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Living Inspiration

Interpreting a Meatless Menu
By Beth Liu

Sometimes it can present quite a challenge to find a good “meatless” meal at the average restaurant. Our family enjoys eating out often but, being vegetarian, it’s not always easy to find items that suit our diet. Here are a few ideas that we have tried that you may find beneficial for modifying meals that are not necessarily listed as “Vegetarian” on the menu. With a bit of creativity and ingenuity, you can usually find something suitable to eat almost anywhere.

When you are at a restaurant that does not have any vegetable or starch dishes listed separately on the menu, look at what is being served with the main entrees. You may see that the fish is served with a rice pilaf and broiled mushrooms, or that the steak dish is served with steamed broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes. You will find a lot of tasty vegetable dishes that you can combine to make a hearty meatless meal. When your plate comes out with all the variety of flavors and textures of the side dishes, it might just be the envy of everyone at the table! Another good trick is to look at the appetizer menu. Items served in this category are often more vegetarian in nature such as a Spinach Dip with Crostini, or Stuffed Artichoke Hearts (of course you will want to be aware of the ingredients used for the stuffing).

In a place like a steakhouse, going “vegetarian” can be as easy as simply ordering a green salad and a baked potato. With this combination, you could ask to have vinegar and oil to be served on the side, as well as some salt and pepper. That way you will know exactly what goes into the ingredients for the dressings and condiments for these items. This is especially important if you are trying to avoid such things as hydrogenated oils and other less healthy fats.

An Italian restaurant will often serve dishes that can be easily modified to be meatless as well. For instance, most pasta dishes can be made with a lighter version of a tomato-based sauce rather than a heavy meat sauce or cheese-based sauce. You might also try the Eggplant Parmesan. If you’re trying to take it easy with the dairy, you can ask them to go light on the parmesan, or just to leave it out altogether. It’s usually a breaded dish, which is quite hearty the way it is with no added cheese. If you prefer, you can have them lightly sprinkle some shaved Parmesan over the top. This way you can enjoy the flavor and also have control over the amount being used. For a totally dairy-free option, you can always order pasta with veggies in a garlic and olive oil sauce (just be aware that if the restaurant makes their own fresh pasta it is often made with eggs).

If you opt for a place that serves sandwiches or burritos you can alter them in many different ways for a more vegetarian rendition. At a burger place, you can forgo the big “meaty” burger patty and have them layer the bun with all the veggies that they have to make a wonderful veggie sandwich. For a great veggie taco or burrito, you can order a corn or flour tortilla, fill it with beans and your favorite veggies, and some salsa for added zest. This works even at Taco Bell!

When dealing with the waiter at a restaurant, state clearly and right up front what your needs are to avoid any confusion or miscommunication. Usually most waiters will be very accommodating and, if they can’t help you directly, will be able to consult with the chef or manager regarding your requests. If the restaurant is new to you, it is best to call ahead and talk to someone there about your dietary desires. That way you will have more information about what is available beforehand, and you won’t have to discuss it at great length with the waiter at the table. The restaurant may even have some dishes and combinations that aren’t mentioned on the regular menu available for vegetarians.

In spite of all the various options now available for vegetarian dining, you may still sometimes find yourself in a situation where there’s not much to choose from. In this case, just do what you can and try not to worry. Don’t let yourself feel deprived! Look instead at the things you can have rather than all those you cannot. Even if there are only one or two items on the menu that are suitable, your digestion may be better off just working on a simple meal rather than a large mixture of many different foods. At the very least, you can always have something to eat when you get back home. Remember most of all just to have fun and enjoy the experience. You may discover many new ideas along the way that will serve you well in your quest for a tasty and meatless meal!

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