So many people today have dietary restrictions — ranging from gluten intolerance to lactose intolerance to veganism. Special diets are so common, in fact, that restaurants have gotten used to making custom meals on the fly.
So if a restaurant doesn’t have an entrée you’re willing to eat, don’t be shy about asking for a custom meal.
Here’s a time-tested approach. Look at the menu for the ingredients in other entrees. Then ask if the chef could create a plate with just those ingredients.
For example, at Mexican restaurants, I regularly ask for a plate of romaine lettuce, whole beans, and a “double side” of guacamole — with NO rice or tortilla shell. I’ll also request grilled vegetables if available.
Some sandwich shops will let you add grilled mushrooms to any sandwich. Keep it simple so it’s not too difficult or time consuming for the chef.
For many more specific tips for eating well at restaurants, airports, hotels, and on road trips:
1) Choose whole grains over flour products. For example, oatmeal is more nutritious (and less fattening) than a bagel, pancakes, French toast, or sugary cereal. At dinner, brown rice is a better choice than breads or buns.
2) Keep healthy snacks in your car or bag. For example: fresh fruit, trail mix, almonds, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or Lara bars. Then when you get hungry while away from home, you won’t have to resort to second-rate restaurant food or processed snack foods.
3) Order platters, not sandwiches or wraps. At restaurants, ask for the “guts” of your sandwich on a bed of greens, not wrapped in bread. For example, when hummus is available, ask the restaurant to serve it on a bed of greens. At Mexican restaurants, ask for a plate of beans, romaine lettuce, and guacamole – no tortilla.
4) Dress your salads with olive oil and vinegar. Or ask for lemon wedges and squeeze them over your salads. This will save you from processed salad dressings with questionable ingredients.
If a friend invites me to meet at a certain restaurant, I’ll look for their menu online to see if they have something I can eat. If there’s no menu online, I’ll call and ask what they have that I’m willing to eat. If there’s nothing good, I’ll suggest another place.
If you try to bring a container of hummus or almond butter through security, it’ll be confiscated. (After all, garbanzo beans and almonds pose a serious threat to airline safety!) But if you bring a hummus sandwich or almond butter sandwich, you can skate through with no hassles. Go figure.
Many airports have smoothie places. Panda Express offers pretty good stir-fries. (And you can decline the white rice.)
Panera now has a “Mediterranean Veggie” sandwich with hummus and feta cheese. You can ask them to serve the hummus, cheese, and vegetables on a plate of romaine lettuce instead of a wrap.
Even some regular sandwich places offer “3 Bean Salad”, a high protein addition to any salad.
Even in cities where you wouldn’t expect it, you can improvise respectable meals. For example, the Kansas City, Missouri airport has a Mexican restaurant that happily prepared my favorite plate: beans, guacamole, grilled veggies, and romaine lettuce.
ROAD TRIPS: BEING SELF SUFFICIENT
The great thing about driving is that you don’t have to worry about the weight of your luggage. So you can bring a large cooler filled with ice packs and vegetables. You can also bring canned soups, an electric hotpot, cutting board, knife, bowl, silverware, and even a crock pot, blender or Vitamix!
Best of all, you can bring all the fresh fruit, lemons, and avocados you want.
For easy “tailgate preparation”, my friend Elaina Love brings travel knives, wooden utensils, a wooden bowl, and a mini cutting board.
Bringing a blender allows you to make smoothies in the mornings.
One of our students travels with a small slow cooker crock pot. Then when she stops at a hotel/motel, she soaks her grains (steel cut oats, millet, quinoa) with water overnight. Then in the morning she has a nice hot cereal ready which she sweetens with agave nectar. She uses the fruits that most hotels have in their continental breakfast.
If you travel a lot, consider buying a Thermoelectric Cooler. You can plug it into yourcar’s power socket. And some models offer a separate adapter that you can plug into any electrical outlet.
Fruit is great because it doesn’t require refrigeration. Avocados turn salads into filling meals. And lemons can be squeezed over salads.
