It's usually quite difficult to eat out when following a plant-based diet. But what about when you are following a whole foods plant based diet, without oil. Maybe no salt. What about when you decide to eat low fat too? It might seem impossible at this point, but it isn't necessarily. It certainly isn't easy when you want to eat out, or head out with friends or co-workers to an unknown restaurant, but you can make it easier with these tips from Mary McDougall. She provides some ways to order, and tips about different types of cuisine. Did you know that Minestrone usually has oil, and miso soup fish stock? Read on for more!
Notes from a presentation "Dining Out When You Must" by Mary McDougall
These are notes taken during a presentation given at the McDougall Program's Advanced Study Weekend.
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How to eat out while eating a low-fat vegan diet
Need to learn how to ask servers questions about the food. You can ask about oil, salt, and of course animal products. If someplace you go often, set up meeting with chef about your limitations and see what they can offer you at their restaurant. Then you will know how to order when you go in.
If you are ordering food that will be put on a hot grill, such as hashbrowns, you can ask for them to be "cooked dry" (without oil). The cook will put the food in a dry spot on the grill without adding extra oil. (Editors note: Sometimes in my experience they say they cannot do this due to the level of heat, but they can often do a mixture of water and oil instead for a lower oil option.)
Toast often arrives with butter, so you would need to order it "dry".
Call ahead to the restaurant
If you are eating out with friends, family, or co-workers at a restaurant without many or any options, it's best to call ahead. And when you do, it's important to tell them what you can't have (oil, animal products), not what dish or meal you want.
Chefs get bored and enjoy being creative, so simply tell them what you cannot eat and let them work with the rest. Many people who have done this end up with a way better dish that way, often better than the people eating off the menu!
About veggie burgers in restaurants
Often not good for you, as they can be heavily processed. You want one where they make their burgers in house. Ask questions about what is in it, and how did you prepare it.
Eating at different types of restaurants
What about various types of cuisines? Here is what you might encounter.
- Most soft corn tortillas are usually oil free. Flour tortillas are never oil free. Ask for soft corn tortillas instead of chips for a lower fat appetizer, or if they offer chips at the table for free. You can dip the soft corn tortillas in the salsa instead of fried chips.
- Whole black beans are pretty safe, as they are usually cooked with water.
- Pinto beans not necessarily safe. Ie: Chipotle had signs that they no longer cook pinto beans in pork, now cook in water. Most refried beans cooked in lard/fat.
Thai / Asian restaurants:
- Ask "Can you make this for me without any oil?" You can suggest they add some soy sauce or veg broth to sautee in instead if they do not know how. KEY to say what to use instead. (Editors note: As above, this has not always worked in my experience, but they may mix the broth/water and oil together for a lower oil option.)
- Can ask for braised or steamed instead of fried.
- Mu Shu: can ask for vegetable (non meat) version, but will have to specify "no egg" and opt for tofu.
- Often add oil to sauces. For example, marinara sauces typically have olive oil.
- Most fresh pastas have eggs. Howeve, often a restaurant will make one of their pastas without eggs, usually angel hair pasta.
- Pasta Primavera: can ask for it without any oil.
- Minestrone soup: usually has oil.
- Most pizza dough has oil in it (not much though).
- Miso soup often has a fish base. Ask "can you make the miso soup and use boiling water instead of fish stock".
- Many good low fat options - usually have a lot of vegetable rolls.
Almost impossible for oil free - all made ahead, and all cooked in oil.