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Dining Out with Diverse Dietary Needs

When I graduated high school in the 90s and had a dinner out to celebrate after the ceremony, my family insisted on a fancy restaurant in town. Only there was a problem—there were no meatless options on the menu! I had been a vegetarian for several years and my only choice was to ask if they could remove the chicken from a boring pasta dish. The result was unsatisfying, bland and underwhelming.

Back then, restaurants were always confused about vegetarian requests, and I’d usually be left with just a side salad for my meal. Luckily, times have changed! Nowadays, it’s easier for restaurants to accommodate a variety of dietary lifestyles, but sometimes it can still be tricky to find an acceptable meal, especially when traveling. Whether you are meatless, gluten-free, or have food allergies, here are some tips for navigating your dietary needs while traveling:

Think Outside the Entrée. My husband is a vegetarian ( I’m now back to poultry) and when there is no good choice for him on the menu, he opts to order an appetizer and salad as his meal, instead. This is also a satisfying way to enjoy eating out without spending as much on a pricey entrée.

Splurge on a Kitchenette. Many hotel rooms have microwaves and fridges, which is a great way to limit dining out while on the road, but even better is a kitchenette where you can make your own simple meals and control what’s in them! Sometimes, it’s worth the extra cost to have an area where you can prep food you know you can eat. Plus, you’ll be saving money on food in the long run.

BYO Snacks and Lunches. We all deserve to indulge on a nice meal out, especially on vacation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t supplement with cheap snacks and mini meals from home! If you pack sandwiches for the road trip, you can ensure you’re following your diet while looking forward to a nice dinner out that night. Pre-cut veggies, fruits, nuts, trail mix and protein bars are great options to keep handy to “accessorize” your meals out.

Do Your Homework. Today, most establishments have online menus you can look through in advance. Research various cuisines that can accommodate everyone in your party. You’ll probably get excited about trying the food after you’ve been researching it! Hotel staff and visitor centers can also help with finding places to accommodate your food needs, and they usually have coupon booklets and deals.

Finally, don’t be shy! It’s OK to ask a restaurant to make certain accommodations to meet your dietary needs. Just be humble and ask nicely! Most establishments want to please you, and it’s a lot easier these days to get what you want, even if you have to ask. Good luck!

Debra Caffrey
Debra Caffrey
Debra Caffrey is the writer/editor of the Education and Infant & Pregnancy e-newsletters for Fredericksburg Parent and Family. She also writes the monthly Practical Pantry column, sharing her recipes and tips on being a home cook, grocery shopping, and smart meal planning. Debra is the proud mother of an almost-teenage son. When she's not writing, cooking, or parenting, Debra enjoys working out, yoga, running, hiking, traveling, and reading.

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