What Should I Order?
The short answer is: As many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. Some raw and some cooked would be great. Minimize your consumption of processed foods, fats and sugars, and avoid animal products entirely.
There are many healthful plant-based options available when going out to eat, with some places offering more and better selections than others. I prefer to go to restaurants where I know the food will be healthful and delicious. However, sometimes, we just need something convenient and we eat with our friends who may or may not share our dietary habits. So, we need to be somewhat flexible. Feel free to ask the chef at every restaurant you go to to create a meal just for you. Don’t be shy. Let your server know what you do and do not eat. Many restaurants can make a creation just for you. If you like, print out cards to keep in your purse or wallet that say, “I follow a low-fat, whole foods vegan diet. I do not eat animal products including meat, fish, dairy (milk, cheese, butter) or eggs, but I love good food. I also prefer not to eat a lot of oil, sugar and salt (though a little bit is fine). I am passionate about great vegetables, beans, whole grains and fruits. Please feel free to be creative and make a healthful meal for me that others will envy! I really appreciate your efforts! Thank you!!!!” Does this sound silly? Maybe, but it’s important to be clear about what you want, otherwise you may end up with fish sauce, cheese, eggs, butter, a whole lot of oil or who knows what else in your meal and then you will have to pay for it! A simple written card, prepared ahead of time may save time and confusion in a busy kitchen.
Here are a few resources for your review.
Dining Guide for Vegetarian Restaurants
How to Build a Healthy Salad at a Salad Bar
Salad bars can be terrific, but I often see many people making unhealthy choices at the salad bar – adding up to a lot of fat and calories. Be sure to avoid creamy or oily dressings as these can really up the fat and calorie count of your meal and are devoid of nutrients. Instead, simply start with the darkest leafy greens available (usually spinach – I usually mix spinach with mixed greens or romaine), top with a variety of colorful veggies such as red bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, red cabbage, beets, cucumbers, any kind of beans, broccoli or cauliflower and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. Instead of dressing, use a splash of vinegar, salsa or hummus mixed with a little bit of vinegar and a sprinkle of pepper when you are out. Most restaurants just don’t offer healthy dressing options. This type of salad will be colorful, nutrient dense, low in calories, practically fat-free, high in fiber, and very filling and satisfying! Have a salad like this with a baked potato topped with salsa or a plain baked sweet potato and/or some vegetarian vegetable or bean soup and you have a filling and delicious meal!
Local Sacramento Restaurants with Healthful Vegan Options – You may have similar restaurants in your area.
- Sugar Plum Vegan – Just like you would cook at home – fresh and delicious. The desserts are especially wonderful. Really, really yummy desserts.
- Noble Vegetarian (All vegetarian or vegan menu) – Love the Eggplant Tofu!
- Andy Nguyen (All vegetarian or vegan menu) – Lots of faux meat and vegetable stir fries – too many to name!
- Magpie Café – Local, seasonal menu. Lots of fresh vegetables.
- Lemongrass Restaurant – Love the Monk’s Curry – full of vegetables and tofu in a delicious coconut curry sauce. I get it Extra Mild with Extra Kabocha Squash and Brown Rice. Delish!
- Thai Basil – Who doesn’t love Mango Sticky rice for dessert?
- Sunflower Drive-In – Awesome Homemade Nutburgers!
- Queen Sheba – Local Ethiopian restaurant with excellent Vegetarian Sampler Platter – exotic, yet not too spicy for me
Chain Restaurants with Healthful and Tasty Plant-Based Options (besides pasta with marinara sauce or a veggie burger)
- PF Chang’s – Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps and Buddha’s Feast with Brown Rice
- California Pizza Kitchen – Grilled Vegetable Salad with Balsamic Vinegar for dressing; Veggie Pizza on whole wheat crust, no cheese
- Fresh Choice – Great Salad Bar (includes tofu & shelled edamame), Baked White and Sweet Potatoes, Soups (always a vegan choice) and fresh fruit as a dessert option
Chain Restaurants with B.P.O.s (Best Possible Options – This wouldn’t be your favorite place to go, but if you’re on the road and starving or if you’re with a group of omnivores and have to eat at these restaurants; you can find something). Almost all restaurant and conventional packaged food is full of chemicals like mono and diglicerides, trans-fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and a whole host of things you wouldn’t think of eating. I suggest preparing most of your food at home in order to control the quality of what you eat and to save money. When you do go out, you can relax and enjoy the company of your friends and order the BPO at local and/or chain restaurants knowing that that food you eat out only comprises a small percentage of your daily food intake. Even if you have to eat out for business a lot, choosing the BPO is better than throwing in the towel and ordering steak, fettuccine alfredo, cheesecake or chicken wings with a side of ranch dressing.
