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Dining out on a plant-based diet

So, I'm getting ready to travel for my sister's wedding, which will require eating at restaurants. It can often be frustrating finding places to eat that will prepare healthy, plant-based meals. To complicate things further, I'm gluten free. Traveling to certain cities are easier than others. Buffalo, where we live, is tough on its own, but I'm going to be in the South, where fried foods and butter are huge! When I called a restaurant to see what vegan and gluten free choices they had, they responded "We have shrimp and grits". Oye!

There are several restaurant survival tips I suggest before going to a restaurant or traveling:

1) Research! Ask friends or check out restaurants on Yelp and, a site devoted to vegan and vegetarian restaurant offerings. Both allow you to search by location.

2) If traveling, check out the local vegan Facebook page. Facebook is a great way to ask for good suggestions. I always check out what the locals recommend.

3) Call ahead-I find this is the best thing to do. Most restaurants will have beans, greens, and some form of potato, grain, rice, or pasta on their menu. See what the kitchen is able to do for you. Be sure to call at a time that's not during lunch or dinner so the manager or chef can speak to you.

4) Look at the sides. I often can put together a dish based on what the restaurant has offered as sides or within other dishes. Look to see if they have beans or lentils, greens, and vegetarian sauces on the menu, and create your own dish! Maybe it'll encourage the restaurant to offer such a dish once they realize they can make something!

5) Eat at ethnic restaurants. Thai, Indian, Ethiopian, Italian, Mexican all should have vegan offerings. They are also among the more interesting restaurants for flavor.

6) Eat at off times-it's easier for a chef to deal with dietary restrictions if it's not during their busiest times. For lunch that means avoid between 12-1, and dinners between 630-745/8 pm. Go late or early and you'll receive better service.

Here's a dish I recently pulled together at 2 different restaurants:

On the menu: Spiralized zucchini and marinara sauce

My Additions: I asked the waitress if they had beans and spinach. She said yes. I had them add it all together, along with some artichoke hearts-perfect!

Another restaurant was much more difficult. They had a vegan red sauce on hand, and a bunch of veggies like greens, mushrooms, and artichokes. When pressed, they found beans, and added it all together in a bowl. This was delicious, but the waiter wasn't all that helpful. After some really nice flattery, he came through. It's best to have a positive attitude and joke about things with the wait staff.

In time, I hope more restaurants will have lentils or beans on their menus. These are inexpensive items to have on hand, cook up in a flash (especially if they have canned beans), and they don't go bad. We need to keep asking for these foods, and the restaurants will deliver. There is power in the mighty fork and dollar! Just as restaurants have become more accustomed to gluten free offerings, they need to become well versed in plant-based choices. So vote with your fork, and patron restaurants that cater to healthy choices. Through our plates we can help transforms the food culture!

All my best in your dining adventures!

Until next week....

- Jessica from a town of Buffalo wings and writer of

Learn more on How to Eat Smart at the Office.

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