ROAD TRIPS: RESTAURANT TIPS
Before departing on a road trip, you can map out all the Panera’s, Subways, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and/or Baja Fresh restaurants on your route.
I strongly prefer whole foods to flour products and processed foods. This makes it hard to get fed at airports and on road trips. However, here are strategies I’ve come up with…
MEXICAN RESTAURANTS are my favorite, because they all have beans, guacamole, and romaine lettuce. That’s all I need to make a meal. And some have grilled vegetables too!
Some healthy burrito places even offer brown rice and whole wheat tortillas.
But most Mexican restaurants only serve white rice. So I tell them to hold the rice and tortilla shell. (White rice and flour tortillas are both refined foods.)
I also request whole beans — not refried. The oil or lard in refried beans adds extra fat and calories.
When I insist that I only want beans, guacamole and romaine lettuce (and grilled veggies, if available), the counter people sometimes look baffled. They can’t imagine a Mexican plate without a tortilla and rice!
But why should I burden my digestive system with empty calories when I can have a plate of whole foods?
Ironically, the counterperson often charges me a very low price. Why? The plate they make me is nowhere on the menu.
I usually decline the corn chips, because most non-organic corn grown in the U.S. is genetically modified.
ASIAN RESTAURANTS (Chinese, Japanese, etc.) are my second choice. Some have brown rice.
Unfortunately, most non-organic soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. So if you’re a vegetarian, only you can decide which is more important: avoiding GMO food or including tofu on your vegetable plate.
INDIAN RESTAURANTS always have dishes with lentils, split peas, and chick peas.
Some Indian food is spicy, so it’s natural to “cut” the spiciness by eating it with rice. However, the buffets at many Indian restaurants include raw lettuce and cucumbers. In these cases, I combine spicy food with cucumbers instead of rice. For the reasons mentioned above, I tell them to hold the “nan” (a fried bread made from white flour).
ITALIAN RESTAURANTS. Pasta is a refined food — just like white rice. So I personally avoid Italian restaurants. To their credit, however, Italian restaurants usually have romaine lettuce for their Cesar salads.
GROCERY STORES are a good option when you’re on a road trip. So before traveling, search online for health food stores along your route, or near your destination. Then you can stop to buy refrigerated foods.
I’ll sometimes stop at a grocery store, and buy a container of hummus along with a cucumber or a bag of pre-washed salad greens. I can slice up the cucumber and dip it in the hummus.
Plus, more and more conventional grocery stores have a small “Natural” section where you can find packaged foods without the artificial ingredients. For example, you can buy a natural cereal. Or you can buy natural peanut butter and then eat it on whole wheat bread or apples.
Before traveling, search online for health food stores near your destination. Then you can stop to buy refrigerated foods like fresh greens and hummus. When traveling to conferences in Las Vegas and Washington D.C., I was surprised to find a Whole Foods Market within walking distance of both hotels.
PLANNING AHEAD FOR ROAD TRIPS
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, visit www.happycow.com before traveling. You’ll find a GLOBAL directory of veg-friendly restaurants and health food stores. My friend Lara Adler does this every time she travels internationally — which is a lot — and she’s found some incredible restaurants this way.
In the U.S., visit www.localharvest.com to locate farmers markets near your destination, or on the way. You’re sure to find fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. And at some markets, you’ll even find homemade baked goods and hot meals.
For a list of all co-ops, health food stores, and green businesses with a quick zip lookup, my friend Sasha Luci recommends www.greenpages.org.
When you book your hotel room, request a mini fridge to store vegetables and other perishables. Some hotels will provide a fridge at no additional cost. But since they don’t have enough for every guest, it’s first come, first served. So reserve it in advance!
If a fridge isn’t available, ask if the wet bar in your room can be emptied out so you can store food in it.
As a last resort, bring your own cooler and fill it with fresh ice each day.
If bringing a cooler isn’t possible, use the bucket in your hotel room (the one normally used for a wine bottle).
