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The Ultimate Guide on How to Eat Out on a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet

Food, Motivation, Tips

Planning to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet can be daunting, especially when other people are involved.

No matter which part of the world you’re in, you’ll seldom find an eatery purely catering to a whole food plant-based lifestyle.

Moreover, if you’re the only one following the WFPB lifestyle in your group, picking a dedicated plant-based diet restaurant can often leave you guilt-ridden. After all, you cannot (and should not) impose your preferences on others.

On the other hand, going to a regular restaurant may leave you hungry. The only option you had was to eat some side dishes.

Does that mean you should compromise, every time? Should you miss out on the joy of dining out with friends and family? Or, should you avoid eating out altogether?

We’ve got your back! Let’s figure it out.

Is it possible to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet?

Though it’s true that dining out on a WFPB diet can be difficult, it’s certainly possible.

All you need is some practical hacks and a bit of planning to navigate your way through. Neither you’ll need to forgo your social life nor you’ll have to cheat on your WFPB lifestyle.

The best-case scenario would be to pick a vegan or a vegetarian restaurant that your friends and family are happy to try.

If they are not as excited about dining out on a plant-based diet, your next best option is to choose a restaurant that serves non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian food.

Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based ingredients form a significant part of diets worldwide. Thus, you’re more likely than not to find a plant-based option to eat while dining out.

dining out on a plant based diet

The action plan that will help you eat out on a whole food plant-based diet

Once you have made up your mind to go to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet, now is the time for action. The best part is it’s not complicated at all.

Just keep in mind these four simple things to stay covered while dining out on the WFPB diet.

  1. Find a restaurant that has a plant-based menu. 
  2. Call up a restaurant in advance to learn if they can handle your request for plant-based options.
  3. Explain your dietary preferences to the server and ask them to guide you. 
  4. Suggest an alternative solution based on the restaurant’s menu. You will find that many chefs are open to a challenge.

Even if you find yourself in an unplanned situation, you can easily follow points 3 and 4 to make sure you have a decent option within your reach.

6 types of restaurants you will probably be able to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet

Knowledge is power when it comes to the WPFB lifestyle. Especially, of different types of restaurants that make your life easier to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet.

Some cuisines use plenty of plant-based ingredients in most dishes. Some are rather notably vegan-friendly. You are likely to encounter a perfect dish for yourself on their menu. If not, with some simple alterations many dishes can easily be turned into an excellent WFPB dish.

One thing is certain that you won’t be leaving with an empty stomach. Here are some of our recommendations to help you dine out.

Indian Restaurants

The food in India is enormously diverse. Every region has its distinct cuisine. Preparations of vegetables, lentils, whole-wheat flour, rice, millet, kidney beans, chickpeas, and spices are common across Indian cuisines.

Often, you may find North Indian and South Indian types of restaurants. You are also likely to find a pure vegetarian restaurant.

Some of the North Indian vegetarian dishes use dairy-based products (yoghurt, paneer, ghee) which you’ll have to look out for. Although oils used are primarily plant-based such as sunflower oil or mustard oil, you should be wary of the quantity used.

Here’s the list of a few vegan-friendly dishes you can order at a North Indian restaurant.

  • Aloo Gobhi (Potato and cauliflower tossed in spices)
  • Bhindi Masala (Okra stir-fried in spices)
  • Roti or Chapati (Whole-wheat flatbread)
  • Rajma Chawal (Kidney beans curry with rice)
  • Dal Tadka (Yellow lentils tempered with onions, tomato, and coriander)
  • Chana Masala (Spiced chickpeas)
  • Veg Kebab (Grilled minced vegetable patties)

Most South Indian dishes are vegan even without trying. Unlike North Indian dishes, South Indian dishes use much less oil (mainly coconut oil) and almost no dairy.

The curries generally have a base of coconut milk and tamarind. South Indian food generously uses vegetables, rice, fermented lentils, curry leaves, and other spices.

