Restrictive diets are NO reason to restrict yourself from enjoying the social and delicious joys of dining out. Although the majority of restaurants are catered to people that are not on special diets, that does not mean you cannot have a personalized dining experience at them.
Tips to help you stick to your health goals when dining out:
1.Pick the place
If you pick the place, hopefully you choose it out of familiarity, which gives you the advantage of knowing what you can or cannot eat there. This eliminates the uncertainty of the menu and provides available options for you. Remember that higher quality restaurants have higher quality food choices (II).
2. Look up the menu beforehand
If you do not get the choice of picking the restaurant, always find out where you are going before you arrive to do some research on the menu. This way you will have a plan prepared once you arrive, so you can save your important questions about your meal of choice for the staff instead of asking about the menu.
3. Bring your own dressing/vegan bread/ etc.
Most of the time restaurants will have salads to eat, but who knows what is actually in their dressing? Bring your own!! Or ask for olive oil and lemon(I). Also, if you call beforehand, you may get the chef’s approval to cook with your own grain-free or vegan bread depending on the restaurant (II). Always worth a shot!
4. Look for simple ingredients and ask questions
Do not order anything complicated. The more straightforward the meal, the less chance of running into troublesome ingredients. Never be shy to ask the waiter or waitress questions about the menu or your order. Their job is to know the in’s and out’s of the menu and also to serve each customer's unique needs. You should never feel like a nuisance because of this, you are giving them your business! You can also call beforehand and ask for the manager to make sure that they will be able to accommodate you once you arrive, so there are no issues (II).
5. Dining Card
Bring a card of the list of things that you can and cannot eat so that you can hand it to the waiter or chef, and they can point you in the right direction of what to order (II). Always tell them if you have any food allergies up front and put those on the card as well (II).
If you find something on the menu that looks good except for a couple minor things added to it, don’t be afraid to ask to customize the meal! For example, getting a hamburger or a sandwich with lettuce as the buns instead of bread. Most of the time it is less work for the restaurant anyway, since they are simplifying your meal.
7. Avoid Salad Bars and Buffets
Cross contamination can occur when trying to make your meal at a salad bar or a buffet, so it is best to avoid those in general.
8. Support local!
Look out for local cafes and restaurants because most of the time, they derive their food sources locally as well! This means fresh produce and grass-fed meat. Lots of great food that you want to be eating and it will be easier to seek out when choosing a place to dine at.
What About Niche Restaurants?
Although we covered some great tips for eating out on a restricted diet, we did not get into the specifics of how to stay on track at niche restaurants such as fast food chains, Mexican restaurants, Starbucks etc. We thought this article would help with that: https://paleoleap.com/eating-out-on-paleo-diet/
Our take away...
Be safe out there and most of all, enjoy your dining out experience!