Eat Healthy at NON-Health-Food Restaurants
If you’re anything like me, you enjoy dining out on occasion… okay, perhaps more than ‘on occasion’. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love cooking, however after a long day’s work, sometimes the last thing I want to do is create a meal… especially when I’m already hungry. Throughout my years as a nutrition coach, it appears that many people reluctantly swear off dining out when adapting healthier habits. Ultimately, it is probably healthier (for your body) to cook for yourself, however isn’t the social aspect of dining out, sharing a meal, visiting a unique restaurant, ALSO part of our health?
Having recovered from Orthorexia, an eating disorder that thrives on the concept of ‘purity’ and ‘clean eating’, it took me a while to realize that by staying home and cooking what I thought was healthier food was totally impeding on my social life, happiness, and peace of mind.
Regardless of your situation, I will offer you some tips for dining out healthily and deliciously as a VEGAN. I am no longer a strict vegan, however if you are, there are options EVERYWHERE for you. NOT JUST SALAD. I was spoiled enough to live in NYC and LA, which initially made me feel like I could frequent only ‘vegan labeled’ restaurants in order to maintain my preferred diet. Once I moved out of the city, I realized that there are really no such things as ‘vegan labeled’ restaurants in most other parts of the world. Hey, I’m a fan of health food restaurants, but other times I totally crave the ambiance and experience of fine dining, or even an old school Italian restaurant that smells like melting cheese (yum). Don’t limit your pleasurable experiences at the sake of ‘health’… they are such an important part of your overall well –being! It’s time to get educated…
Here are my top NUTRITIOUS vegan meals at specific types of restaurants:
*NOTE: You may not find this on the menu, but ask the waiter/waitress. I have never had an issue. If the ingredients are in the kitchen, a quality restaurant will accommodate your request.
1.) Japanese: Avocado, cucumber, watercress roll with brown rice (or regular veggie roll with brown rice), miso soup, steamed broccoli, seaweed salad.
2.) Indian: Chana masala or any of the vegetable entrees, usually served with rice, papadam (lentil wafer), roti (whole wheat flatbread), and daal (lentil soup). I just bypass the raita (yogurt based) and paneer (cheese based). Ask to make sure!
3.) Thai: Steamed Vegetables with green coconut curry sauce on the side (make sure it is made with coconut cream and not dairy), brown rice, papaya salad. I prefer curries at Thai restaurants, because most of their broth-based entrees use fish broths. But ASK anyway! I love dressing on the side, even though I pour it on myself anyway… I still think it’s healthier than cooking with so much oil.
4.) American/Diner: It depends what we mean by ‘American’, but apparently that’s a classification these days. If it’s totally traditional, here are some options: sweet potato fries, avocado, beans, rice, steamed vegetables, salad with olive oil and balsamic, bean/vegetable soup. Look at the menu, and ask for modifications. If there’s something I don’t like as part of a meal, I ask for an extra side of veggies instead, and then I drizzle olive oil on them… sometimes with sliced avocado on the side.. .yum! Add a side of beans, and you’ve got a protein, nutrient rich meal waiting for you at Joe’s Pub.
5.) Italian: First off, as a vegan, obviously pasta is cool, but as a gluten-phobe, it may not be. These days, many Italian restaurants offer gluten free pasta (I still live in LA so perhaps that’s not true for the rest of the planet), but either way, ASK. I tend to lean towards risotto (rice based/gluten free) with marinara and sautéed veggies, a wonderful arugula and beet salad on the side, add avocado for some healthy fats. If the restaurant serves pesto sauce, make sure there is no parmesan in it. Sauteed broccolini/spinach on the side is a must. Portobello mushroom with balsamic vinegar and olive oil is also a wonderful, healing choice.
6.) Mexican: I love how everyone thinks Mexican food is unhealthy. It’s not… unless you’re stuffing yourself with cheese and meat, which is what most people do when they eat Mexican. It’s my favorite, due to the vast array of gluten free AND vegan choices that already exist (hence less asking the waitstaff to make modifications). First of all, ASK FOR CORN TORTILLAS. They have them. But, if you don’t ask, they might give you flour tortillas. Corn chips and guac (eat them mindfully and slowly), corn tacos with vegetables, side of beans and rice, no cheese, no meat—you have plenty of protein with beans, healthy fats with avocado, and veggies. Sometimes I’ll even order an extra side of sautéed veggies to stuff my taco with. As Michael Pollan says, ‘Eat food, not a lot, mostly plants.’ More is less when it comes to vegetables.
7.) Greek: YES!!! Kalamata olive heaven! Haven’t we all heard that the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest? Salad, olives, avocado, hummus, lentil soup. Be careful of the pita (gluten), unless you don’t mind gluten. Healthy oils, protein, veggies. That was an easy one.