A primary challenge that I hear about and experience while living a grain-free and sugar free diet is the difficulty with eating out at restaurants. In today’s age, eating out is a delightful luxury and a large socialization activity. For myself, I love going to restaurants with my girlfriends to socialize and catch up , with my Mom for mother-daughter lunches, or with my boyfriend for date nights. Going grain-free shouldn’t mean you have to give it up completely, it merely becomes a challenge that requires a little bit more effort.
Here are a few key tips to be able to eat out at restaurants and still maintain a grain free diet.
- Choose the meat (or fish) and vegetable entree.
Most restaurants will have a meat and vegetable entree such as grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. If they don’t – you can always see if they can make you one. A common dish is also salmon and steamed veggies. It is a safe bet that these meals will not have any grains. You may be compromising on price here, as usually these entrees are around $4-5 more per plate than the average meal, but its worth knowing you are taking care of your health.
- Don’t be afraid to substitute the sides.
I will often substitue my sides for a more grain-free option. For example, if the dish is chicken with rice; I will ask for vegetables, a salad or soup instead of the rice. Even if the meal was originally “chicken with vegetables and rice”, I will ask to eliminate the rice and double the vegetables. Just be sure to ask for an array of vegetables, as one time I did this and I ended up with half a plate of steamed broccoli only!
- Avoid the “middle of the menu”…just like we avoid the “middle of the grocery store”.
The middle of the menu is often where your burgers, sandwhiches, pastas and pizzas are. If at all possible, avoid this section, unless there are entrees in the middle of the menu.
- Create appetizers into a meal
Many appetizer sections will have an array of soups, salads and other grain-free appies such as sweet potato fries. You can always double up and eat a few of them as a meal. At one restaurant I eat at frequently, I often will get their sweet potato fries and chicken and veggie skewer. The two of them together make a great meal!
- Choose salad: but check your ingredients!
Salads are often a great option, as most of them will be grain and gluten free. However, make sure to read the ingredients carefully and omit the items that may contain grains such as croutons, crispy japanese noodles or taco pieces. Read the ingredients of the salad dressings as well and when in doubt, ask if sugar is used in the dressing. If so, you can always ask them to make you a standard balsamic vinaigrette dressing instead. If at all possible, choose restaurants that offer a do-it-yourself salad bar. This is a great way to control what is going into your meal!
- Keep an eye open for that gluten-free symbol.
In restaurants, if you see the gluten-free symbol, often it will be a grain-free item. Just check the ingredients list carefully to check.
- Say no to a side of bread
Most breakfast dishes come with some sort of toast or side pastry, and many entrees come with a side of garlic toast. To avoid temptation altogether, ask to omit these items and if you like, add additional fruit or vegetables to your plate.
- Get creative: create your own dish
Most restaurants these days are pretty accommodating to people with food sensitivities and allergies. So if you can conjure up a grain-free meal in your head, ask your waiter to see if the kitchen will accommodate – you would be surprised how willing they usually are!
- Read the ingredients list carefully.
Don’t just read the titles – make sure to read what is in the meal, and ask questions if the descriptions are vague or not clear.
- Drinks: play safe with water, tea and coffee.
Try to avoid all sugary and processed drinks including pop, diet pop and cocktails. I usually stick to water, tea, and coffee. If you want to flavour up your water, you can ask for “lemon water” or “water with a slice of cucumber”.
- Preview the menu online before going
This is a great way to avoid situations where there is nothing on the menu that you can eat. Most restaurants have websites these days where you can research the dishes you are able to have ahead of time . If you have any questions or concerns, you can always call the restaurant to inquire about their meals. Sometimes there are only one or two dishes that you may be able to choose from at a restaurant, but at least there’s something!
- Aknowledge a cheat-day
Occassionally you will have those days where you just feel like cheating, and that is okay too, just aknowledge it and know that tomorrow is a new day.
- Accept the uncontrollable
We do not know every single ingredient used in restaurant meals such as the use of toxic oils or added sugars and preservatives. When we eat out at restaurants we accept that there is a mystery to our food, and we will never truly know what is in it unless we ask for an exact list of ingredients. The ability to completely control what is in our food is compromised when we eat out at restaurants, and that is just something we accept before going out to eat.
- Avoid fast-food
I once heard a saying “a salad from Mcdonalds is like drinking a diet coke”….basically even the healthy options at fast food restaurants have their mystery, and the quality of their ingredients is often questionable. Of course it goes without saying that most fast food joints primarily serve burgers, fries and other greasy sugary snacks that must be avoided.
- But if you have to eat fast food….
If you find yourself in a situation where you must eat fast food, choose the healthier of the fast-food restaurants such as Subway where you can order a salad or soup. In my work building there is also a fast food salad bar place called The Chopped Leaf that specializes in salads only – something like this is a great alternative to the usual burger joint.
- Do your research
Research chowhound.com, your local celiac association website or simply google “gluten free or paleo friendly restaurants + your city name”. Many people in your area will take the time to blog and write on forums about restaurants that are good for those following specific diets. The information is out there, you may just need to dig a little deeper to find it!