Say goodbye to the days of feeling helpless and defeated when trying to eat out as a vegetarian. With the popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets on the rise, it’s becoming easier and easier to eat meatless at your favorite restaurants. Menus often include symbols indicating a meal is vegetarian-friendly, and servers are often trained to accommodate special diets. There are even entire apps dedicated to highlighting vegetarian-friendly restaurants.
Check out these suggestions to find the healthiest, tastiest meatless options at some of the most popular chain restaurants!
Healthiest Pick: Buddha’s Feast (steamed)
Why It Made the Cut: This dish is vegetarian heaven: five-spice tofu, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli and carrots are tossed in a savory sauce to create a low-calorie, high-protein dish. If you’re looking for something a little more filling, order it stir-fried to add 230 more calories and 8 more grams of fat.
Nutritional Stats: 260 calories, 4g fat, 32g carbohydrates, 10g fiber, 26g protein
Dietitian’s Tips: For vegetarians, getting enough variety of protein throughout the day can be difficult. Soy products (such as tofu and tempeh) are a great protein option; they are packed with essential amino acids and nutrients such as calcium and iron. If you don’t normally cook tofu at home, seek out restaurants that offer it on their menu for a protein-packed meal.
- Shanghai Waldorf Salad: To load up with vegetables, choose this kale salad garnished with fresh apples and grapes, candied walnuts and a miso-lime vinaigrette! (630 calories, 51g fat, 36g carbohydrates, 8g fiber, 11g protein)
- Stir-Fried Eggplant: If you can handle the spice, choose this Chinese eggplant tossed in a sweet soy-chili glaze with green onions and garlic. (480 calories, 23g fat, 65g carbohydrates, 9g fiber, 7g protein)
Healthiest Pick: Strawberry Fields Salad
Why It Made the Cut: This mixed green salad is topped with balsamic-glazed strawberries, fresh goat cheese, shaved Parmesan and glazed pecans, with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Goat cheese is an excellent source of protein and lower in calories that other cheeses, and pecans are rich in antioxidants and healthy fats.
Nutritional Stats: 610 calories, 10g fat, 40g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 11g protein
Dietitian’s Tips: Simple salads can be boring and unsatisfying. Look for those that incorporate cheeses and nuts, as well as fruits or vegetables, to create a salad that keeps you fueled for hours! In general, mixed greens, kale and spinach are the most nutrient-dense lettuce options. Substitute the typical high-calorie dressing for olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a dash of lemon juice.
- Spinach Florentine Flatbread: Spinach, artichoke hearts, a blend of creamy cheeses and fresh basil combine to create the perfect veggie flatbread. Found on the appetizer menu, this dish is a lighter option that can be paired with a side of steamed broccoli (50 calories). (540 calories, 15g fat, 49g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 17g protein)
- Tomato Basil Soup: When offered as the soup of the day, this dish is the perfect light lunch or dinner option. Chunky tomatoes and fresh herbs and spices combine with crumbled feta cheese and crunchy croutons for a classic savory dish. Pair it with a house salad (210 calories) for a boost of vegetables. (300 calories, 24g fat, 20g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 5g protein)
Healthiest Pick: Whole Grain Linguine with Traditional Marinara Sauce
Why It Made the Cut: Get your pasta fix with this hearty vegetarian meal. While many other meatless Italian dishes rely heavily on cream and cheese, this option does neither — it’s vegan! Pair this dish with a famous house salad with low-fat dressing for only 90 more calories and a bowl full of veggies.
Nutritional Stats: 490 calories, 13g fat, 74g carbohydrates, 16g fiber, 19g protein
Dietitian’s Tips: When looking for a protein-packed plant-based meal, whole grains are a great place to start. Olive Garden’s whole grain linguine has 17 grams of protein alone — more than any other pasta option on the menu. As an extra bonus, whole grains are packed with fiber, keeping you satisfied for longer after each meal.
- Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce: This ravioli dish is stuffed with a blend of Italian cheeses and topped with marinara sauce, providing a warm Italian classic. Consider splitting this dish with a friend if you need to shave off some calories. (780 calories, 39g fat, 68g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 41g protein)
- Ravioli de Portobello: Stuffed with rich mushrooms and topped with creamy smoked cheese, this ravioli dish is sure to satisfy even the carnivores in the crowd. The large size of this dish gives it a slightly higher calorie count than other options, so consider placing half of it in a to-go box for tomorrow’s lunch. (820 calories, 46g fat, 73g carbohydrates, 6g fiber, 27g protein)
Healthiest Pick: Cheese Enchilada with Rice & Black Beans
Why It Made the Cut: This combination is offered on the flexible Fresh Mex Pairings Menu. Looking for a few less calories? Just pick two of these dishes instead of all three. If you want to substitute different side dishes, this menu also offers a house salad.
Nutritional Stats: 590 calories, 26g fat, 64g carbohydrates, 8g fiber, 23g protein
Dietitian’s Tips: Two staples of Mexican cuisine — rice and beans — are great options for vegetarian and vegan diets alike. Combining rice and beans provides your body with a “complete” protein, meaning you get all of the essential amino acids you need, in one meal. (Other complete protein options for vegetarians are quinoa, eggs and dairy.)
- Vegetarian Fajitas: Build this vegan dish by starting with the fajita peppers and onions as your topping, paired with corn tortillas for a hearty whole grain. (450 calories, 24g fat, 52g carbohydrates, 7g fiber, 6g protein)
- House Salad with Quinoa-Wheat Berry Blend: Start with a house salad, and then add the quinoa-wheat berry blend to get a hearty serving of whole grains with your vegetables. Add a side of asparagus and garlic-roasted tomatoes (70 calories) or black beans (120 calories). (270 calories, 10g fat, 37g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 10g protein)
Healthiest Pick: Sautéed Mushrooms, Steamed Broccoli and a House Salad
Why It Made the Cut: If you’re looking to boost your veggie intake, the Outback side dish menu has you covered. Mushrooms, broccoli and a fresh house salad are just some of the many dishes you can combine for a delicious meal. You can also sub out fresh seasonal mixed veggies (148 calories) or a baked potato (230 calories).
Nutritional Stats: 377 calories, 21.3g fat, 32.9g carbohydrates, 9.8g fiber, 16.1g protein
Dietitian’s Tips: Although eating at a “steakhouse” might seem like one of the least vegetarian-friendly choices, Outback offers an impressive list of vegetable side dishes, ranging from grilled asparagus and sautéed mushrooms to a baked sweet potato. Pairing any of these side dishes with a vegetarian entree or appetizer can create a flavorful meatless meal.
- Blue Cheese Pecan Chopped Salad: Found on the premium salad menu, this fresh salad is a combination of mixed greens with shredded carrots, red cabbage and green onions topped with flavorful cinnamon pecans and Aussie crunch. It’s all tossed with blue cheese vinaigrette and topped with blue cheese crumbles. (339 calories, 16.6g fat, 38.7g carbohydrates, 10.2g fiber, 14.1g protein)
- Sweet Potato with Asparagus: Take your pick from the list of Aussie sides, but this pair of veggies is our favorite combo to create a tasty plant-based meal. (346 calories, 6.2g fat, 67g carbohydrates, 11.6g fiber, 7.2g protein)