Making healthy choices when eating out is tough, and it can be even more of a challenge if you follow a vegan diet. But choosing healthy vegan fast food?! That just seems impossible…
But it is possible! And I’ve got some tips to help you along the way. Finding healthy vegan options will take a bit of effort and planning, but the same goes for finding healthy meal options in general.
Even if you’re not vegan or don’t adhere to a plant-based diet, don’t go away just yet! If you’re a vegetarian, if you’re trying to eat dairy-free, if you’re trying to eat less meat, if you have other dietary restrictions, or if you’re just trying to be more healthy, you might find these tips helpful.
And, if you’re considering adopting a vegan lifestyle or trying to eat more plant-based foods, these ideas might give you some insight!
The Key to Healthy Eating Out: Do Your Research!
If you’re looking for vegan or healthy choices at a restaurant, you’ve got to plan ahead!
If you know where you’re going to eat, browse the menu online beforehand to see if there are any options that suit your lifestyle and preferences.
Call the restaurant ahead of time to politely ask them about their vegan menu options, or options that suit your dietary needs.
You may find nutrition information on some menus or nutrition calculators online, but some restaurants make it harder to find this information than others. (If you can find it at all! At Cheesecake Factory, the nutritional info is only available if you are in the physical restaurant and specifically ask the host or hostess to see the special nutrition facts menu…)
Dunkin Donuts Menu with Nutrition
Chipotle Nutrition Calculator
McDonald’s Nutrition Calculator
Unfortunately, you may not always be able to find a menu item that’s labeled “vegan,” but you can get creative and find something that works for you:
Some menus denote vegetarian options with a “v” or another icon, and those can often be vegan options with some slight modifications.
If you ask the cashier (or waiter) about their vegan options, they may be able to help you find something (I would hope!)—just be aware that they may be misinformed about what veganism is…
If they don’t know much about veganism, just be straightforward about what you can and cannot eat. Ask about the ingredients in the food so you can decide for yourself.
You can always turn to the selection of side dishes to build a meal for yourself.
You may find items that look entirely plant-based, but have some sneaky ingredients. If you follow a strict vegan diet, dig deeper with your research!
Subway has some breads that contain lactose or honey.
Even if you find a salad with all plant-based ingredients, you may get to the restaurant and see that cheese was sprinkled onto your salad! Ask ahead of time to be sure of what comes with your dish!
Starbucks has a disclaimer noting that products may contain allergens, “including, dairy, eggs, soy, tree nuts, wheat, and others.”
Look for disclaimers like this on other menus and restaurant websites so you can make informed choices!
It’s always best to ask for your food exactly how you want it to be safe.
Don’t Be Afraid to Customize your Food!
YOU have every right to ask for your food how YOU want it. Most waiters and chefs would rather you be specific and straightforward, so they can work within your limitations and ensure that you’ll enjoy the meal. At fast food restaurants, this may not always be the case, but you’ve always got to ask questions. Of course, it’s always best to ask politely, and be flexible if some modifications aren’t possible.
Ask the waiter or cashier what ingredients are in a menu item, and how it’s prepared.
Sometimes, the menu doesn’t tell the whole story, so always ask questions to learn more. Then you can request your desired modifications.
Is the dish cooked in butter, or is it made with butter?
Was the sauce or dressing made with cream, milk, or butter?
Are the spreads/condiments on your sandwich dairy-free?
Does the coffee come with cream?
Is the oatmeal pre-made with added sugar or cream (or powdered cream)?
Omit items you don’t want, or substitute for items that are healthier or suit your lifestyle.
Sometimes it’s as simple as choosing a salad and asking to omit the chicken if you’re a vegetarian, or substitute with salmon if you’re a pescetarian. And, many menu items that aren’t marked as “vegan” can easily become vegan options with some minor modifications!
If you don’t want the French fries, ask if you can substitute with a side of veggies.
If a salad looks delicious besides the cheese or bacon topping, ask to leave off those toppings.
Skip the dairy-based sauces, or ask if the restaurant has other options.
Request alternate cooking preparations.
If you order a veggie burger or other veggie-friendly proteins, you may want to ask that they’re not cooked on the same grill as other meats!
Ask if veggies can be steamed or cooked in oil instead of cooked in butter.
If veggies or proteins are fried, ask if they can be steamed, pan-seared, grilled, or baked.
Ask for dressings, condiments, or other add-ons on the side!
Dressings and condiments often can be packed with calories, fats, or sugar, AND they can often contain dairy. You can either omit them, or request them on the side so YOU are in control of how much you use on your dish.
Are All Vegan Options Healthy Options?
No matter what kind of diet you adhere to, wholesome foods that provide real FUEL for our bodies are always healthier choices. That means eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and eating less highly-processed foods, packaged snacks, and items with long ingredients lists. Even if a processed food is “vegan” or “gluten-free” (like a potato chip), it may not be a healthy choice.
Be aware: most vegan meat substitutes and cheese substitutes are highly-processed soy products. Though soy is a plant-based ingredient, the extreme processing and additives make those foods not-so-fuel-filled choices (like we discussed in the DIY Processed Snacks episode)! They may be vegan, but they’re not doing our bodies many favors. Keep this in mind when eating out and looking for vegan fast food options—often, vegan restaurant food is highly-processed or fried (which means unhealthy trans fats)!
It’s very possible to make healthy choices as a vegan—even when dining out at a restaurant. If you’re considering a vegan diet, you can incorporate it into your healthy lifestyle. A vegan diet can be great for some people, and not for others. As with any healthy lifestyle, you’ve got to arm yourself with information and educate yourself! Do your research so you can make informed decisions about how to best nourish your body.