I haven't been a vegetarian long (it'll be a year at the end of this month), but one of the toughest adjustments for me was finding something to eat when going out to eat. Sounds silly, right? But plenty of restaurant meals revolve around meat, so it can be a challenge. And yes, it's easier to control exactly what goes into your food when you make it at home, but sometimes I just want to let someone else do the cooking for me, you know? I feel like I'm improving at finding satisfying options, so I wanted to share the wealth!
Order a regular dish, but ask for the meat on a separate plateOne of my favorite dishes is pasta, but it's tough to find a meat-free pasta meal. So after checking with the server to make sure the sauce isn't flavored with meat (and cheese if you're strict about rennet), go ahead and order the fettucini with meatballs or whatever, with the meatballs on a different plate. My husband loves this option because he scores extra leftovers ;)
Eat a meal of "side" dishes
Some restaurants have a great selection of à la carte side dishes and I'll order a few of those as my meal, like a baked potato, grilled asparagus, and wild rice.
Try an ethnic place
Tons of other cultures don't place meat at the center of every meal (unlike many American chains) and if your dining partners are up for it, going to a local Indian or Chinese place will give you way more vegetarian options.
Get a saladDuh, right? Sad but true - when I first became a vegetarian, I would get a salad every time I was at a restaurant because I thought I had no other options (and sometimes you don't!), and then as I became more adept at finding other choices, I rarely ordered a salad. Now I try to strike a happy medium, and remember that side salads are an option too.
Check the appetizer menu
Some vegetarians don't eat anything fried because the same oil is used to fry the sampler's chicken fingers and your mozzarella sticks - but that doesn't mean you have to skip the entire appetizer menu. I've found some surprisingly tasty options there (steamed edamame, garlic bread, a mixed berries bowl, apples with peanut butter dipping sauces) so it's worth a try.
When all else fails, ask your server. They are usually a wealth of knowledge about items you're considering (the broccoli and cheese soup at Panera contains chicken fat!) or can suggest something to you if you're stuck. I used to be a server, and believe me, they hear all kinds of crazy questions and requests during every shift, so don't be shy! :)
Anything I missed? What do you eat when dining out?