The one thing you should never outsource.

People outsource all sorts of things.  You probably take your clothes to a dry cleaner.  You drop your car off to have the oil changed.  You pay FedEx to send a package rather than driving it there yourself.  We all love outsourcing tasks that are too difficult or we don’t have the skill set to do ourselves…it’s a natural and normal part of life.

But one task you shouldn’t ever outsource is your food.  That’s right.  You should shop for and prepare your own meals. At home.  Instead of paying a restaurant to do it for you. You could be like me, even and say you hate restaurants. Why?  There are several reasons to prepare your own food:

  1. The alternative is hideously expensive…why are you paying upwards of 70% more to have someone else prepare and bring you your food?  All you need is an hour twice a week to trek to your local Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or local healthy grocery.  Once the groceries are in your house, they’re easy to prepare and consume.  Even buying exotic, expensive ingredients is still way less expensive than eating out.  But you don’t even need fancy schmancy stuff to make simple, delicious vegan meals.  Think lentils and rice, potatoes and vegetables.  Stick to the basics and save a ton of money, which you can use to retire early.  If you think, heck, I make enough money, I can afford to eat out all I want.  No, you can’t.  Okay, if you’re saving 90% of your income, then fine, eat out all you want.  I’m guessing most people are saving less than 10% of their income and still have car payments, credit card payments and a house payment.
  2. It saves you time…your rationale for eating out is that it saves you time, but little do you know it really doesn’t.  Think about it.  You have to drive to the restaurant, find parking, wait to be seated, wait to give the server your order, wait for the food, wait for the bill, wait for them to run your card, then drive home.  That all takes time and should be factored in to the equation. Convenience is so often sited for eating out when it’s clearly not that convenient at all.  How many times have you had to wait longer than you thought for a table, or try to find another restaurant when the line was too long at the one your originally selected?  I was recently at a restaurant (against my will, trust me) and we waited at least 10 minutes just for the server to bring our bill, after we waited forever for everything else.  Of course it’s not the restaurant or server’s fault (they were busy), but still, why bother with that?  Remember, at home you don’t get a bill!
  3. Your kitchen is under your control…if you’ve never worked in a kitchen, you might be surprised at how food is prepared in one.  It’s prepared with more oil, salt, sugar and fat than you would ever use at home.  I was once in line at a Mexican restaurant and requested sautéed vegetables with my burrito.  I watched them dump a few handfuls of peppers, onions and potatoes into a pan and then casually add what looked like half a gallon of oil into the pan. Yikes! It’s not pretty, but it’s why restaurant food tends to taste pretty dang good…they’re cooking in a way that appeals to most people – and that means more of everything.  Eating at home means you get to decide how much salt (none would be good), sugar and fat gets added.  Everything is tailored to your tastes and desires, not local Joe at the next table that eats 5k mg of sodium a day and has killed off the majority of his taste buds eating chicken wings and nachos.
  4. You’ll learn some valuable cooking skills…I’m not saying you need to whip out creme brûlées a la Martha Stewart, but I do believe everyone should be able to prepare rice, cook potatoes, sauté vegetables and conjure up a few basic soup recipes like, I don’t know, split pea (my favorite) and coconut curry lentil.  Besides, cooking is actually kind of fun, and if you keep it simple (which I highly recommend), you’ll spend less than an hour on most everything.  Which is probably still much less time than it takes to eat out.
  5. You have much more control over your environment…weight loss experts attribute the number one reason for success or failure on a diet to…(drumroll, please)…their environment.  If you’re out at a restaurant and see french fries on the menu, you’ll have to use your willpower to order a side salad instead.  At home, you’re not likely to have french fries as an option, simply because they’re too time consuming to make.  You’re much more likely to eat healthy when healthy food is all you bought at the store and all you have in your home.  But eating somewhere like the Cheesecake Factory, with their seemingly endless entrees (have you seen the size of their menu?) and gazillion desserts (what is peppermint bark cheesecake?) will most likely result in you ordering something you would never prepare at home.  Don’t rely on willpower to help you win that fight.  Just choose not to go there and you’ll easily win that battle.

It’s true that Tim Ferriss sold more than a few copies of his book The 4- Hour Workweek by encouraging the outsourcing of pretty much everything.  However, food preparation is much too important to trust to, well, anyone. Outsource your dry cleaning, your car repairs and your heart surgery, but don’t outsource your food.  Make it yourself.  Stay away from restaurants.