If you plan to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet at a South Indian restaurant, you will discover plenty of options including:

  • Sambar (Vegetable stew)
  • Rasam (Tamarind stew)
  • Avail (Vegetable curry in coconut milk)
  • Lemon rice (Rice flavored with lemon juice, coriander, and curry leaves)
  • Idli (Steamed cake with fermented rice and lentils batter)
  • Masala Dosa (Crispy rice and lentils pancake with mashed and spiced potato)

Oriental Restaurants

Oriental cuisine refers to the food of Southeast Asian countries such as mainland China, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

A variety of dishes are made using vegetables, rice, and soy products. The use of dairy products is rare. However, some vegetarian dishes may have fish sauce or oyster sauce. Make sure to ask to exclude such ingredients while ordering. 

Moreover, these cuisines use a variety of rice. You can go for healthier alternatives such as brown rice or purple rice.

Some of the delicacies that you may love at Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and other oriental restaurants are:

  • Steamed/sautéed/stir-fried vegetables and tofu
  • Vegetable curries such as Thai Curry 
  • Fresh veg spring rolls
  • Miso soup
  • Vegetarian sushi
  • Baked sweet potato
  • Seaweed salad
  • Veg dumplings (in a whole-grain based wrap)

Italian and Greek Restaurants

The restaurants serving Italian or Greek food can be a good option as both cuisines use a variety of plant-based ingredients. The only catch being you’ll have to get some dishes customized into dairy-free and whole-wheat-based options.

If you’ve gone to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet at an Italian or a Greek restaurant, some dishes that you can try are:

  • A vegetable pizza (without cheese and on a whole-wheat flour base)
  • Salads (excluding oil-based dressing)
  • Dairy-free pasta 
  • Baba ganoush (roasted eggplant spread with tahini and sesame seeds)
  • Grilled veggies with rice
  • Hummus (chickpea spread)
  • Greek salad (without cheese)

Mexican Restaurants

The Mexican cuisine offers numerous vegan-friendly options as well. Fresh vegetables, avocados, beans, corn, and rice are used widely in Mexican food.

Not to mention, sour cream, cheese, and excess oil are a few ingredients that you’ll need to get removed.

A few great dishes you can try at a Mexican restaurant are:

  • Tacos with vegetable filling and avocado spread
  • Fajitas or burritos loaded with vegetables and red beans
  • Guacamole and salsa with baked nachos
  • Rice with red beans

American Diners / Grill and Bar

Though American food is largely meat-based, it is not too difficult to find vegetarian dishes. Vegetables like potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, and bread frequently find a place on an American plate. However, at times, your options may be limited to side dishes.

If you happen to go to eat out on whole food plant-based diet at an American Diner/American Grill and Bar, you can choose from:

  • Grilled or boiled veggies
  • Vegetable burger (without cheese or mayonnaise)
  • Multigrain veg sandwich
  • Baked potato
  • Fresh vegetable salads

Poke Restaurants

Another place where you can easily find a vegan alternative is Poke՛ Bar. This food chain allows you to customize your bowl from a wide range of ingredients. They have many whole food plant-based options like brown rice and veggies. Easy, quick, and Whole Food Plant-Based.

dining out on a wfpb diet

The vegan alternatives you can try at fast-food chains

By now, you should have a fair idea of the types of restaurants you can go to if you want to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet.

But, there are times when you are on the run and need a quick bite. Occasionally, you may be with people who want to eat some junk, you’re hungry too but with no WFPB-friendly restaurant or option in sight, or you just want to eat something else. Plant-based meat alternatives may be an option.

Beyond Burger is one such product which gives a plant-based twist to burgers while retaining the taste and feel of a traditional burger. The burger’s patty is not only plant-based but also free of gluten, soy, and GMOs. It is not Whole Food Plant-Based though.

