Compared to our society as a whole Ross and I don’t go out to eat very often. Honestly, the first few years we were dating we hardly ever went out to eat unless we were invited by other people. We love just chilling at home together so our weekends were usually filled with eating in and watching movies from our couch, or hikes at the greenbelt with sandwiches in tow.
About a year ago we established Friday Night Date Night. I suppose we could easily enjoy our Friday night date night at home like we used to, but for whatever reason we really like to get out of the house on Friday nights now. We’re pretty simple people so we never really choose anything fancy – usually Panera Bread, Kerbey Lane, Whole Foods, or some local dive that we drive by and think looks good. While I manage to make a healthy vegan choice about 95% of the time, this isn’t something that I was always able to do.
Eating out has always felt special to me. When I was growing up our family only went out to eat for special occasions – birthdays, graduations, etc. Even then it wasn’t always a guaranty that we’d go out for such an occasion so each time we did it felt like a real treat. Dining at a restaurant meant that I got to enjoy foods that I wouldn’t normally get to eat – chicken Parmesan, chicken fried steak, baked cheese tortellini, Cajun Alfredo pasta, chips and queso, fried calamari, bread and olive oil, etc. Those are not foods that my family ever cooked at home so when I would go out I felt like I needed to really take advantage of what was being offered to me.
Those feelings stuck with me all through college and even for a while once I started to lead a healthier lifestyle. I am happy to say that as the years go on I feel the need to indulge less and less. That’s not to say that I won’t occasionally throw caution to the wind and order terrible things. Last night we celebrated Valentine’s Day early and I enjoyed a black bean burger, fried pickles, french fries and chips and salsa. And beer. Hey, it happens. For the most part, though, I do a really good job of ordering food that’s good for me but also taste delicious. I find that I leave the restaurant feeling much happier if I enjoyed a meal that was absolutely delicious but also good for me. It’s a win-win situation. Ross still has a harder time with this and almost always orders something with french fries and a coke when we go out to eat. He’s working on it though!
So, how do I manage to resist temptation when I’m eating out? Really there are two big keys to my success.
1. Plan ahead.
If I know that I’m going to be going out for dinner somewhere I try to look at their menu online before we arrive. It’s much easier for me to focus on the healthy choices when I’m alone and not feeling any pressure, and then when we sit down I don’t even need to look at the menu. It also helps to tell people, “I looked at their menu earlier and the Southwestern salad sounds great! That’s definitely what I’m going to get!” If you talk it up a bit to the people around you then it helps to sell it to yourself even more and solidify your choice. It also helps that the Southwestern salad at Kerbey Lane is honestly the best tasting thing I’ve ever eaten there. I get it with portabella mushrooms and no cheese. So. Frickin. Good. And it really fills me up.
Planning ahead doesn’t just help with healthy choices, it also helps make it easier to be a vegan eating out in an omnivore’s world. If I look at the menu before hand I’m able to quickly see what meat- and diary-free entrees are available, see if there’s a dish I really want but will need to be altered slightly, and see if they even offer anything remotely close to what I’d call edible. Sometimes there are literally no options for me on a menu. It doesn’t happen often but it does occasionally happen. If I’m looking at the menu ahead of time and I see that there’s nothing there for me to eat, then that gives me time to pick between my three options.
- Call ahead and ask the chef if they’ll prepare something for me with ingredients that they have on hand. Yes, I have actually done this before (at a steakhouse in Shreveport) and they were happy to accommodate my request.
- Call whoever I’m going out to eat with and see if they’d mind going somewhere else instead. Chances are whoever you’re going with will be fine with this, especially if you come armed with a really good alternative restaurant.
- Suck it up and eat before hand. I’ve never actually done this one. I’m a jealous eater (I get jealous when other are eating and I’m not) so there’s no way that I could stand to go out to eat with people and not eat something. It is an option though if you’re too scared to do one of the above, or if the people above all tell you no.
2. Don’t arrive hungry.
Okay, clearly you want to be hungry when you’re eating out, otherwise what’s the point of eating? I’ve learned that there’s a fine line between arriving hungry and arriving starving. I always eat something small at home before we leave for the restaurant. Sometimes it’s a plain piece of toast, sometimes an apple or a banana. I just need something in me so that I don’t attempt to order all the appetizers while everyone else is mulling over the menu, or get so hungry while waiting that I second guess the entree I decided on at home. This also helps to keep me from inhaling my food the second it’s finally set in front of me.
3. Love food.
I know I said there were two keys to my success and here I am listing a third. This third piece of advice is very important but it may not come as easily for some people. Part of the reason that I’m able to follow a healthy, plant-based way of eating when I’m in a restaurant is because I love food. I mean I really love ALL food. Oven roasted veggies? They make my mouth water! Rice and beans topped with pico de gallo and avocado? That hit’s the spot. Mediterranean veggie sandwich with a cup of black bean soup, or a side salad with balsamic vinaigrette? So comforting. Mushroom barley soup? Warms me up just thinking about it.
It’s easy for me to make healthy choices when I go out to eat because I love food, including vegetables. It’s harder for Ross to make healthy choice because he’s a much pickier eater than I am. I encourage all of you to slowing start trying to develop a taste for some of the foods you don’t like and overtime you’ll begin to like them.
I remember my parents telling me this as a kid and I genuinely thought they were crazy or just flat-out lying to me. I was so picky back then that I wouldn’t eat spaghetti if there were chunks of anything in the sauce, I dipped all vegetables in ketchup (and sometimes still didn’t eat them), and I wouldn’t eat my food if it had touched another food on my plate. I pretty much liked meat, potatoes, and corn. I even disliked strawberries because they had seeds. Clearly I was the crazy one. Now I’ll eat just about anything and I’m even trying to teach myself to like the few foods that still linger on my bad list. For instance, I used to gag if I took a bite of my McDonald’s cheeseburger as a kid and got a bite of pickle. Last night Ross and I shared an order of fried pickles and I definitely ate half of them. This is because about two years ago I decided that I was tired of hating pickles. Every time Ross would buy buy pickles and eat them at home I would take a bite. It started with just one, then after a while I’d try to get down two bites in a row. Now I love them!
I know that nothing I said here is truly ground breaking but sometimes just knowing that someone else is out there doing it helps to make it easier.
I’m also sharing this post with Healthy Vegan Fridays! If you haven’t checked it out yet then you really should!