I once read that the best rationale for managing your own money is that no one cares more about your money than you do.  I think that applies as much to food preparation and your own health as it does to investing.  No one cares about your health more than you do.  So manage it yourself.  Don’t relay up on restaurants to do it for you.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

Why I hate eating at restaurants.

restaurant

Most people love to dine out.  What’s not to like? You don’t have to shop, prepare or clean up after the meal.  You just open up a menu and order whatever looks good.  A server brings you the food, you eat it, pay and go.  Easy peasy.  So why do I hate eating at restaurants and think you should too?

Let’s talk about the hidden costs of eating out.  For one, it’s super expensive compared to buying your food and preparing it on your own.  Is it 70% more expensive?  Probably.  At least 50%.  You’re paying for the restaurant’s physical location, someone to purchase and prepare the food, your parking spot, the restroom, those red and white mints wrapped in plastic that come with your check that no one eats.  All of it.

But you’re also paying another price, and this is the real reason why I hate eating at restaurants.  Not only am I paying 70% more for my food (ouch), but I’m also not getting what I want.

Food quality varies…

When I shop for my own food and bring it home to prepare, I’m buying organic, seasonal food that I’ve personally selected.  The quality of the food I’m eating is in my control.  In a restaurant, not so much.

Chances are pretty good I’m getting nothing organic, unless I’m eating at a restaurant that makes an effort to buy organic, and then very often some produce is just not available organic at certain times of the year.  So I’m eating food that is full of toxins and pesticides and is also very likely, certainly in the case of corn and soybeans, a genetically modified organism (GMO).

Like most businesses, restaurants need to turn a profit in order to survive. They often buy the cheapest products that meet their needs.  Of course, this varies greatly, depending on whether you’re eating at Long John Silver’s or Thomas Keller’s French Laundry.  For most people, I’m guessing their daily dining choices are much closer to Long John’s.

Paying for tiny portions…

Quantity is another problem for me at restaurants.  I like salad.  Often, salad is the only thing I can eat at a restaurant.  So I order salads, but grudgingly.  Most restaurants put out crappy salads. Salads are like the acknowledgements or epilogues of books.  No one reads them and no one cares.

Sure, I understand, most restaurants have salads on the menu because they have to, not because it’s their specialty.  So they’re typically small and unremarkable, and often intended to be paired with an entree.  If they are meal size, they’re certainly not my meal size.  Maybe meal size for a size 0 model on the eve of a cover  shoot.  Not for someone that actually enjoys eating.

I’ve learned not to be shy about ordering 2 or even 3 salads.  Heck, I even ordered 4 salads at a restaurant in Boston once, and ate all 4 of them.  Easily.  It sure didn’t feel like I ate $52 worth of salad when the bill arrived.  I’m pretty sure the server assumed I had an eating disorder.

Terrible choices…

Not to mention restaurant menus.  They’re unimaginative and oh so predictable.  Especially in American restaurants.  Burgers, fries, chicken, steak, pasta and the aforementioned bits of lettuce and tomato masquerading as salad.  Gahhhh!  Can’t someone throw in some hummus, rice bowls, wraps, or anything that doesn’t come on a bun? Oh right, that wouldn’t be American style food.

I typically eschew the menu entirely and make my own entree from the side menus.  For example, when eating at a Mexican restaurant, I order sides of tortillas, beans, rice and guacamole to make my own veggie tacos.  Often I get bigger portions and pay less.

This isn’t your home kitchen…

I haven’t even gotten to the kitchen yet.  This is the worst part of eating out and it’s just so ridiculous.  Restaurant kitchens attempt to put out food that people like.  So they’ll come back.  It’s quite logical, I realize.  So I really shouldn’t be blaming the kitchens.  It’s the general public that’s to blame.  It’s the public that wants their food cooked with oil, butter, salt and all other manner of unhealthy, artery-clogging ingredients that supposedly make food taste good but really just ruin it.  I mean, if you have any tastebuds.  Which apparently, the general public does not.

How else would you explain those fries that come out with a weeks worth of sodium doused on them, after being fried in oil?  Or the pasta that comes out drenched in oil and marinara that is salty enough to raise a person’s blood pressure just looking at it?  It’s really quite pathetic how processed the food is that the general public wants nowadays.  Most food served in restaurants is downright unrecognizable from it’s original form.

