Going out to dinner with your non-vegetarian friends or family members can be stressful, especially if they don't quite understand or accept your reasons for avoiding meat. If you're a vegan, the experience can be even tougher, since avoiding eggs, milk and other animal products further restricts your diet. In order to avoid awkward and stressful experiences, many vegetarians and vegans turn down opportunities to eat out with meat-eaters. However, doing so often just leads to more questions and social isolation. You're better off attending the meal, but practicing these tips to make it a more enjoyable, peaceful experience for yourself and for your dining companions.

Tip #1: Avoid commenting on others' diets and food choices.

You might not approve of the way the others in your dining party eat, but if you want this meal to be enjoyable, now is not the time to comment on it. Hold verbal comments, and avoid shooting negative looks at your dining partners if they order steak or chicken. Ridiculing meat eaters' diets is really no different than when they question yours. Be the bigger person by being accepting of others' choices.

Even if someone else in your dining party brings up the topic of your vegetarian diet, now is not the time to have a lengthy discussion. Such is likely to progress from a discussion to an argument rather quickly. Answer questions about your diet politely, but then try to steer the conversation in another direction. If one of your dining partners makes comments that make you think he or she may be interested in learning more about vegetarianism, text or email them about it after dinner, rather than risk raising a ruckus at the restaurant.

Tip #2: Call the restaurant ahead of time to inquire about ingredients.

If you have to ask questions about every dish on the menu before ordering, you'll call attention to yourself and perhaps spark an unwanted debate. Click here or look over the restaurant's menu, and call ahead of time to ask questions about their ingredients, or to inquire whether they can modify a dish to make it vegan or vegetarian. Based on the answer to your questions, you can decide exactly what to order before you even arrive at the restaurant, making the ordering process simpler and more concise. Many restaurants are beginning to offer more options for vegans and vegetarians these days, so even if you go to a classic Italian or French eatery, you'll likely be surprised by your choices.

Tip #3: Arrive at the restaurant armed with plenty of discussion topics.

People are more likely to question or eating habits if there is a lull in the conversation and they're searching for topics. Spend a few minutes preparing a mental list of discussion topics (you can even list them in your phone) to bring up when the conversation slows. Asking people about their families, careers and hobbies will turn the focus off of your diet while also assuring your dining partners that you're legitimately interested in their lives.

Tip #4: Bring a big appetite.

Among those who know little about vegetarian and vegan diets, there are people who make the assumption that because you've chosen not to eat animal products, you're unhealthy or suffering from disordered eating. Bringing your appetite will ensure you eat plenty and avoid drawing attention to yourself. This will help keep these suspicions at bay. Plus, as a vegetarian, you may not eat out as often as others -- saving your appetite will allow you to truly savor your restaurant meal.

Dining at a non-vegetarian restaurant with your meat-eater friends can be stressful. It's hard to look the other way while they engage in a behavior you don't condone. However, if you plan on remaining a vegetarian for life and also keeping your friends, it's better to get used to this scenario now, rather than later. Follow the tips above, and you'll likely be surprised how enjoyable your meal is.