The growing number of vegans is pushing popular fast-food chains to add vegan offerings. To name a few, you can relish some vegan options at Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Baskin-Robbins.

Though not exactly WFPB, it is encouraging to see the vegan movement growing and expanding rapidly. Ultimately, this will help make plant-based foods more available.

how to eat out on a whole food plant based diet

How to find restaurants where you can eat out as a vegan?

So far, you’ve discovered the various options you have if you are going to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet. Now, the question is how to find the right place without having to spend endless time searching.

The following are a few quick ways to find a restaurant for dining out on a whole food plant-based diet.

HappyCow

HappyCow makes it very easy to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet. It is an online directory of vegan and vegetarian restaurants worldwide. You can search by city, region, zip code or simply click on the ‘Use my location’ feature and get a list of vegan-friendly restaurants near you. They also have an app.

The restaurants they list as vegan have at least 60% of vegan-friendly items on their menu. Additionally, you can find reviews and ratings of the listed restaurants that will help you make an educated decision.

Google Search

There’s probably nothing that you won’t find by a good old Google search. In case you couldn’t find the right place for you on HappyCow, search on Google.

Some of the keywords can give you better results than others. To easily find a suitable restaurant, type in:

  • Vegan restaurants near me
  • Vegetarian restaurants near me
  • Vegan restaurants in (you city/town name)
  • Vegetarian restaurants (you city/town name)

4 tips for a smooth dining out experience on a WFPB diet

Having a good time is most important when eating out. To ensure that you have a good experience if you plan to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet, the following tips will come in handy.

Prepare

The best way to deal with the anxiety of how to eat out as a vegan is to prepare yourself. Learning about the possible restaurant and food options will help you feel confident.

Additionally, a quick search on the restaurant, its reviews, menu, and other information ahead of time will make it easy for you to decide.

Moreover, you can enquire at the restaurant to learn if they can serve as per your dietary preferences.

Communicate

Once you’ve entered a restaurant, communication is going to be your most helpful tool.

Your server is the best person to assist you in finding the right item from the menu (or otherwise) if you convey your dietary preferences.

Most importantly, be patient and communicate politely. Sometimes a server or a chef may not completely understand your needs. Maintaining a positive attitude will only multiply the good times.

Also, don’t forget to show gratitude to your server for their efforts. It will also help open doors for your future endeavours to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet.

Get creative

Being the connoisseur of the WPFB lifestyle, you can count on yourself to come up with the best plant-based alterations in the dishes on a menu.

It can be a great opportunity for you to display your vegan culinary creativity. Either you can order WFPB bits of different dishes and combine them into a filling meal.

Or you can ask the chef to prepare something beyond their menu with the ingredients they have (of course, if they allow). Perhaps, veggies tossed in marinara sauce with steamed rice at an Italian restaurant.

Eat a little beforehand

It can be difficult to enjoy to the fullest if you’re starving. Your empty stomach can drive your attention away from conversations and ambience.

If you’re unsure about being able to find a filling option, it’s best to eat a little beforehand. This way you can manage with the bare minimum available and still have a cheerful time with your friends and family.

Got no option? Take a deep breath!

Despite your best efforts, sometimes, things don’t go your way. No need to stress out if you didn’t manage to find an ideal spot to eat out on a whole food plant-based diet.

If you find yourself stuck in a situation with no vegan option in your reach, it’s best to stay flexible.

Take a deep breath, calm yourself down, and go with the closest plant-based option you can find at hand.

The pandemic has reinforced the value of simple pleasures of life such as eating out. So, keep a balanced mind and focus on having a good time with or without a vegan diet.

Author credit: Aakanksha

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When you transition to a Whole Food Plant Based lifestyle, all sorts of challenges appear on the path. If you are serious about this, you may need to give up some of your favorite foods and flavors and try to replace them for new ones. You may feel limited at first, but you'll be surprised by the variety of new foods and flavors. To help you get started, we've put together a list of 5 simple food tips.

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