Monday, March 17, 2014

My Vegan Life - Eating Out

My Vegan Life - Eating Out
Dietary restrictions make
eating "out" a challenge.
For the most part, going vegan has been easy. We cook at home using fresh, whole ingredients and create delicious meals. But every once in awhile, we enjoy a meal out ... and that presents a problem.

Not everyone understands the meaning of "vegan" or even "vegetarian".

Eating out presents a challenge to vegans.
Restaurants aren't always vegan friendly.
Many people assume that "meatless" simply means "without beef". In restaurants, a server may tell you that a vegetable soup is vegetarian even though it has been made with chicken broth. Things liked fried potatoes or hash browns might be cooked in butter or on the same griddle with bacon or sausage. Even an innocent salad may arrive at the table with a milk-based dressing or sprinkles of cheese.

Restaurants aren't the only challenge. Dining with friends and family can be especially difficult.

Dining with friends and family may be difficult for vegans.
Dinner invitations may prove
challenging to Vegans
I am extremely lucky! My family understands our food choices and, when we visit, they not only cook wonderful dishes which are completely free of animal products, they enjoy the meals with us (although we have "caught" them sneaking out for a "meat fix" on occasion ... love you, Mom!).

That hasn't always been the case when visiting friends. We were once invited to a special dinner where the hostess make a huge effort to prepare a gourmet meal without meat. Unfortunately, she used a lot of butter, milk, and cheese. At another friend's home, a salad "buffet" was served. Sadly, the only ingredient we could eat was the lettuce. The most extreme case was a friend who simply chose not to include us in a holiday get-together because he didn't know what to serve to vegans.

Eating out is definitely a challenge but there are ways to make it work. Here are some ideas:

    Buffets are good choices for vegans.
    Buffets offer many choices.
  • Dining at a restaurant

    • Choose independent establishments and, even if you don't see vegan options on the menu, ask if they can cook something for you. They are usually willing to accommodate food preferences. Restaurant "chains", on the other hand, are much less likely to make ingredient substitutions.
    • Ask specific questions. Does the soup contain fish or chicken stock? Are vegetables cooked with a piece of ham or dressed with butter? If the server doesn't know, they will typically go and find out. If they don't offer to do so, choose something else on the menu.
    • Browse the menu's side dishes and appetizers. A "dry" baked potato can be the focus of a meal. Chips and salsa are a great alternative to nachos. And a bruschetta made with fresh tomatoes, basil, and olive oil makes a stunning main dish.
    • Choose restaurants that are vegan/vegetarian friendly. They understand "meatless" and will offer wonderful menu selections.
    • Consider buffets. They offer a variety of food choices including salad bars, fresh fruit, and pasta without meat-based sauces. But again, when in doubt about how things were cooked, ask questions.
    • While most restaurants will offer something acceptable, there are certain types of establishments which are more difficult. BBQ, Seafood, Steak, and fast food restaurants typically offer few, if any, vegan options.
    • Ethnic foods tend to be very veg-friendly. Consider Indian, Asian, and Mexican establishments.
    How does a Vegan handle traditional holiday meals?
    Traditional holiday meals
    can leave Vegans hungry.
  • Dining with friends and family

    • Let your host/hostess know about your food preferences ahead of time.
    • Decide, before arriving, what you can and cannot accept. Are you willing to eat a bit of dairy? Can you make an exception for a desert made with honey? Having a plan will allow you to make gracious decisions rather than frustrating both you and your host.
    • Offer to bring a dish (ensuring that there will be at least one thing you can eat).
    • If the menu is "iffy", eat a light meal before going so that you won't be hungry.
    • Dinner rolls, salads, and raw vegetable "crudites" are usually safe bets.
    • Be gracious and appreciate any efforts made on your behalf.
    • Try not to focus, or bring attention, to what you're not eating. This is not the venue for a serious discussion on vegan ideals.
    • Remember that dining with friends or family is more about enjoying their company and less about food.

A vegan lifestyle doesn't mean we have to give up the pleasure of dining with friends and family. Nor does it mean avoiding restaurants. With a little preparation and thought, eating out can be a fun, satisfying experience.

What are your tips for eating out?

Sneak Peek: How many ingredients are in your laundry detergent? Mine has six! Tomorrow I'll reveal the brand I'm using.