we take our nut mix with some cheese and crackers in baggies. Then in separate baggies we pack bread slices, cheese slices and lettuce with tomato slices. We then assemble our sandwiches on the plane when we're ready to eat. Don't forget to pack a few paper towels and a freezer packet to keep the cheese cool. This takes up a minimum of space in a carry-on bag and makes for a fine, satisfying meal when dining out at 30,000 feet.
We stay away from fast food joints (we don't refer to them as restaurants) for the same reason that we avoid most other chain restaurants...about the only fresh produce they serve is french fries and iceburg lettuce, neither of which is likely to be very fresh.
If your vegetarian meal plan calls for lots of fresh fruits and vegetables like ours, then most of these eateries fall way short of our dining out objective of finding a satisfying, nutritious meal. You will almost always be able to find a much better alternative elsewhere.
The Nuclear Option
As a practicing vegetarian, you will encounter a lot of curiosity on the part of your friends, relatives and new acquaintences when they first find out that you don't eat meat. A little curiousity is natural since you live daily according to a lifestyle that they've never tried.
Every now and then, usually when dining out, you may encounter someone who stretches his curiosity a bit too far and becomes overly intrusive or even obnoxious with his prodding about your being vegetarian. When all of your obvious answers about why you choose to be vegetarian don't satisfy him and he refuses to accept your responses and persists, then it's time to employ what I call "The Nuclear Option".
I admit up front that I did not originate this. I read it somewhere years ago, probably in one of the vegetarian publications that I used to subscribe to. Here it is.
When your questioner refuses to accept your rationale for why you have decided to be vegetarian, your response is;
"I don't know, maybe it's just me. But I don't find dead animals to be very appetizing".
Next let's take a look at what we can do to make life easier in
The Meatless Kitchen.
Do you have an interesting solution to the dilemma of dining out vegetarian-style?
What's your favorite survival tip when;
* on the road?
* in the air?
* at the restaurant?
* at someone else's house?
Do you have your own "Nuclear Option"?
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