Of course, the first thing they reach for is the salt shaker when the food arrives at the table.  God forbid they be able to taste what’s in front of them.  Even steamed vegetables, which I’ve ordered before, receive an automatic dousing of oil and salt prior to being served.  I mean, who wants to actually taste their broccoli?

You would never cook in your home kitchen the way a restaurant chef does.  Of course you don’t have a deep fryer (please tell me you don’t), or the amount of spices and other condiments available in a typical kitchen.  Even before the food arrives at the restaurant, salt and spices are added to increase the shelf life and taste.  For example, most raw chicken is pumped full of sodium when it’s packed.  Ditto for all those processed lunch meats. Some brands of french fries are also fried prior to packing, then fried again after reaching the restaurant.

Make no mistake, restaurants are not a great place to be if you’re trying to eat even remotely healthy.  Though some restaurant menus now include nutritional information (thank you California), there’s a pretty good chance these numbers aren’t even close to what you’re actually getting.  So you have no idea how many calories and fat grams you’re taking in when eating out.  Which is a good thing, since it may be heart attack-inducing.

The solution is easy…

I have an idea.  Go buy your own food at the grocery store.  Bring it home.  Cook it.  Eat it.  You won’t get a bill delivered by a surly server afterwards, and you’ll have control over the quality and quantity of what you’re eating.  You’ll also pay a lot less, even when buying higher quality organic produce.

Of course, this is assuming you have rudimentary cooking skills.  By rudimentary I mean you can boil water, which means you can make rice or potatoes or pretty much any soup you desire.  If not, learn those skills.  Practice creating a handful of recipes that you can make over and over again.  Buy a freakin’ crock pot. Get good at eating leftovers.  They’re delicious!

Basic cooking skills will save you more money, time and health than you can imagine.  Once you get some of the basics down, you’ll create food that is better than you can get at any restaurant.  Which is actually pretty liberating.

Sure, I understand that there are times when eating out is necessary.  Like when traveling, for example.  I just returned from Chicago and ate out twice a day for 4 days..  Though I did, for the record, make at least one of those a day at Whole Foods, which is technically a grocery store.

The point is, restaurant eating is full of hidden minefields to your bank account as well as your health.  Don’t eat out just because you’re lazy or you lack the ability to plan ahead.  Go get your groceries.  Make some food at home.  Bring it with you to work.  You’ll save time, money and your health.

Remember, no one cares about your health more than you do.  So why are you paying someone else to prepare your meals?  Since you are what you eat, food shopping and preparation should be handled by you and you alone.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

7 reasons why you can’t go vegan

decisions

  1. I won’t get enough protein on a vegan diet.

No matter how many randomized, double-blind, placebo control studies I show you to prove that a vegan diet isn’t deficient in protein, you’re still worried about protein.

Funny, though, you don’t know how much you currently get or even how much is recommended. You just know you need more.  More is better.  Besides, your neighbor’s  cousin’s personal trainer told him he needed more protein.   Arghhh!

For the love of god, be careful who you take nutrition advice from.   Better yet, do your own research and don’t take advice from anyone.    You could even read a book or two, like this one, or even this one.

According to the RDA, you need .36 g protein x weight (.lbs.).  So a 121 .lb woman needs 43.5 g of protein a day.  I take in this much eating only fruits and veggies, no overpriced supplements or foul-tasting protein powder needed.

Spoiler alert: a  whole foods vegan diet sufficient in calories is more than likely sufficient in protein.

If you’re not sure, use an online program like cronometer.  Log everything you eat for a few days and see how your numbers look.  I’m willing to bet you easily obtain the RDA for protein listed above.

I know.  You grew up, as we all did, being brainwashed into thinking we need protein, specifically animal protein.  Milk.  Meat.  Cheese.  Guess who orchestrated all that?  How about the industries that stand to profit from the public eating excessive animal protein?

So educate yourself!  Stop accepting random nutrition information from a friend of a friend or the cover of Men’s Health magazine.   Also check out nutritionfacts.org for some actual fact-based research on just about any subject, including protein.

