If you have been eating a vegetarian or vegan diet for any amount of time, I'm sure that you've experienced a situation where someone else was cooking for you. These situations can be stressful, awkward, and uncomfortable, but they don't have to be! Here are a couple of things I've learned along the way...
1. Eating Out. Often, when I begin looking at a menu in a restaurant, I begin to mentally check off everything I won't eat. I also make mental notes of what I could order and eat by only making a few changes. Typically, I'm left with 3 choices: a salad, a veggie wrap/sandwich, pasta. I could live off of these choices for the rest of my life, so this isn't a problem for me. However, if these don't appeal to you, you have other options. Often, a restaurant will offer other options (like veggie burgers) and they don't list it on the menu. Don't be afraid to ask! You can also order multiple sides and form your own meal. Last, it is VERY helpful to look up the restaurant's menu up online before you go or to even call ahead so you are aware of what they have.
2. Parties. Drinks, appetizers, desserts. It would be impossible to know what it is everything! If you know the host well, tell them what you eat and see if they would be willing to make something that you can enjoy. Always offer to bring something, too! Then you know you will like it and there will be an option for you. And you can always stick with the safe choices, too. A veggie plate or fresh fruit will never be a wrong choice!
3. Cafeteria. As a college student, I deal with the cafeteria everyday. If I wasn't creative, I would either get sick of the salad bar or gain well over the freshman 15 by eating French fries and pasta all the time. Most times, cafeterias have to have both a vegan and a vegetarian option for every meal, but sometimes the option is unappetizing. I often get grilled or sautéed veggies and put them in a wrap or get salsa, beans, and corn and put it on a salad to make a taco salad. Be creative and see the options as if they are food in your cupboard at home. What can you make with what is there?
4. Holiday Dinners. Having only been a vegetarian for a little over a year, I have only experienced the holidays twice as a vegetarian. My suggestions are limited to sticking to only eating the side dishes, offering to bring a side dish, appetizer, or dessert, and having fun by trying vegan-friendly substitutions such as tofurky. Also, don't underestimated google. It knows everything.
5. Dinner Parties. Being invited to someone's house for dinner is fun and exciting. Until you remember you're a vegetarian and realize this could create an uncomfortable situation. Don't be afraid to be open with the host and tell them what you don't eat. Again, offering to bring something is always a good idea. If all else fails, don't feel awkward if you can't eat something. I once went to someone's house and although they knew my diet they served spaghetti with meat sauce and chicken parmesan (they forgot and felt terrible). I had salad and plain pasta and no ones feelings were hurt. Don't feel pressured into compromising your values. (However, this situation changes if you are in a different culture. It can often be seen as highly offensive if you turn down a dish prepared for you. Keep this in mind when traveling.)
The bottom line is that there will be situations when you cannot completely control your food options. Being open and willing to try different things is a part of life and it's no different when it comes to your diet! Stay true to your choices and always remember that you'll probably laugh about awkward situations later.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.