6 Tips For Eating Vegan in Social Settings
One of the most common concerns among people taking on a plant-based (vegan or vegetarian) diet? How they will graciously handle social situations, such as dining at a nice restaurant, attending a party, traveling in unknown locations, or sitting down as a guest at a dinner table. These issues can weigh heavily on people, as they don’t want to be difficult or draw too much attention to their special dietary needs. So, how can you handle these challenges, while still being true to your diet and lifestyle? That’s exactly the question I asked top plant-based dietitians. Check out these 6 Tips For Eating Vegan in Social Settings from nutritionists, including me! Please let me know if you have any particular challenges that we didn’t address, and I’ll be happy to give you more suggestions.
6 Tips For Eating Vegan in Social Settings
1. Make it a Potluck. “At home, I host plant based/vegan potlucks and it gives me a chance to share my favorite dishes and show others how easy it is to prepare plant-based meals,” says Sherene Chou, MS, RD. “For gatherings at a friend or family member’s home, ask the host ahead of time what you can bring and explain that you are vegan if they aren’t aware, so that it’s not up to them to create a tasty vegan meal for you or potentially serve you something that isn’t vegan. Crowd-pleasing dishes that are easy to transport included bean and veggie enchiladas, baked pasta and chili. This way you know you’ll have something delicious to eat and you’ll share tasty plant-based food with others as well!” says Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN of Whole Green Wellness. “I always bring along a delicious plant-based dish to every dinner party I’m invited to, even if the host doesn’t ask for one. Usually, my dish is the first one to disappear at the table—even if I’m the only plant-based diner. It also ensures that I have some healthy options to choose from for dinner, and takes some of the pressure off the hostess,” says Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian.
2. Show Off Your Plant-Based Cooking Skills. “I use every opportunity possible in social settings to showcase my love for cooking scrumptious vegan cuisine. Whether it’s a four-course meal prepared for twelve board members at our annual meeting; a community potluck; a nutrition class; or the foods packed along when traveling—I mindfully demonstrate the ease and sensory appeal of whole plant foods—because people are paying attention! Happily, I am usually badgered for the recipe, asked numerous questions about how I prepared the food, and am offered glowing compliments. It’s not only the taste that needs to be extraordinary—but the presentation of the food does too. It doesn’t take much to go the extra mile and use attractive, reusable and festive tableware, cloth napkins, tablecloths, freshly cut flowers from your garden, etc. Also, display those ingredients that are less common—this will spark great interest as well. People take notice when the presentation of a meal is extra special and they will likely reach for those items that were attractively prepared with care. The upshot is that the more completely plant-based meals are seen in a positive light—the more common they will become!” says Irana Hawkins, PhD, MPH, RDN.
3. Check Out the Menu First. “When it comes to going out to eat, always look up the menu online first and call the restaurant to confirm what can be made vegan. This way you go in with a plan and won’t be stressed at the table or take up too much of the server’s time asking questions.” says Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN of Whole Green Wellness. “Keep in mind that many restaurant’s menus change, so what’s online may not be what is being served the night you are there. It’s always a good idea to phone ahead to see what can be made,” says Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian. “I also call restaurants ahead of time and check to see if they can prepare a plant-based meal. Between the rise in plant-based consumers and allergies, this is becoming less of an issue. Chefs are usually very accommodating to creating a delicious dish that includes beans, veggies, and whole grains!” says Heather Borders, MBA, RD, LD/N.
4. Bring Some of Your Favorite Foods. “If I’m staying at someone’s house, then I load up a cooler and bring simple foods that I know I can prepare quickly. Frozen foods, cereals, fruits are great options. That way I know I’ll have something to eat and there is something to offer others as well,” says Heather Borders, MBA, RD, LD/N. “I always have packages of nuts and vegan jerky in my bag as protein alternatives. Many times when plant-based pickings are slim, you will often find a simple green salad, cooked vegetables, and grains, such as rice or bread. But it’s the protein element in the meal you are often missing in social situations. So I can just munch on some almonds or pistachios or a piece of vegan jerky later on when I’m missing out on protein,” says Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian.
5. Support Plant-Based Restaurants While Traveling. “When traveling, I travel to vegan-friendly cities and support local plant-based restaurants to experience the local culture. A great way to explore local cuisine is to shop where the locals shop for food, like the farmers market or community markets. There, you can find what’s in season, try new fruits and vegetables and support the local businesses. Last week, I was in rural Germany and was surprised to find so many options at the local market and bakery,” says Sherene Chou, MS, RD. “When I’m travelling by plane, there are several things I do to make sure I have something to eat. I always Google ‘vegan options’ in whatever terminal I know I’m flying through. I package cereal and sometimes fruit in a baggie and then buy soy milk at Starbucks. Instant cereal! I’ll bring veggies and hummus, Lara bars, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; all travel great. When in a different city, I always use Happy Cow or Vegan Xpress to find plant-based options in restaurants,” says Heather Borders, MBA, RD, LD/N.
6. Explain and Support Yourself. “When people ask about why I’m eating a certain way, I tend to just tell them it’s either an experiment or that it just makes me feel better. I may tell them that I’m trying out new recipes to see if I like them. The key is to just present the lifestyle as a choice that fits me, and it may not be a great fit for everyone else. As for support, there are countless social media groups and local meetup groups that offer community and an opportunity to learn more about how to sustain a plant-based lifestyle. This is so important, especially when someone is exploring new plant-based foods,” says Heather Borders, MBA, RD, LD/N.
Check out these blogs on how you can power up your diet with healthy, plant-based foods.
Main Image: A plant-based table, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN