Just got back from a really awesome mini-vacation to the Oregon coast in January. No, we’re not crazy ;) It was a great experience for a number of reasons, but among other things, I got my first taste of what it means to seek out plant-based foods away from the safety of my own kitchen! Don’t worry, it’s not as frightening as it sounds.
Vegan Food “On the Go”: Learning to dine with confidence~
Even as a vegetarian, I always had to be careful when going out to eat. Many menu items seemingly vegetarian sometimes still had meaty ingredients hiding in there somewhere, or, were cooked with meat. Even vegetable soups were rarely vegetarian, made with beef or chicken stock!
Now, as a vegan living in a small rural Oregon town, the difficulty of dining out has increased tenfold, but, is far from impossible.
I see two pieces to the Vegan Food “On the Go” puzzle: Restaurants and Snacks.
First, here are my tips for finding vegan-friendly restaurants:
Your smart phone is your friend! A number of iPhone apps have left me pleasantly surprised with the number of vegan-friendly restaurant options.
- HappyCow ($2.99): This mobile version of HappyCow.net allows you to search for vegan, vegan-friendly, vegetarian, and vegetarian-friendly restaurants and health food stores near your specific location! This app was totally invaluable during my trip out of town, and also for finding new options near home! I found the customer reviews were really helpful. Also searchable by town or zip code, so you can seek out destinations when planning your trip! Allows you to “heart” your favorites for easy reference.Thanks to Happy Cow, we were able to find restaurants in unfamiliar towns, and enjoyed all of these awesome totally vegan foods:
- VeganXpress ($1.99): This super handy app lists popular chain restaurants, and the vegan options they offer, listed alphabetically by restaurant name. Includes such pre-vegan favorites of mine such as Jamba Juice, Taco Del Mar, Subway, Red Robin, Starbucks, and Cold Stone! Also includes a great comprehensive list of “accidentally vegan” foods, listed alphebetically under the categories Vegan Foods, Vegan Candy, and Vegan Snacks. Great for those times you can’t seek out a vegan or vegan-friendly restaurant specifically.
Obligatory word of caution: Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s nutritious or free from GMO’s, especially from some of these restaurants! Also, you need to decide where you stand morally before voting with your dollar, considering the app includes such places as McDonald’s and Burger King, two places I have a personal vendetta against supporting. #endrant
Google is your friend! If you find yourself at a popular chain restaurant staring at the menu, or if you find yourself at a grocery store staring at a snack, unsure if the ingredients on the list are vegan: Google it! I’ve had great success simply googling, for example, “Snyder’s of Hanover Sourdough Nibblers Pretzels vegan”. In most cases, I’ve found a website or discussion board that verifies whether the item is vegan or contains cleverly disguised animal products…
Ask your server! If you find yourself at a restaurant you know nothing about, and feel totally unprepared, a good quality server may be your only insight to the ingredients in your meal.
- Server Story #1: Last week, I met some friends for breakfast at a local diner, known for their killer pancakes, omelettes, waffles, and sandwiches. Before leaving home, I thought about the menu. What could possibly be vegan at this small town diner? Oatmeal! Fresh fruit! That would be my fallback plan. Just in case that was my only option, I brought my own homemade applesauce and banana, for sweetening a bowl of plain oatmeal.We looked through the menus. I scoured through the typical diner fare: pancakes, omelettes, waffles, biscuits, various breakfast meats, sandwiches, on and on.
I told the waitress up front that I had some dietary specifications, and she was really receptive to my questions. After going back to the kitchen (twice) to confirm with the chef that all of the breads, biscuits, pancakes, and waffles, did in fact contain dairy products, I ended up going with my original fallback plan: plain oatmeal with a side of fresh fruit. Just to be safe and more nutritious, I asked only for fresh fruit that was not canned. The oatmeal arrived, was sweetened with my homemade applesauce and fresh banana slices. I shared some bites with my curious friends, and the homemade applesauce was a big hit!
Was the server helpful? Yes, even though I was left with only one option on the menu. Was it an amazing breakfast? Not anything better than I could make at home. But, was it a quick and easy vegan breakfast, out in public, in a small town diner, sharing a meal with friends? Absolutely.
- Server Story #2: Today, Abe and I enjoyed lunch at a fine dining restaurant, which was included in our Groupon mini vacation deal.Again, I told the server up front that I had some dietary specifications, and he was also really receptive to my questions. After going back to the kitchen to check with the chef if the carrot soup was vegan, he returned to the table and proudly reported that the carrot soup was made with vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, carrots, onions, leek, fennel, and seasonings. Perfect!
Obligatory word of caution: Just because the server tells you it’s vegan doesn’t mean you should blindly take their word for it. Use common sense when making your decision. Is it really likely that <insert food item here> is vegan, at this super non-vegan restaurant? Or, is it more likely that the server assumes it’s vegan? Better safe than sorry.
Be very, very, very specific! Not everybody, even those in the food service industry, is going to know exactly what ‘vegan’ means. For all they know, some so-called ‘vegetarians’ eat fish, right? I find it’s best to ask if certain items have meat or dairy, rather than asking if certain items are vegan. Heck, even go so far as to go into a little detail, and specify that you are meat, milk, butter, egg, and dairy free. That should help avoid any confusion!
- Server Story #3: About three years back, I met some friends for lunch at a new cafe in our small town. Keep in mind, I was vegetarian then. The menu didn’t list many vegetarian meal options, or any veggie burger options, but knowing that some restaurants carry them without listing them on the menu, I thought I would ask for some more details.Me: “Do you happen to carry a Gardenburger?”