You can always ask that the chef prepare something special for you and explain that you do not eat animal products, specifically, meat, fish, eggs and dairy. I find that this technique works especially well at local restaurants, especially when they’re not too busy. Always add more raw and steamed vegetable to dishes to make meals more nutrient-dense and order items without butter and cheese as restaurants will automatically add butter and cheese to most items, especially vegetables.)
- Cheesecake Factory (Weight Management Pear and Endive Salad – no chicken, no cheese, dressing on the side; Greek Salad – no feta; White Bean Hummus; Beets with Goat Cheese – no goat cheese; Arugula Salad – no parmesan; Edamame; Fire-roasted Fresh Artichokes; The Incredible Grilled Eggplant Sandwich or Grilled Portabella on a Bun – no cheese, no aioli or mayonnaise, salad with vinegar for dressing on the side; Lots of great vegetables side dishes – just ask for no butter – ask to sauté in water or vegetable broth)
- Ruby Tuesday (Fresh Garden Bar; Vegetarian Pasta Primavera – add vegetables, plus steamed broccoli on the side)
- Red Robin (Gardenburger – request side salad no cheese, no bacon, vinegar on the side for dressing and/or side of steamed broccoli); Gardenburger is not vegan but is the BPO
- Outback Steakhouse (Order a plain baked sweet potato with cinnamon, plain steamed veggies and a salad of romaine and tomatoes and any other veggies they have with balsamic vinegar as the dressing). Options at other steakhouses will be similar.
- Burger King (BK Veggie with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard and pickles only, Apple Fries and Unsweetened Iced Tea or Bottled Water to drink.) No, the BK Veggie is not vegan. It does contain dairy and eggs, but it is the BPO, especially for kids who want to be able to go out with their friends to fast food places. Write to Burger King and ask them to switch to a whole foods vegan burger, like Amy’s Organic California Veggie Burger, Light in Sodium http://www.amyskitchen.com/products/category_view.php?prod_category=1 It would also be great if they offered the veggie burger as part of the kids’ meal and offered an organic non-dairy milk like almond, soy, rice or hemp milk or simply a small bottle of water for kids.
- Taco Bell (Seven Layer Burrito – No Cheese, No Sour Cream)
- Olive Garden (minestrone soup, capellini pomodoro or linguine alla marinara – ask to add extra vegetables like spinach and zucchini plus steamed broccoli on the side). Options at Macaroni Grill, Buca di Beppo and other Italian-American Restaurants will be similar
Chain Restaurants to Avoid at All Costs
- McDonalds – There really are no healthy plant-based options – not even BPOs (best possible options). If there really is nothing else around, you could get a bottle of water and apple dippers (no sauce). There are no other options that are free of meat and dairy.
- Wendy’s – There are no plant-based options at Wendy’s and they don’t even offer any BPOs. It’s a real shame, because it would be so easy for them to change their menu by offering a vegan chili and offering a baked potato with broccoli without the sour cream or with salsa. A salad with beans, veggies and a low-fat dressing without meat would be excellent as well. They could also add a low-sodium whole foods veggie burger and vegan nuggets for kids as well as apple sticks or carrots. They could even offer organic plant milk (soy, almond, rice or hemp).
Awesome Purely Plant-Based Restaurants in other areas. (just a sampling). When you’re traveling, be sure to make these restaurants a destination. There are many more purely plant-based (vegan) restaurants all around the world. Be sure to seek them out when you travel. Check out www.happycow.net and www.vegdining.com before traveling. I love to try new Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian and other types of ethnic food famous for a wide variety of vegetarian dishes. Many cities also have raw, macrobiotic, vegan or vegetarian restaurants.
Yuma, AZ and Berkely, CA
San Francisco, CA
Los Angeles, CA – 2 locations
Southern CA – 6 locations
Southern CA – 4 locations