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Mastering the Art of Dining Out as a New Vegetarian

Tips for Eating Out as a New Vegetarian

For those who are new to the vegetarian diet, eating out can feel like a completely different experience at first. It’s possible that many of your favorite menu items no longer fit into your diet, and it may seem like there are no good options at restaurants. But before you start rethinking things, know that there are plenty of tricks to make being a vegetarian easier. Many vegetarians have overcome this struggle, and you can too.

Watch out for hidden meat

If you eat meat, you don’t really have to worry about a dish containing animal parts, but if you’re vegetarian, it can ruin your meal. Sometimes a menu doesn’t list all the ingredients, so you don’t necessarily know ahead of time that something isn’t vegetarian. Gravy is often made with meat broth, or may even have bits of beef or poultry floating around in it, while baked beans or split pea soup may hide bits of pork. Some stuffings and casseroles may also contain meat. Doing a little research using the search term “surprisingly not vegetarian” can help you avoid accidentally ordering something with meat. You can also always check with your server before ordering an item you’re not sure about, so you don’t get stuck with something that’s not vegetarian.

Learn how to make substitutions

With a little imagination, you’ll find that most items can be made vegetarian with a simple substitution, and often it’s not too difficult for the kitchen. For example, you can substitute beans or potatoes for the meat in tacos. Avocados or grilled vegetables are also great substitutes for taco meat. Mushrooms and eggplant are good meat substitutes, according to One Green Planet. Another common substitution vegetarians make is to change up their breakfast platters by asking for fruit instead of a side of bacon or ham. Fortunately, there’s usually a wide variety of breakfast items to choose from, and most restaurants don’t mind, although they may charge you a few dollars more depending on what you’re substituting for the meat.

Check the menu before you go

Although many restaurants now offer enough vegetarian options that it’s possible to have an entire meal without meat, some still don’t. If you want to avoid being stuck with just one option, you may want to take a look at the menu before you commit to a restaurant. Yelp allows you to filter for vegetarian food and will show you restaurant options, including those that are not necessarily exclusively vegetarian, but are said to have great vegetarian options. As Mashed has covered, there are also a number of fast food and fast casual restaurants that have good vegetarian menu items. The point is, your best bet is to get ahead of the game and familiarize yourself with the menu so you don’t have to frantically search when you sit down.

Ask your waiter for help

The people who work at the restaurant probably have some useful insider knowledge about the menu and whether the kitchen staff is likely to be accommodating. They may have suggestions to help you find your perfect vegetarian dish on the menu or know which items can be made vegetarian. You may want to ask if a sauce or dressing is vegetarian or if an ingredient list is available. If the wait staff is working for tips, they will be extra motivated to make sure you have a meal you enjoy. Be aware, however, that not all servers will be helpful, and some may even lie about whether an item is vegetarian if they think the diner won’t be able to tell the difference.

Ordering appetizers and sides

One thing most vegetarians have had to do over the years is get used to the sides section of the menu. You’ll find that most sides are vegetarian, and where there may be a lack of potential entrees that fit your diet, there are probably some great sides to feast on instead. By choosing a few of these items, you can put together a satisfying meal. Roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, collard greens, and vegetarian stuffing are just a few of the side options that can fill your plate. So even if you find yourself in a restaurant with only a few side options, you can take comfort in knowing that more vegetarian dishes are being added to menus every day.

Find vegetarian restaurants

If your friends are ready to consider eating meat-free, ask them to join you in exploring vegetarian or vegan restaurants. Chances are they will find something they love and even appreciate being introduced to something new. Flexitarian diets are on the rise, with about one-fifth of U.S. households purchasing meat alternatives. So it seems that even your meat-eating friends are becoming more open to plant-based choices these days. Take a chance and invite your friends to try vegetarian food with you. They may discover delicious new flavors and dishes they never knew existed.

Be open to customization

Many restaurants are willing to accommodate dietary preferences and restrictions. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes to a dish to make it vegetarian-friendly. For example, you can ask to remove meat or cheese from a salad, substitute tofu or tempeh in stir-fries, or ask for a veggie burger instead of a beef patty. Most chefs understand the importance of accommodating different dietary needs and are happy to make adjustments whenever possible.

Explore International Cuisines

Vegetarianism is deeply rooted in many cultures around the world, and exploring international cuisines can open up a whole new world of vegetarian options. Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, and Mediterranean cuisines, among others, offer a wide range of flavorful vegetarian dishes. From lentil curries to falafel wraps to vegetable stir-fries, these cuisines showcase the versatility and deliciousness of plant-based ingredients. Don’t hesitate to venture outside your comfort zone and try new flavors and spices.

Connect to the vegetarian community

Joining vegetarian or vegan groups, both online and offline, can provide you with a wealth of knowledge and support. Connecting with like-minded people who share your dietary choices can help you discover new restaurants, share tips and advice, and find camaraderie in your vegetarian journey. Social media platforms and online forums dedicated to vegetarianism are great places to connect with others, share experiences, and find recommendations for vegetarian-friendly restaurants in your area.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Going vegetarian is a personal choice, and it’s important to remember that it’s okay to make the occasional mistake. If you accidentally eat a dish with hidden meat or find yourself in a situation where vegetarian options are limited, don’t beat yourself up. Focus on the progress you’ve made and the positive impact you’re having on your health, the environment, and animal welfare. Use each dining experience as a learning opportunity and continue to explore and enjoy the vegetarian culinary landscape.
In conclusion, eating out as a new vegetarian may seem challenging at first, but with a little preparation, creativity, and open-mindedness, you can navigate restaurant menus with ease. Look for hidden meats, make substitutions when possible, check menus in advance, ask wait staff for help, explore appetizers and sides, consider vegetarian restaurants, be open to customization, and embrace international cuisines. Connecting with the vegetarian community and being kind to yourself throughout the process are also important aspects of your vegetarian dining journey. Remember, vegetarianism is a choice that has many health, environmental, and animal welfare benefits, so enjoy the adventure of discovering delicious vegetarian meals wherever you go.


How can I avoid accidentally ordering dishes with hidden meat?

It’s important to become familiar with common ingredients and dishes that may contain meat. Doing some research and asking your server for clarification can help you make informed choices.

Can I make substitutions to make menu items vegetarian?

Absolutely! Many dishes can be modified by substituting ingredients like beans, mushrooms, or grilled vegetables for the meat. Don’t hesitate to ask the kitchen if they can accommodate your needs.

How do I find vegetarian-friendly restaurants?

You can check menus online or use platforms like Yelp to find restaurants that offer vegetarian options. In addition, joining vegetarian or vegan communities can provide recommendations and insights from like-minded individuals.

What if there are only a few vegetarian options on the menu?

Look for appetizers, sides, or customizable dishes that can be adapted to your dietary preferences. Don’t hesitate to ask the staff for suggestions or to make changes to existing menu items.

Are there specific international cuisines that offer more vegetarian options?

Yes, certain cuisines, such as Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, and Mediterranean, are known for their varied and flavorful vegetarian dishes. Exploring these cuisines can introduce you to a wide variety of plant-based options.

How can I connect with other vegetarians for support and recommendations?

Connecting with vegetarian or vegan groups online and offline can provide a community where you can share experiences, seek advice, and discover vegetarian-friendly restaurants in your area.

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