2. I can’t give up cheese!

Of course you can’t.  Did you know cheese, in addition to saturated fat, cholesterol and hormones, has addictive properties? You’re not the only one that identifies cheese as the hardest food to give up when going vegan.  It’s right up there with heroin. Which is, when you think about it, another great reason to give it up.  Who wants to be addicted to such an unhealthy food?

I recommend trying some of the new vegan cheeses while you’re transitioning, like these Chao cheeses or the venerable Daiya cheese.

After a bit, don’t be afraid to go completely cheese free.  Break the chains of your cheese addiction!  There are so many better alternatives to cheese that provide way more flavor.  Not to mention nutrition.  Avocado.   Hummus.  You can even try some nut cheeses.

But wait, does this mean you can never eat pizza again?  Of course not.  While pizza is a nice indulgence once in awhile, you can often get soy cheese substitutes at a lot of pizza chains, but you can also order pizza, as I do, without cheese.  I know, right? Crazy! It’s much better than it sounds.

3.  What will other people think?

Hate to burst your bubble on this one but here’s the thing….no one really cares.  Seriously.  Sure, they may give you a hard time if you’re not going whole hog on the Sunday bbq, or if you’re eating vegan makes them feel bad about their own diet.

Truth be told, if you’re so worried about what people will think that you let it stop you from adopting an amazingly healthy, cruelty free and environmentally sustainable diet, then perhaps you have more to work on than just what you choose to eat.

4.  It’s too hard to eat vegan.

When people ask me if it’s hard to eat vegan I can’t help but laugh at the idea.  Eating vegan is so simple.  Certainly cooking is easier.  Grocery shopping is easier.  I eliminate whole areas of the store when I shop.  I don’t live in fear of cross-contamination of my kitchen and a horrible case of salmonella poisoning from raw chicken.  I buy fruits and veggies and make epic salads that have only a handful of ingredients with lime juice and avocado for dressing.

What about eating out?  Sure, you may find yourself challenged until you figure out how to order in restaurants.  If you’re polite and let your server know you’re vegan or you order off the side menu, you’ll be just fine.  Most restaurants have vegetarian options that can easily be veganized.  I’ve even had some of the best food at steak houses, which typically have excellent salads, baked potatoes and even roasted brussels sprouts.

5.  What will I eat?

No, you don’t need complicated vegan recipes with 27 ingredients and multiple appliances.  You don’t need to become the Julia Child of vegan cooking.  Put down the apron. Relax.  Most people eat the same dozen or so entrees every week.  Just leave the meat and dairy out.  Add tofu.  Or veggies.

If you insist on recipes, check out choosing raw, or PETA’s site.  But remember, you don’t even need to cook when eating vegan.  Eat fresh fruit and veggies for breakfast and lunch, then make a giant salad full of tender lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and peppers.  You might be surprised at the how amazing a simple salad of only a handful of ingredients tastes.

6. My family won’t eat vegan.

Too bad for them!  So what?  They might not now, but if they have to watch you eat epic salads they may end up changing their minds.

If you have to take the lead in representing the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle to your spouse or entire family, then so be it.  Do it!  Show them how great they’ll feel after eating salad versus eating food full of saturated fat, cholesterol and pus?

Now there’s a great way to get your family to go vegan.   You can discuss the amount of pus in milk and cheese.  Once you’re done with that you can discuss how contaminated the American meat supply is with fecal bacteria.  Fun!

7.  It’s expensive.

It’s true.  Eating fresh, whole, organic (when possible) fruits and vegetables can be expensive.  But here’s the deal.   You get what you pay for.

If you’re eating foods out of cans and boxes that have expiration dates out to the next decade, you’re going to pay the price at some point.  Your compromised health and a $400 monthly prescription medication bill is expensive too.  Wouldn’t you rather just pay more now and avoid the medical costs and issues altogether?

Do what you can to free up your budget if you need to.  Nothing should be more important than buying fresh, quality food.  Nothing.  Ordering a meat lover’s pizza and a dozen chicken wings from Pizza Hut is not dinner.  It’s poison.  Not to mention a recipe for heart disease, cancer and obesity.  Don’t do that to yourself or your family.

Look for deals, buy produce in season, and make huge pots of soup in your crock pot.  Buy a rice cooker.  Super simple.  There are ways to feed yourself and your family without compromising your health.  It will take more work than picking up the phone to order pizza or cruising through the drive thru on the way home from work.

