At the very end of last year, I decided to try being a vegetarian. I love going to restaurants, so one of the the things I was nervous about when I began this experiment was how I would be able to make that work after cutting out meat.
It’s been almost a year now, and I’ve learned a lot! Here are a few tips based on my experiences with this (as well as a few links to the Atlanta restaurants where I’ve tried out these techniques).
Decide how flexible you want to be.
So, I’ve already led you astray. The truth is, I’m not actually a vegetarian. I decided to continue eating seafood, so I’m technically a pescatarian. I won’t go into all of the reasons I made that choice, but part of it was so that I could have more options when eating out. While I’m pretty much 100% vegetarian at home, having fish and other seafood as an option at restaurants has been really helpful for me.
I also still eat Parmesan cheese, despite having recently learned that it’s not vegetarian, and while I really try to avoid non-vegetarian broth, food cooked with chicken broth isn’t an absolute deal-breaker for me.
In general, I’m less strict at restaurants than I am at home. If you’d prefer to be more strict, I definitely respect that, but it wasn’t the right option for me at the time. The way I see it, any progress toward eating less meat is helpful for our planet, so if having fewer choices at restaurants is holding you back from trying out vegetarianism, try starting off by just cutting out meat at home, or on certain days of the week, and give yourself the leeway you need to get started.
Learn to love sides and appetizers.
One of my favorite meals on the planet is the Thanksgiving turkey burger at the Square Pub, with a side of sweet potato tots.
I still miss it sometimes. I tried ordering it with a black bean patty once (the only vegetarian burger option they had), and it was… fine. But the slight weirdness of that flavor combo just made me miss the original version more.
I tried some of their other vegetarian dishes, and there were some really good ones, but I missed the sweet potato tots. Once I realized that the sweet potato tots were my favorite part of my favorite entrée, I decided to build my own meal by picking out a few sides.
Now, after a little bit of trial and error, my go-to at the Square Pub is a side of green beans, a side of sweet potato tots (obviously), and a side of mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s delicious, less expensive than an entrée, and so filling that I’m not always able to finish it all.
Don’t be afraid to ask.
If you’re wondering if something on the menu is vegetarian or can be modified to be vegetarian, just ask! The worst thing that’s likely to happen is that they say “no.”
Many restaurants also have vegetarian menus available upon request. While these are usually just the same vegetarian items that are available on the regular menu, it makes it easier to see what your options are. Often, I’ll even see one or two items that are unique to the vegetarian menu (such as at Kyma), or vegetarian versions of items that include meat on the regular menu (like the mac ‘n’ cheese at the Iberian Pig). Definitely worth asking about!
On that note, I avoided the Iberian Pig for months after becoming a vegetarian because it was one of my favorite restaurants, and I was afraid it would be too sad to go and not get the dishes I’d loved before. When I finally went, the opposite was true—the vegetarian options were delicious!
Learn to cook.
OK, this won’t help you with eating out, but if you’re a foodie, it will help you enjoy great food experiences at home that might be harder to find at restaurants now.
When I did a month long “trial” at the whole vegetarian thing, before I decided to go for it full-time, I borrowed The America’s Test Kitchen Complete Vegetarian Cookbook from the library and made several recipes from it throughout the month. They were basically all delicious, and really helped me to feel more confident that I could enjoy being a vegetarian. I’ve since purchased that book, and would definitely recommend it.
Try new things!
Your old favorites may not be available to you anymore after you give up meat. Rather than feeling despondent, make this an opportunity to try something new. If I’d kept trying to find ways to eat the Thanksgiving burger at the Square Pub, I would have never realized how great their macaroni is, and if I’d never gone back to the Iberian Pig, I wouldn’t have discovered its amazing broccolini.
Any time you’re changing your habits, it helps to focus on what you’re adding to your life rather than what you’re cutting out. Challenging yourself to dine out as a vegetarian can push you to try some amazing dishes that you might have never given a chance before. Enjoy the adventure!