Waitress: “No, sorry. But we do have a chickenburger and a fishburger.”
Me: “Um, no thank you… I see your soup of the day is potato; does that have any meat in it?”
Waitress: “No it doesn’t! Oh, but it does have bacon.”
Me: “I’ll have a grilled cheese sandwich, please.”
Don’t be afraid of substitutions! Remember, it is a food service provider’s mission to provide you with food. Ask respectfully, and many servers and chefs will bend over backwards to give you exactly what you want! Within reason, of course. Don’t expect most restaurants to have vegan ‘cheese’. But do expect most restaurants to be happy to make substitutions to meet your needs.
Second, here are my tips for keeping vegan-friendly snacks on hand:
Always count on fresh fruits and veggies! Remember, when you’re traveling or vacationing, you don’t always have to rely on restaurants. A quick stop at a grocery store or local farmer’s market can yield great healthy vegan snacks.
Fresh fruits like bananas, apples, oranges, and all varieties of berries, as well as fresh veggies like carrots, can all keep well without refrigeration. Great to pack along in the car, or even while out walking about. During our coastal trip, I easily carried a small Envirosax lunch bag full of fruit and veggies everywhere we walked, which was actually a number of hours and a number of miles.
Have access to a mini-fridge? That really increases your options! Fresh veggies like cucumber slices, green beans, snap peas, carrots, celery, and other greens, all make great quick snacks to munch on when your tummy is grumbly!
Have access to a microwave? Even better! Did you know that all varieties of squash can quickly and easily be cooked in a microwave? That’s right, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, butternut squash, kabocha squash, pumpkin: just poke a few vent holes through the exterior, put it on a plate to catch the little bit of liquid that will leak out, microwave for 15-20 minutes, let cool, cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and enjoy the sweet, natural flavor of filling, nutritious squash.
Here’s a peek at our hotel snacks:
Nothing fresh? Consider freeze dried! Frustrated with the lack of unsweetened dehydrated fruit options readily available, I was pleasantly surprised to discover freeze dried fruits and veggies! In a pinch, the Just Tomatoes brand is a little expensive, but a lot awesome, providing packets with freeze dried corn, peas, carrots, strawberries, and much more. If you have time to plan ahead, I recommend checking out Shelf Reliance, which sells small pouches to coffee-can sized freeze dried fruits and vegetables of all varieties. Perfect for snacking.
In a pinch, you can always find “accidentally vegan” snacks! There is a veritable plethora of snacks, baked goods, and junk foods that are, as they suggest, accidentally vegan. Check out this surprising list, including items such as Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, Oreos, Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate, Swedish Fish, Jujubees, Krispy Kreme Fruit Pies, Nutter Butters, Ritz Crackers, and Bisquick.
Do be cautious of a number of items that are surprisingly not vegan. Altoids and Planter’s Dry-Roasted Peanuts contain gelatin; Raisin Bran and Cheerios both have vitamins that are derived from animal sources; Galaxy’s Veggie Cheese and Trader Joe’s Soy Cheese contain casein. Read labels carefully!
- Animal Free (Free!): This super helpful app lists common animal ingredients you may not recognize, along with “commonly misunderstood or unfamiliar vegan ingredients that will help aspiring or new vegans expand their dietary horizons”. The app also includes a barcode scanning feature, which will tell you how many of the app’s users have listed that product as vegan!
Obligatory word of caution: Again… just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s nutritious or free from GMO’s, especially from some of these brands! This list of accidentally vegan snacks should be used as a last resort.
Do you have any more tips and suggestions? We would all love to hear your input! Remember, I am only now six weeks along my vegan journey, so this is a new development in my life. I would love to start a lively discussion with vegan tips and tricks for finding food on the go.
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New recipes added this week:
Sorry, no time for new recipes this week! I am still hoping to post new recipes soon, including Vegan Pizza Bowls (original recipe), Vegan Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins (altered), and OMG Oven Baked Onion Rings (review).
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Upcoming Discussion Topic Ideas:
GMO… You may be surprised about the “health food” brands containing genetically modified ingredients! How to keep unnatural foods out of your life~
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Highlighted food and fitness day from this week:
Monday’s Meal Plan:
Raw Protein Vegan Meal Powder (Cocoa) with Frozen Banana and Fresh Blueberries. Orange on the side.
Raw Green Beans
Dining Out at Marco Polo:
1 cup Hot and Sour Tofu Soup
1 cup Purple Jasmine Rice
Vegan Sweet & Sour Tofu & Vegetables
Homemade Vegan Pizza Bowl: Zucchini, Onion, Artichoke Hearts, Gardein Chick’n Strips, Vegan ‘Paremsan’, chopped garlic, and pizza sauce, in a bowl. Note: also makes a killer lunch on the go!
Adam’s Chunky Peanut Butter (no salt added)
Lundberg organic Brown Rice Cake
Monday’s Fitness Plan:
50-minutes Water Aerobics
30-minutes Aerobic Kickboxing
How Did Monday’s Nutrients Look?
I got a whopping 97 grams of protein today.
Good fiber, came in at 55 grams.
Maxed out Vitamin A (108%), Vitamin C (518%), & Iron (442%).
Came in just shy of what is recommended for Calcium & Potassium.
Sodium was a little high, came in at 3295 mg. This is most likely due to dining out, instead of my usual totally homemade meals.
Carbohydrates were just under.
Sugars were just over.
Cholesterol, as usual, was 0.
Calories In = 1840
Calories Out = 730
Net Calories = 1110