Tips for dining out with dietary restrictions

shutterstock_78995752For many, dining out is an enjoyable social gathering and special occasion. However, it can also be a struggle if you have food allergies, likelactose intolerance,or other dietary restrictions, such as a vegan diet.

Most menus in restaurants focus heavily on animal protein, including meat, cheese and eggs. As accommodating as many eateries are, inquiring about plant-based options bombards you with questions – from both your fellow diners and service staff.

Not only does this put you in an uncomfortable spotlight, but it canalso cause a scene that takes away from the occasion. Likewise, if everyone else at the table is indulging in three courses while you pick away at a salad, you may feel left out of the festivities.

And while more restaurants are catering to the needs of guests with food restrictions, you can avoid an awkward situation by being prepared. Below are some tips to stay true your diet – and to yourself – while enjoying a satisfying meal among good company.

Plan ahead

If you know where you’re dining, you’ve got an opportunity to plan ahead. Most restaurants post their menus online, so scope it out to see what the options are, or what can be altered to fit your dietary needs.

If the choices are looking slim, call ahead. Most restaurants appreciate the courtesy of being made aware of dietary restrictions – it allows them to better to serve their guests.

Many will make suggestions of dishes that can be modified to accommodate your restrictions, while others provided special dietary meals not regularly featured on their menu. Others may even customize a meal to your liking.

Get creative with sides

If dining out was a last-minute decision, and options are limited, make a meal in a pinch by choosing a few plant-based side dishes. Couple veggies with starches, like rice, beans or pasta. Swap out butter for olive oil, and enjoy a balanced meal.

Go ethnic

While the North American diet is heavy on animal products, many other cultures enjoy cuisine that is naturally dairy-free and vegan-friendly. Next time you plan on eating out, consider a meal at a Japanese, Indian, Thai,  Mexican or Middle Eastern restaurant.

What are your tips for dining out with dietary restrictions?