Get Started Green: Order Vegetarian

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If you aren’t vegetarian or vegan (and sometimes even if you are), ordering a veg-based meal at a restaurant can be downright intimidating. If you order the wrong thing, you may end up sending your meal back and contributing to the 34 million tons of food that is wasted in the U.S. each year.

To make matters even tougher, animal products could be hiding in one of many nooks and crannies in your meal – from beef stock-based sauces to bread glazed with egg.

So, what’s a novice vegan to do? Don’t fret, hungry greenie. Earth911 has you covered. Whether you’ve recently adopted a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle or you simply want to give it a try for a night, here are 10 questions to ask your server before choosing a veg-based meal.

So, you're at the table. Now what? Choosing a vegetarian or vegan meal can be tricky, but Earth911 is here to help. Photo: Flickr/missmeng

1. What vegetarian options do you have?

If a brief glance over the menu yields less-than-exciting choices like a garden salad, steamed broccoli or crudités, ask your server about other options. You may have missed a few vegetarian or vegan choices on the menu, and some others may be simple for the chef to “veganize.”

Ask about getting a pasta course without fish or chicken, or order that yummy panini without the cheese. Most restaurants receive requests for vegetarian and vegan meals often. So, your sever will likely have a number of options on hand if you ask.

2. Do you offer à la carte?

Can’t find a veg-based entree that strikes your fancy? Another option is to go à la carte, which allows you to build your own plate using side dishes and lighter fare.

Assemble an à la carte platter with all of your favorites – some rice or pasta, a salad and a few fresh veggies – to create a well-balanced meal that’s pleasing to your palate (and the planet).

3. How is this made/what is this made out of?

Ordering something even though you don’t know the ingredients is a recipe for disaster. So, if your head is spinning from menu choices like baba ganoush, seitan and polenta, don’t be afraid to ask your server for a bit more information.

Once you’ve picked a meal, take a moment to double-check with your server that your choice is animal product-free. Meat and dairy can often be lurking in choices like soups, breaded appetizers and stuffed pastas. So, making sure is your best bet to avoid surprises.

4. How can I make my choice vegan?

If you’re already going vegetarian, vegan could be a few simple steps away. Ask your server if your meal contains any eggs or dairy and if it can be prepared without these ingredients for a vegan-friendly plate. And while you’re at it, ask about locally-grown and organic produce to up the green factor of your meal.

5. Are vegetables and beans cooked with dairy or animal fats?

Here’s where choosing veg can get a bit tricky. You’ve selected a meal with only vegetable ingredients, but how are those ingredients prepared?

Some restaurants cook beans and other vegetables in butter, bacon fat or other animal products. To save yourself the headache of sending a meal back, don’t assume. Ask first.

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