Eating Paleo at restaurants is tough. Whether you eat Paleo, are on a Whole30 or are just trying to make healthier choices, when you eat differently than the Standard American Diet (SAD - fitting acronym, no?!), eating out paleo can be both difficult and daunting, and it's easy to get discouraged and just want to throw in the towel. Here are a few ways to make it workable.
When I first started eating healthier and caring about what I put in my body, eating out was a challenge. How could I stay on track? It's easy when I'm at home working with what I have in my fridge. But at a restaurant?
Surely I would be inconveniencing the waiter or waitress, the cook. I'd feel awkward making special requests at the table with my friends or family. I was sure they would judge me, tease me, or make me otherwise uncomfortable.
But, as with anything in life, it's always harder when you first start out. Then, as you learn, and get more comfortable with what you're doing, it gets easier.
And let's face it - with friends, family, work meetings, and other social obligations, not eating out for the foreseable future isn't really an option. Nor is total restriction the goal.
The goal is to know how to make healthier choices than you may have made in the past. You can still eat paleo at restaurants and make better choices than you have in the past.
1. Choose your restaurant wisely
If you're able to have some input in chosing the restaurant, this is a HUGE opportunity for you.
Look up menus online ahead of time. See which restaurants have healthier options. You’ll get a feel for what they offer and consider some possible substitutions you might want to make.
If you're not sure how to go about looking for the restaurant, you can search Google or Yelp for like “paleo restaurants your city here” “farm to table restaurants” or “healthy restaurants."
You'll find a few options, and can then dig into their menus to see which items on their menu might be good starting points.
One of the easiest go-tos is a steakhouse. You can very easily eat paleo, and even Whole30, at a steakhouse - steak, baked sweet potato (naked, of course), and you're done.
2. Ask questions
Remember, your server has been trained in the menu and have more experience with it than you – so ask questions!
If you're trying to eat paleo at restaurants, the server doesn't need to know that.
Simply ask if your protein can be grilled and served plain. Ask for them to skip any oil or grease it may be cooked in. Ask if your vegetables can be steamed.
Just ask. A good server will answer your questions, or will go get the answers for you if they don't know.
3. Don’t over complicate it
When in doubt, use the KISS analogy - Keep It Simple, Stupid!
I'm not calling you stupid. I'm just encouraging you to embrace simplicity. Grilled protein. Steamed vegetables.
Beware sauces, soups, dressings, and anything else that contains multiple ingredients that are blended together and you aren't able to determine what is in them.
Order an entreé salad off the menu, and hold anything on it that doesn't fit with your personal eating choices. This usually means the cheese.
For dressing, I ask them to bring just plain olive oil and vinegar, or you can...
4. Bring Your Own Dressing (BYOD)
Bringing your own dressing with you saves you the hassle of trying to track down the exact ingredients of the restaurant’s dressings. This is the one thing that I have found that makes eating paleo at restaurants SO much easier.
I can pretty much guarantee you that no restaurant dressing is going to be paleo, and it's certainly not going to be Whole30 compliant.
If you feel awkward carrying around an entire bottle of dressing, ask for oil and vinegar - just make sure it's olive oil. Or, you can also purchase these individual packets of Tessemae's dressing - they have caesar, ranch, green goddess, and lemon garlic.
5. Get creative
I like to think about things that pack a punch of flavor, but still help me stay in my paleo lane. Balsamic vinegar adds a ton of flavor to food, as does lemon juice.
Guacamole is another go-to. I bet you've never thought of guac as a salad dressing, but it can be! It's typically just made with avocadoes, some veggies, lime juice and salt. It adds great healthy fats to the meal, and can make an otherwise dry salad super tasty.
You can also do a bit of salsa and a bit of guac together to pack an even bigger punch of flavor!
A couple of my go-to tricks are to either order a sandwich without the bun, or order anything "over greens." This is seriously limitless. Tacos? Ask for all the insides of the tacos on top of a salad, no taco shells. One place by me even does lettuce tacos. Boom.
For sandwiches, just skip the bun. A burger can usually be put over lettuce, or you can take the insides of any sandwich and just eat them with a fork and knife. Trust me, you don't need the bread, and you will feel better without it.
Don't feel limited by the structure of the menu. Think outside the box and how you can use the options on the menu to create something that works for you!
6. Don't forget the sides menu
We always forget about the little guys! You can often build a great meal from the sides menu, and Whole30 restaurant options or Paleo restaurant options are usually most readily available here.
Order a protein, then add a side or two of veggies, and you’ve just created your own meal.
You can usually find roasted or grilled veggies without much else added in.
Eating paleo at restaurants can be challenging, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. You'll start having these techniques down as your normal routine, and will be able to start looking at a menu and immediately pick out what you're going to order for your meal.
Give it time, give it practice, and get creative - it's worth it!
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