I'm not gonna lie. It can be a real challenge to find plant-based, vegan food when eating out or traveling. Especially without oil. But, all hope is not lost! Here's some tried and true tips for dining out at a restaurant or traveling when you're on a plant-based or vegan diet.
It's not a surprise to anyone that restaurant food is not the healthiest. That's why we cook most of our food at home, so we know what goes into it. But, we're not hermits. We go out with friends and family and enjoy our time with them.
Here are some tips to help you be prepared and make good choices when you eat out.
Do you live in Houston, Texas or are visiting? Read my local's guide to the best Vegan Friendly Restaurants in Houston.
Eating out plant-based
100% whole foods plant-based
If you are choosing to be 100% strictly plant-based with your eating, then make your needs known to your waiter. Tell him that you are allergic to dairy, cheese, eggs, animal products and oil. Ask him what options you have.
If he can't think of anything, ask him for one of these options:
- Baked potato with chives and salsa
- Steamed rice and vegetables with no butter
- Salad with vinegar or lemon wedges on the side for your dressing
- Vegetable sandwich, seasoned with vinegar, salt and pepper
- Stir-fried vegetables and tofu with no oil
- Vegetable sushi
Most restaurants will have some vegetables or a salad. You may be surprised at what delicious dishes they have with minor changes. But, you definitely have to ask.
Vegan and vegetarian options
If you are willing to loosen your restrictions while you're out, but don't want to veer too far off course, then look for vegan and vegetarian options on the menu.
Usually, my first glance is at the "Sides" section of the menu. Sometimes, I can make a meal out of the sides (and often it's cheaper that way!).
Many restaurants will do a vegetable plate for you.
At Mexican restaurants: Vegetarian beans and rice, vegetable fajitas (ask for this, it's usually not listed on the menu, but is almost always incredible), taco salad with beans substituted for the meat, guacamole, salsa, nopales, pico de gallo, papas a la Mexicana, vegetable enchiladas
At Italian restaurants: pasta and marinara sauce, salad, vegetable side dishes, bruschetta (one of my favorite things!), vegetable pizza with no cheese
At Chinese restaurants: Stir-fried vegetables and steamed rice (gai lan / Chinese broccoli in garlic sauce is so good!), vegetable steamed dumplings, vegetable fried rice with no egg
At Thai or Vietnamese restaurants: These cuisines, like many others, are vegetable-rich, so omitting the meat will be easy. Be sure to ask for no shrimp paste/powder, as this is something commonly added to some dishes.
At Japanese restaurants: Vegetable sushi is amazing! Some of the vegetables I've had in sushi are: avocado, cucumber, carrot, sweet potato, pickled radish, sauteed spinach, squash, bell pepper and more. Also, vegetable gyoza, Japanese fried rice, vegetable tempura, udon soup (ask for no fish flakes)
At Indian restaurants: There are so many options! Keep in mind that North Indian cuisine often has dairy, so you'll need to determine if the dish was prepared with dairy. South Indian cuisine is often vegan, although not oil-free. Some of our favorite Indian food is: vegetable korma, saag channa, samosas with potato and peas, flatbread, biryani, dal/dahl
At Sandwich shops: Ask for a vegetable sandwich with mustard or vinegar (or dry, like I like it).
At Middle Eastern or Mediterranean restaurants: Falafel, Greek salad, Fasolada white bean soup, vegetable paella, baklava, mujadara (lentils and rice with caramelized onions), pita bread and hummus, olives and so much more
Go to a plant-based, vegan or vegetarian restaurant! If you've never been to one, ask around or look online for one nearby. Look at the reviews and give it a try! If you're looking for a good one in Houston, check out my local's guide to the best Vegan Friendly Restaurants in Houston.
Vegan fast food options
- Chipotle: Order the rice, beans, sofritas, fajita veggies, corn salsa or tomato salsa and guac and lettuce. Not oil-free, but filling and delicious.
- Pizza: Order a veggie pizza (with all the veggies they have) with no cheese. It's delicious!
- Supermarket Sushi! Veggie sushi rolls are an excellent option and can usually be picked up at grocery stores (at least here in the US they can)
- Last resort: if you need food and there's no other options: Order french fries and a salad
Plant-based grub for road trips
For road trips, we do our best to bring food with us for snacking on the road.
Hummus and veggie sticks, bread, peanut butter, jelly, apple slices, bananas, oil-free crackers, nuts, trail mix and lots of bottled water and tea.
If we're staying in a hotel, we like staying in a hotel that offers free hot breakfast (like Hilton/Hampton Inn), because they almost always have oatmeal, toast and fresh fruit, which we can certainly turn into a filling breakfast to fuel our morning.
If we're staying in an AirBnB or with friends, we'll do some grocery shopping so we can prepare healthy, easy meals while we're there.
Traveling by plane is different though. So, you have to know how to pick good food on the go. Go for food that will fill you up.
If your flight is serving a meal, ask for a vegan or vegetarian option.
In the airport, resist the urge to get a salad without any kind of grain or starch with it. You'll be hangry again in an hour and you want to be in a good mood when you're traveling!
A bagel/bread with nut butter and a banana can usually be found in all airports (if you didn't bring snacks with you). Trail mix, apples, granola bars and fruit can also be found in a pinch.
These 3-ingredient banana oat breakfast cookies are filling and great as a snack while running errands.
I've been known to throw a handful of cooked baby potatoes in a tupperware container, sprinkle them with salt and snack on those. They are lifesavers. They're delicious, they fill me up and keep me satisfied until the next meal.
- Make a snack for tomorrow, so you won't be hungry at work, running errands or out picking up the kids.
- Bookmark or write down 3 restaurants you know you can get healthy options at.
- Bookmark or write down 3 vegetarian, vegan or plant-based restaurants near you that you want to try!