There you go, 7 reasons why you can’t go vegan and a multitude of reasons why you can.  Do it for your health, for the animals, or for the environment, but do it!

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

My week of eating processed food

canned food

I recently completed, with 5 other intrepid souls, a 5 day mountain bike ride starting in Telluride and ending in the town of Gateway, 150 miles away.  We rode as much as 41 miles in a day and as little as 14 miles.  We climbed up and down a lot of hills, with some trails that even required slinging the bike over our shoulders.  That was hard.  What was harder was a week of eating processed food.

We used a terrific company called San Juan Huts, which as the name suggests, provides huts to stay in along the way.  Their tag line is Adventure without the Weight.  We carried clothes and snacks, they provided lodging, food and drink.

While most would be concerned about the physical challenge of riding a mountain bike up and down a shi* ton of hills carrying a not-so-light back pack and seat bag at a breathtaking elevation, I was more concerned about the food.  My usual diet of unprocessed foods would be out the window for the entire week.  Could I survive?

After all , fresh fruit and vegetables aren’t exactly portable.  I had no room to carry a bushel of bananas or a dozen watermelons.  There would be no every other day trip to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  When we set off on Monday morning I pedaled away from fresh and towards packaged and canned.

spam
the ubiquitous canned spam

We arrived at the first hut and were greeted by a twelve foot wall of canned food including lentil soup, mushrooms, beans, corned beef hash and (drumroll please) spam!   I can’t believe they still make that stuff.  Yikes!  I’m convinced they did one run of production in the 1960’s and that we’re still going through those original rectangular cans of spam.

 

Our first dinner was a Mexican theme, with corn tortillas, black beans, rice and diced tomatoes.  Not too bad.  We even found some fresh cabbage to include.  Still, I felt the effects of the sodium  in all the canned food nearly immediately.  I felt puffy and sleepy immediately following dinner, not so much from the biking that day as the extra work my body had to do in order to digest my food.  Blahhh.

I had restless sleep that night, though in fairness it may have had more to do with getting so tangled up in my sleeping bag liner that I felt like lunch for a boa constrictor.

For the actual riding during the day, I brought raisins and dried flattened bananas from Trader Joe’s.  These bananas really hit the spot, and though I don’t typically eat dried fruit, this was about my only alternative to eating as close to my normal diet as possible.  I also brought crunchy peanut Clif Bars, which were good but I limited myself to one of those a day.

Day 2 and 3 dinners were couscous with marinara, and couscous with curried vegetables and potatoes.  All good and healthy vegan fare, but again, all generated using a can opener.  I happened to glance at the sodium content on the mushrooms and saw it was 390 mg per serving.  Black beans topped out at over 500 mg per serving. Yikes!

On a typical day of eating fresh fruit for lunch and an epic salad for dinner, I take in less than 100 mg of sodium.  Here I was, probably taking in around 1500 – 2000 mg a day eating canned and packaged foods.

My fingers and face were definitely swollen, along with my toes and ankles.  I also noticed that even though I was taking in a lot of water I wasn’t urinating nearly as much.  I also felt much more thirsty than I normally do.

I made it through day 4, though I dearly missed my morning ritual of eating a watermelon or cantaloupe and bananas.  I grew weary of looking at cans of food.  The texture also started to bother me, with everything feeling mushy.  I missed chewing my food.  With processed food, there’s hardly any chewing required.  It’s all mushy and slides right down your throat.  With fruit, there’s work to do.  An apple requires some serious masticating before swallowing.  P.s. that’s a good thing.

Some of the huts did have a few apples and oranges, which I snacked on immediately when we arrived.   I was thankful for even this small amount of fresh produce, though the quality and amount dwindled as the week proceeded.  Would it be too much to ask for organic?

Day 5 was a tough start, with some dicey single track and sections that required slinging my bike over my shoulder and hiking straight uphill with tough footing.  We soldiered on with good humor, knowing that today was the last day and tomorrow meant a day off from sitting on a bike seat.  Hallelujah!  My butt hurt!

The last long stretch into Gateway required sitting back and squeezing both back and front brakes for about 7 miles.  We catapulted down a severe pitch of a dirt road with sudden switchbacks, mounds of loose gravel and sandy transition areas that threatened to turn our front tires sideways at the worst possible moment.  We had some epic views, though you couldn’t take your eyes off the road for too long or you would miss a switchback and go flying off the mountain like some real life version of the poor Road Runner in Bugs Bunny.

