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T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
Tips for Dining Out on a Plant-Based Diet

If you are old enough to remember the film Five Easy Pieces you’ll remember Jack Nicholson ordering a chicken salad sandwich, hold the butter, mayo, lettuce, and chicken because all he wanted was a piece of toast. He just couldn’t seem to persuade the waitress to give him something that was not on the menu. Thankfully, times have changed and now it really is possible in most restaurants to order special items, or remove items from dishes that are not prepared in advance.

Check out the following tips for dining out while staying true to your plant-based lifestyle:

  • Check the restaurant menu online before you arrive.
  • Identify the dishes that are most likely to be low-fat and full of vegetables.
  • Look for steamed, baked, and grilled choices.
  • Avoid dishes described as crispy, fried, rich, and creamy.
  • Don’t be shy about asking for what you want and need. In many cases, you may be surprised that the chef, waitstaff or restaurant owner will be happy to accommodate your needs.
  • Order a hamburger with all the trimmings and hold the hamburger. That is if there are not veggie burgers on the menu. Make sure to ask if the veggie burger is vegan.
  • In a sub shop, order a sub piled with any veggies and vinegar or mustard as a dressing.
  • Order a pizza without cheese and load up on the vegetables. You can also ask for extra sauce. Or you can try asking for a salad pizza which is crust topped with salad. For a no oil option, ask them to hold the dressing and just add vinegar. Many pizza restaurants have dried herbs and seasonings like garlic and onion at the table which you can add for more flavor.
  • Try calling ahead to to ask about plant-based options. Usually the chef will appreciate that you have called in advance and may even enjoy the challenge of preparing a whole food, plant-based meal!
  • Try using the HappyCow app or website to find the most veggie friendly restaurants.
Additional Suggestions for Eating Out
(Adapted from The China Study Solution)
Restaurant Suggestions Avoid
Chinese Steamed vegetables and brown rice and order sauce on the side Animal products
Thai Vegetarian dishes served with rice or noodles, steamed with sauce on the side Fish sauces and other animal products, high fat curries
Indian Vegetable based dishes, lentils, soups Ghee, cream, yogurt sauce and other animal products
Greek/Middle Eastern Hummus, tabbouleh, lentil dishes, veg sandwiches Cheese and other animal products
Mexican Veggie & bean burrito/tacos/fajitas with salsa or black bean soup Fried tortilla chips, sour cream, cheese, and other animal products
Japanese Veggie sushi, seaweed salads, veggie & noodle/rice dishes and order sauce on the side or miso soup Fish sauce, fish and other animal products
Italian Whole grain pasta served with veggies and red sauce Cheese and other animal products
Ethiopian Veggie and bean stews/dishes Animal products

Dining out while eating plant-based can be wholesome and enjoyable. And while many restaurants now offer vegan options, it’s important to choose whole food, plant-based options (minimize oil and processed foods) as much as possible. Realize that the more you eat out, the worse you’ll do with your healthy eating lifestyle. There’s no sugarcoating that fact. But when you do go out, you can make much healthier choices.

Happy plant-based dining!

  1. Campbell TM. The China Study Solution: The Simple Way to Lose Weight and Reverse Illness, Using The China Study’s Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet. New York, NY: Rodale, Inc.; 2015. Previously published by The Campbell Plan.

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