Everyone goes out to eat sometimes, even those of us eating 100% Paleo!
But it can definitely be tricky knowing what to order at restaurants when you’re trying to stick to your diet.
Truth be told, this Paleo challenge will be a lot easier if you stick to the meal plan and minimize eating out. However, I understand that sometimes we don’t have a choice. So on that note…
While I do suggest that during this Paleo challenge you keep dining out to the bare minimum, here are some strategies for staying Paleo at restaurants:
- You’ll want to order some variation of a meat, chicken, or a fish entrée with extra veggies
- Pick a restaurant that uses fresh ingredients. Honestly, the yuppier/hipper/foodier the restaurant, the better the hands you’re in. They’re often the ones who source local, organic, grass-fed, pastured products and know their menus and ingredients inside out.
- Be careful with salad dressings, since a lot of them have dairy and bad oils in them. When I dine out at ‘questionable’ restaurants, I will often tote a little well-sealed spice jar full of Paleo-friendly dressing in my purse or pocket (contained in a Ziploc baggie, because a purse full of dressing is not a pretty picture). Poisonous industrial seed and vegetable oils dominate the majority of commercial salad dressings, thus they can be hard to avoid, so just BYOD.
- At American/Grill-style restaurants – Order a burger—no bun—and a salad with a side of guacamole or plain avocado. Or get a salad and order extra meat or hard-boiled eggs if it doesn’t already come with enough protein. Ask for olive oil and vinegar as dressing.
- At Asian restaurants, especially Thai, you can order curry without the rice with extra vegetables. Ask for your dish to be made with no MSG.
- At Mexican restaurants, order fajitas without the tortillas, then just eat the meat, peppers, guac, and salsa.
- At Italian restaurants (which are some of the easiest to dine at), request meat prepared in butter or olive oil, with vegetables or a salad on the side. Tell them you’re gluten-free. Or you can always ask for a grilled or roasted chicken breast with a side of whatever veggies they have.
Contact the Restaurant in Advance
One of my friends is the head chef at a fancy restaurant in Maui, Hawaii. She tells me that the #1 thing people with dietary restrictions can do to make their dining experience easy (and to make it easy on the restaurant staff as well!) is to phone the restaurant in advance. Let them know when you are coming, and what your dietary restrictions are. This allows the chefs to set aside some meat for you (often the meat is pre-marinated in non-Paleo marinades). Restaurants are happy to cater to our needs, but it’s tough on them when we show up last minute with requests that they are unable to meet because they didn’t have adequate notice.
Ask for a Gluten Free Menu
In many parts of the world, restaurants now have a gluten-free menu available. Keep in mind that “gluten free” is not necessarily Paleo, but looking at the GF menu is often a good place to start.
“Gluten-free” and “lactose intolerant” have become such a buzz terms these days that if you tell your server that you are grain, legume, and dairy free, they’ll probably know what you’re talking about. Just be careful of hidden sources of gluten in restaurant (and packaged) foods. Here’s a blog post with more info:
Communicate With Your Server
You’re going to have to ask your waiter some questions, like:
- What kind of oil is this cooked in?
- Is the chicken battered in flour?
- Is there milk, butter, or cheese on that?
Sometimes it’s difficult or even inappropriate to hammer the waiter with a bunch of specific food queries. Maybe you’re at a business lunch and you need to seem easy-going. In those cases, it’s often easy to order individual sides rather than a normal entree from the menu.
For instance, for breakfasts, you could order three eggs, a side of avocado or fruit, and a side of ham. It’s often easier to order what you want than what you don’t want. Remember though, most restaurants are in the business of serving food you enjoy, so don’t be afraid to ask for changes if you need them. Just make sure you are polite, smile, and tip for the extra effort you’re requesting!
With a little practice, pretty soon you’ll get to know what things you can order at your favorite restaurants, or you’ll find new favorite restaurants.
Pay attention to what your body can and can’t tolerate, and order your food accordingly. And don’t worry about it while you’re eating because those two things don’t mix well!
Do you have any favorite go-to meals or restaurants where you could confidently eat Paleo? Let us know about them in our 30DC Facebook group!
In good health,
Kinsey Jackson, MS, CNS®, CFMP®
Certified Nutrition Specialist® Clinician
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner®
The Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists owns the certification mark Certified Nutrition Specialist® in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete the initial and ongoing certification requirements established by the BCNS.