I wasn’t sure which I looked forward to more, not sitting on a bike seat or not eating dinner from a can.  I couldn’t wait to eat anything that didn’t require a can opener and contain a months worth of sodium.  But also, my butt hurt.

We arrived at Gateway and pulled up to the local convenience store, which was about the only store in this tiny town.  I re-filled my water bottle with mostly ice and a little water and looked around at all the canned and packaged food and headed directly out the door.  My friends loaded up with Gatorade and Beef Jerky.  They needed their protein after a week of eating vegan.  Right?

A week of eating processed foods taught me that I don’t like eating processed foods for a week.  Call me a food snob.  I get it.  Some people eat canned and processed foods exclusively.  For economic reason or because they don’t have the ability or resources to cook.  I know that.  And I feel for those people.

There is nothing healthy about eating processed foods.  Processed foods have a ridiculous amount of salt, fat and sugar.  Salt preserves, after all.  Want to make something last for a long time?  Add salt.  Want to make it still taste good?  Add fat and sugar.

I enjoyed the bike ride and the camaraderie of exploring a variety of terrain over multiple days with good friends.  I enjoyed the Colorado scenery and the physical challenge of miles and miles of hills and winding single track.

I certainly appreciate, even more now, the relative ease with which I can obtain fresh fruits and vegetables.  Going a week with eating processed foods made me realize how important it is to eat foods in their natural, whole state, as nature provides.

Last night I ate tomatoes from my garden, cut up in a salad of fresh romaine, spring mix, and avocado. Nary a can opener in sight.  Now if only my butt would stop hurting.

hut to hut
the crew

 

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

Restaurants are Evil?

Let’s be clear, restaurants are in business to make a profit. Well, hopefully they are. They make a profit by satisfying taste buds and by getting customers to order more and order often. They do this by adding copious amounts of sugar, fat and salt to whatever type of food it is that comes out of the kitchen. This is what the public wants. And this is what restaurants provide.  Hence the obesity epidemic we’re experiencing.

What does this equation mean for people on plant-based diets that don’t want to inhale a weeks worth of sodium or calories in one sitting? What it means is that you must be have a solid plan in place for situations when you’re eating out.

I will also throw it out there that regularly eating out will make it virtually impossible for you to eat healthy. For that, you must be in control of the ingredients and preparation of your food. The only way to do this is to eat at home. That’s right, before you start throwing objections out there, understand that it might not be fair or convenient or even possible, but eating at home with quality, organic ingredients is your best chance to eat healthy.

I love this video by Dr. Michael Klaper in regards to oil being a healthy food and for eating out. He advises people to be aware, no matter what kind of food the restaurant sells, it’s full of fat and oil and probably later, regrets. Don’t kid yourself that even eating at a so called “healthy restaurants” prevents your poor arteries from being besieged by saturated fat and added sugar and salt.

In fact, even if you’re trying to make better choices and you decide to eat at Whole Foods, with it’s giant salad bar and endless aisles filled with delectable looking prepared foods, you’re still navigating a minefield. Unless it carries the wonderful HSH (Health Starts Here) label, those delicious smelling soups and hot bar items contain, you guessed it, crazy amounts of sugar, salt and fat. Don’t even get me started on the football-sized burritos and fresh made gourmet pizzas dripping with melted cheese. That’s why it tastes so dang good. Makes sense, right?

So what are your options when meeting friends or family for dinner or trying to at least be somewhat social on your amazingly healthy plant-based mostly raw, low sodium, low fat and no added sugar diet? Huddle in the corner in the fetal position? Go and order a glass of water and hope no one notices you’re not eating? Bring your own food and eat it under the table? Hopefully you won’t have to resort to those tactics.  Here are some better options.

Pre-Eating

Yep, you need to eat before you go. Eat a bowl of soup or a giant salad or make a smoothie or juice. Your spouse or significant other will undoubtedly ask you “aren’t we going out to eat?” as you prepare your food just prior to leaving. Yes, you’ll say, which is exactly why I’m eating before we leave. This will confuse them greatly but just leave it at that. You should have some mystery in your relationship.

