Transitioning to a Vegetarian Lifestyle
During my time in Mysore one of my friends adopted a vegetarian way of eating. This was a fairly easy transition for him because we ate every meal out and the vegetarian selections in India are quite vast. But he remarked to me that he wasn’t sure what he was going to eat when he got home as he was not used to shopping, cooking and eating as a vegetarian. So if you are in the same boat as my friend (or just looking to incorporate more veggies) I thought I’d throw out a few tips for making the transition and sticking to the ‘ahimsa‘ way of life.
Let’s start with some tips for ordering at a restaurant or when you’re on the go…
- Eating breakfast out can be tricky. It is probably the meal that has the least plant based options in a typical restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, there are restaurants that have great options, especially in cities like San Francisco and New York. So this may not be much of a problem depending on where you live. The suggestions below are for when you find yourself in a restaurant, or airport cafe that offers very limited options.
- Oatmeal is usually a good and readily available choice. Just ask for an alternative milk (most places at least have soy) and make sure they have not added anything like cream cheese. If it doesn’t come with fruit ask if they can add some for you. Berries and a banana are usually available.
- The same thing goes for granola or cereal. Just try to avoid yogurt and sugary cereals as much as you can.
- You can usually get a whole wheat bagel or slice of toast . Skip the butter and just have a bit of jam. A mashed banana also makes a great topping for toast.
- Always look at the sides. You can usually find a few fruit options. Fruit and a few pieces of toast does not a stellar breakfast make, but it will do the trick if you’re options are limited.
Lunch & Dinner:
There are plenty of tasty healthy lunch and dinner options when you eat out. Here are just a few things to keep in mind if you find yourself looking at a menu without any clear veggie options:
- Vegetable Burritos. From higher end restaurants to corner taco stands, veggie burritos are usually delicious and packed with a variety of vegetables. Include beans and guacamole and you’ve got yourself a very tasty, satisfying lunch. For example at Balboa Café they have a breakfast burrito on the menu. I ask them to remove the eggs and chorizo and sub in any veggies they have on hand. The result is a delicious burrito of potatoes, black beans, guacamole, salsa, mushrooms and spinach (you may want to make sure the beans are not made with bacon fat or something else animal based).
- Veggie wraps or sandwiches. Restaurants will usually make a veggie wrap or sandwich even if it’s not on the menu. Scan the menu for veggies available in other dishes and point out those you would especially like. Ask if they can add hummus or avocado as a spread. Reposado in Palo Alto will happily substitute mashed black beans for cheese in their veggie quesadilla.
- Veggie Pasta or Grain. Again most restaurants will be happy to make you a veggie pasta or grain dish. If they have a pasta or grain on the menu then you can definitely ask them to do a veggie version. The restaurant staff is usually very happy to oblige and deliver a delicious vegetable based dish. Think pasta primavera.
- Pizza: First look for a veggie pizza and remove the cheese. I know this doesn’t sound that appetizing now but I promise it’s tastier than you think. If there are no veggie pizzas on the menu then scan the menu for vegetables and ask if the chef will make you one with some of these veggies. Here’s a good example: At the Brickyard there is a Mushroom & Shaved Parmesan pizza with bechamel sauce, truffle oil and herbs. I ask them to sub a red sauce for the bechamel and leave off the parmesan. It is really delicious!
- Always look at the sides. At the very least you should be able to put together a vegetable based dinner by combining three or four sides. If there is no grain option in the sides scan the menu for grains they may have on hand like brown rice or quinoa.
- I know no one likes to be high maintenance, and asking for modifications or making up a dish that isn’t exactly on the menu may give some of you major anxiety. But don’t worry about that and know that you are not alone. The more we ask, the more vegan options will start to show up on menus everywhere. And in my experience if you ask nicely the waitstaff and kitchen are happy to make a few changes or whip up a simple veggie dish just for you.
Please share your tips and tricks for ordering vegan in the comments. And check out my upcoming posts with continued tips for eating the ahimsa way:
Rice & Beans: the Delicious Vegan Staple
Eating Vegan in a Social Setting
Meditations on Milk
Adventures of Eating Vegan on the Road
Yikes! Am I Eating Too Many Carbs?