Even if you have no fridge in your hotel room, you can bring almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or flax crackers and sprinkle them on your salad. And these are easy to pack in a suitcase. You can also buy flax crackers from either of these web sites:
My friend Meredith McCarty doesn’t like to rough it all. So when she stays at hotels, if she can’t get a room with a kitchenette, she’ll bring her own hot plate, or an immersion coil for making hot beverages. Then she prepares miso soup, oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat or millet, mochi and tea.
Pack a soft sided, collapsible cooler in your suitcase. Not only do they hold more because of flexible sides; they pack flat and are very light. Just tuck some covered containers or ziploc bags into your suitcase to hold and keep melting ice from leaking.
Nomi suggests packing a thin flexible cutting board. When traveling with two suitcases (or a companion), you can pack your blender’s carafe in one suitcase and its base in the other. Of course, fill the carafe with socks to avoid wasting precious suitcase space!
When flying in cold weather, think twice before filling your suitcase with anything that might freeze and expand. For example, I once packed a jar of almond butter and a plastic container of agave nectar in my suitcase. (The one I checked.) Fortunately, neither one exploded during transit. But I spent the whole flight worrying that the cold air outside would freeze these foods and cause the containers to burst.
GETTING ENOUGH VEGETABLES
Whether you’re at a fancy American hotel, or traveling in Costa Rica, it can be hard to get vegetables. (Ironically, during my trip to Costa Rica, the only restaurant I could find with a green salad was McDonalds!)
Here are some shrewd solutions to this problem:
Sea vegetables, such as dulse and sea palm, are lightweight and don’t require refrigeration. They can be rehydrated and added to any salad.
You can purchase silky sea palm, sea palm, sweet kombu and dulse from Ocean Harvest Sea Vegetable Company at http://www.seaweedmermaid.com; They are delicious right from the bag and easy to tuck into a purse or backpack.
This is one of only two companies on the west coast to test their seaweed for radiation. Their test done in May 2012 showed that their seaweed was radiation free.
Kale chips. These salted, spiced dehydrated kale leaves as addictive as Doritos — but far healthier. Search Google for recipes. You can also can buy them from Whole Foods or from:
Wheat grass tablets. You can buy these in a jar from any health food store. According to the label on Pines International wheat grass tablets, 7 tablets equals a serving of a deep green leafy vegetables.
Veggielicious is a mix of dehydrated raw vegetables including Broccoli, Green Beans, Sweet Corn, Peas, Tomatoes, Green Peppers, Red Peppers, Green Onions, & Carrots. It’s lightweight and doesn’t require refrigeration. You can order it here:
When traveling by car, my friend Jill Nussinow likes to pack mason jars with newly started sprouts (and sprout tops). That way she’s assured fresh “vegetables” for at least a few days. Of course, she rinses them with bottled or filtered water, not tap water.
When traveling by plane, you can pack dry grains, seeds or quinoa, and start sprouting once you arrive. And since jars are heavy, you can sprout them in a Hemp sprout bag or one of Elaina Love’s nut milk bags. In the Vegetarian Mastery Program, we cover sprouting fully in the lesson called “How to skyrocket the nutrition in nuts, seeds, grains, and beans”.
More tips: When it comes to sweeteners, most restaurants and hotels only offer white sugar and a carcinogenic alternative — like “Sweet & Low”. So it’s smart to bring your own sweetener.
Stevia and “Organic Zero” both come in single-serving packets, making them easy to travel with. On road trips, you also have the luxury of bringing Agave nectar, raw honey, or brown rice syrup.
(In the Vegetarian Mastery Program, we cover the pros and cons of these sweeteners in the lesson called “Healthy Sweeteners: How They Stack Up”)
Do you have other tips, advice, or suggestions to share? If so, please post a comment below so other members of our community can benefit from your ideas. If we use your suggestion in our forthcoming ebook, we will credit you. So let us know how you’d like to be credited. (Provide your full name if that’s what you want.)