Here are some safe options for Veggie food.
1) Subway – Ask for a vegetarian sub; you can request that they use a new knife and gloves or ask them not to cut the bread (into half); this way you can slice it yourself if necessary. This is to prevent the meat/fish stuck on the knife from getting onto your sub.
2) Qdoba – this is a Mexican fast food place. You can safely eat a vegetarian burrito bowl or a vegetarian burrito. Ask for black beans; their pinto beans has beef stew in it. Qdoba is right across Locus walk on 40th street.
3) There are few Indian restaurants close by
– Sitar India on 38th street, very close to U Penn
– New Delhi near 40th and Chestnut
– Tandoor near 40th and Chestnut
4) Once you get comfortable catching buses and SEPTA trains, you can try Philadelphia Chutney Co at 1628 Sansom St, this has decent dosas (sort of crepes) and idlis (rice patties) and other South Indian options.
5) There is a Grocery market (Fresh Grocer) near UPenn where you can pick up some fresh bread and snacks. It is at 4001 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA close to Penn.
The Olive garden is on Chestnut and 14th – a bit far than I thought. You can have the Minestrone soup and salad. For the Eggplant parmigiana you can request Marinara sauce. For any pizza or any option with cheese, you can request ‘easy on cheese’ and they will cut down the amount of cheese.
One can also take a cab within the city limits and it won’t cost much when split among the group.