In fact, I make a point of never leaving for a group dinner without having something. That way, I will be less tempted by the giant bowl of fresh crusty bread or salty tortilla chips or whatever appears on the table as you peruse the menu. This also helps when dinner is delayed (as it often is) and also when I can only find a few items on the menu and they’re way smaller quantities than I normally eat.

In 2013 I ran the New York City Marathon. We had a great group of runners from my former hometown of Phoenix doing the marathon. After, I received the dreaded text that our whole group had settled on a steak house for post-marathon dinner. Apparently running marathons makes you want to eat cheeseburgers and fries. Great! Perfect for the poor, lonely vegan, I thought sadly. So out I went from the hotel, hobbling across the street to grab a smoothie before dinner. It ended up being exactly what I wanted, and when dinner was an hour later than we all planned on I was the only one not dying of hunger spasms. Win!

Check out the menu online.

I advise you be prepared about food all the time, but especially when eating out. Always know what your options will be so there isn’t any last minute decisions you’ll regret later. I noticed the steakhouse, as is usually the case, had a healthy number of side dishes and even a couple of entrees that I could ask to be prepared with less oil and no salt. I ended up ordering and thoroughly enjoying a large side of brussels sprouts (low oil, no salt), a salad (no dressing) and a baked potato with salsa. I could tell my runner friends were actually a little jealous of my food. Don’t assume steak houses are not good places for vegans or that you can’t order items with no salt and no oil.

Looking at the menu online has occasionally resulted in me declining a dinner invite. I’ve only had to do this on rare occasions, but there have been situations where the menu is such a meat and dairy fest that I’ve had to let the group know I’m out. While I feel bad doing this, I also don’t care to spend my money at restaurants that don’t offer healthier options. You can also call before making this decision to see if there are choices that don’t appear on the menu.

It’s all about the side dishes.

I love side dishes. Not only are they easier to order and veganize than ordering an entree and asking for no cheese, no butter, no oil and no meat, but a lot of times I get to make my own awesome meal.

For example, instead of ordering fajitas at a Mexican restaurant, I’ll order a side of tortillas, a side of beans (make sure and ask for no cheese garnish on top), a side of salsa and guacamole and a side of rice and veggies. Often I get more food for less ordering this way. Though the server may roll their eyes, they are probably secretly jealous of how smart you are to order this way.

This sides strategy also makes it less likely they’ll make a mistake in the kitchen with your food. If you order an entree and have to ask for several ingredient modifications, there is a good chance something will be missed. The kitchen is busy. It happens. While with sides, chances are pretty good you’ll get your food without any errors. The worst that may happen is they forget one of your sides.

Don’t be afraid to order a double (or more).

Let’s be clear about one thing. The size of my own homemade salads and the size of a typical restaurant salad are not even on the same scale. They are orders of magnitude different. I could eat my salads out of satellite dish. The typical restaurant salad is like a Jenny Craig meal. Small and sad. So when you do find something healthy, order up!

I had this happen on a trip to Boston this year. I found a great salad on the menu that just required a no-cheese and no dressing modification. Perfect! I even asked the server about the size and reluctantly allowed him to talk me into ordering a single serving instead of my usual double.

Imagine my sadness when it arrived and though larger than most I knew it wasn’t going to tide me over. So I actually ordered not one, but 3 more salads. Yes, 4 total. Pretty sure the entire kitchen staff imagined I had an eating disorder and would be puking up my dinner shortly after eating. No such luck! I loved the salad and actually almost felt full after eating 4 of them. Better yet, my friend decided he was picking up the tab. Those salads weren’t cheap!

A note on the cost. Of course it’s going to get expensive ordering multiple items on the menu. Perhaps another good reason to not eat out?

Bottom line

Eating out is a dicey proposition for someone dedicated to eating a healthy plant-based diet. I don’t know of anyone with the willpower to consistently make healthy choices when faced with a menu full of entrees loaded to the gills with fat, sugar and salt. You would never prepare food in this way at home. At least I hope you wouldn’t.

So bottom line? Eat at home. When you do eat out, as Dr. Klaper says, pre-eat, get in there and get out, asap! Make the best choices and minimize the damage. But don’t kid yourself that eating out is a good long term plan for healthy eating. Don’t outsource your food preparation. It’s the only way to control what goes in to your body.  Nobody cares about your health more than you.  Take Control!