In a previous post I wrote about how I earned the nickname, “Mary Poppins.” (You can read the post here.) I was dining out with friends – and their friends – at an upscale, American-style restaurant with few vegan options. I made the best of my limited choices by bringing my own vegan condiments. My friends were amazed when I kept pulling item after item out of my apparently magical purse.
Previously, I shared this story on a local vegan FB site. I received a number of comments, PM’s, and inquiries from readers wondering how they, too, could create a magical vegan Mary Poppins bag!
Today, I am sharing my secrets! And they are supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
The first thing I do, when invited to a restaurant I wouldn’t normally frequent, is check the online menu. If I have enough advance notice, I will call, FB message, or email to verify which items are vegan.
Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised there is a suitable vegan option. Or one that could be suitable with a simple tweak. “Hold the cheese, PLEASE!”
Even American-style restaurants and steakhouses usually offer a few options. Modified salads (of course). Baked potatoes and increasingly, baked sweet potatoes. Steamed veggies.
Trouble is, who wants to eat a salad with oil-and-vinegar dressing, a plain baked potato, and plain steamed veggies for dinner? I’m all for eating healthy but I also like to … ahem … enjoy my food.
And that is when The Magic Bag began.
The Magic Bag
Unlike Mary Poppins, my bag is not a carpet bag – just a large-ish purse. (And yes, the bag pictured is pleather, not leather.)
Hobo shapes work well.
Separate compartments are nice, as it keeps your foodstuffs all together (easy to access and find) and separated from whatever else you may be carrying (in case there is any leakage). If your bag doesn’t have compartments, you may want to add a small makeup bag or a ziplock bag.
Items I Typically Carry:
Reusable Straw. There are so many to choose from these days – glass, BPA-free plastic, silicone, and stainless steel. Many come with their own carrying case, and can even fold or collapse. I like glass for home use and stainless steel for travel use (although I also have some colorful BPA-free plastic ones to coordinate with my smoothies).
Where to find? If you’re local, check out The Greener Apple; if you’re outside of Charlotte, NC, try Amazon.
Bamboo Spork. How many times have you walked away from a food truck or the mall food court, only to realize you forgot utensils? You’ll never have to worry again with this little spork; plus, you’re cutting down on waste. It’s small enough to fit into a jeans pocket, which makes it perfect for outdoor festivals. I got mine at The Greener Apple.
Pink Himalyan Salt. Nothing to do with being vegan – I just vastly prefer the taste over standard table salt, which has a lot of additives, including dextrose (sugar).
You can also buy tiny “camping” salt grinders to save room in your purse or pockets. I typically just throw the regular size grinder into my Magic Bag because everyone always asks me to share.
Small jars with secure tops that hold about 2 tablespoons. Ones made from BPA-free plastic will be lighter, and you won’t have to worry about breakage. If you prefer glass, I’ve found that the small glass jars pimentos come in work very well! You can use these jars for:
Salad Dressing. To use on salads – of course! But I’ve also used salad dressing on veggie wraps and “salad sandwiches” that typically come with mayo, ranch, or honey mustard. Salad dressing can also be used to perk up those plain steamed veggies.
Vegenaise. Because, sadly, even restaurants that serve Impossible Burgers, Beyond Burgers, and bean burgers often don’t have any vegan condiments except for ketchup and plain yellow mustard.
Fancy Mustard. Many restaurants only offer plain yellow mustard or honey mustard. You, however, may prefer spicy brown mustard, whole-grain mustard, or a vegan dijon mustard for your burger.
Earth Balance. For baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, plain steamed veggies, and bread.
Unsweetened Soy Yogurt. Yes, I’ve sometimes taken my own homemade vegan yogurt with me to Indian restaurants. You can also use unsweetened soy yogurt in place of sour cream.
Aseptic Container of Almond Milk. These are great since they don’t have to be refrigerated until opened. They are wonderful on road trips when you’re making those stops at roadside diners and Waffle House! I really enjoy that cup of coffee along with my capped, diced, peppered, and smothered hash browns! Containers are small, so whatever you don’t use in your coffee you can drink plain! Very few calories and a good dose of calcium and Vitamin D.
Unfortunately, many restaurants still don’t offer an alternative to cow milk creamer. So if coffee and dessert may be served – almost certainly if it’s a birthday event! – I’ll toss one of these babies into my bag.
Sweetener of Choice. I try to be chill about sugar. In my own home, I have more control over my food and use Florida Crystals. Outside, I try not to stress. To paraphrase the Serenity Prayer:
“Give me the courage to fight for and change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I have no control over, and the wisdom to spend my time and energy on the things most likely to make the biggest difference.”
Fortunately, most restaurants these days offer a variety of sweeteners – including raw sugars!
But if you prefer a certain sweetener (Blue Agave, or Stevia, or Bee Free Honee, or erythritol) no reason you can’t carry a small supply with you. My friend, Charlotte Vegan R.D. Jessica McCarton, carries a small cooler with her that contains her Trader Joe’s soy coffee creamer and her sweetener of choice, erythritol. “I’m always ready for coffee!” she jokes.
Things You Might Find In My Purse, That Aren’t Restaurant-Related
Water Bottle (duh).
An Apple. The world’s healthiest, most portable snack.
Primal Mesquite Lime Vegan Jerky. I am addicted to this flavor. Requires little room in my purse and takes a long time to chew and eat. Great for emergencies.
Fruit/Nut Bar. Great for emergencies.
Indian “Pickles” and Chutneys. OK, I DEFINITELY don’t recommend you taking these into a restaurant – because some do have a scent. But these really perk up a Subway “salad” sandwich. (A sorta-related Subway tip: If you like vegan cold cuts, keep some stashed in your work fridge or in a cooler while traveling, and add them to your “Veggie Delite.”)
Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel. Indispensable when traveling. Also great for theme parks, festivals, hiking, and camping.
Finally, a few warnings:
FOLLOW BASIC FOOD SAFETY. I do not carry ALL of these with me ALL of the time. I dole out salad dressing, Vegenaise, Earth Balance before I leave for the event (or, if it’s a work event, I will take them to work in a small lunch cooler and transfer to my purse later). Yes, vegan mayo is a lot safer than regular mayo, but things can still spoil. Bacteria can still grow. Take only what you think you’ll use and wash containers after each use.
BE POLITE AND DISCRETE. Restaurants do not want you to bring in outside food, but generally have no problem with bringing in condiments – especially if there is a dietary need for it.
Think of it this way:
There is a big difference between bringing in your own salad – and purchasing a salad and adding your own salad dressing.
There is a huge difference between bringing in your own sandwich or burger – or purchasing a sandwich or burger, then adding your own egg free mayo.
Rest assured vegans are not the only ones doing this. Diabetics and people with allergies have been doing this for years.
Just be discrete. Use the small containers, don’t be waving around big bottles and jars. And don’t make a big deal about it.
THE BIG EXCEPTION is any restaurant which is a “safe place.” Never bring in any kind of outside food, even condiments. Usually that’s a health food restaurant that is nut-free or gluten free, or a vegetarian/vegan place. Even if your food is nut free/gluten free/vegan, how do you expect restaurant staff or fellow diners to know that? Sadly, there are pathetic, misguided people out there that think it’s a joke to sneak allergens into an allergy-free restaurant, or animal products into vegan restaurants.