18 Tips for Eating Out Like a Paleo Pro
Imagine if you had a home chef who would cook every single meal for you, make it delicious, and also keep it 100% Paleo…
Would you ever fail to eat completely healthy and Paleo food in that situation?
But of course, most of us don’t have a personal chef (I certainly don’t), and because of that, we often end up eating out. A LOT.
Over 40% of Americans eat at a fast food restaurant at least once per week. And that’s just fast food – not even counting regular restaurants which are rarely healthier or more Paleo. And if you weren’t worried enough about American eating habits, over 10 billion donuts are consumed every year.
If you’re looking for some Paleo restaurant reviews, check out this list of restaurants we’ve reviewed.
Eating Out is Not Inevitable…
I haven’t mentioned this on the blog or on YouTube, but I actually haven’t eaten out in over 5 weeks.
That may not seem amazing to many of you, but I live in New York City right now, and eating out (or at least ordering in) is the norm here. I’m betting that my friends cook less than twice per week.
Still, Louise and I made a conscious decision to not eat out for a while just because we realized how problematic it was getting for us. Among other things, it’s almost impossible to avoid Omega-6 cooking oils.
But It’s Sometimes Necessary
Now…we’re not going to avoid eating out forever. Lately, we’ve been inviting friends to dinner at our place more, but we know we’ll eat out in the future.
Eating out is a big social occasion, and we don’t want to avoid hanging out with friends just because we’re stricter with our health.
So first of all, I’ve got a video for you…in which I cover 4 Awesome Ways to Make Eating Out Healthier and More Paleo
Here are 18 Tips for Eating Out Like a Paleo Pro
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This list of tips is not about being ideal. Ideal is that you buy fresh, local meats and produce and cook them yourself.
But that’s not always going to happen, so you need to have ways to mitigate the damage when you go out to eat.
Before You Go Out
- Order (in your mind) Before You Go Out. I know this takes a little time and work, but practically 100% of restaurant menus are online now (if not on the restaurant website, then on Yelp or MenuPages). Spend a few minutes before you go out, and actually decide what you’re going to order. Then, when you get to the restaurant, don’t even look at the menu. Just order.
- Eat Before You Get to the Restaurant. Doing this is golden. Even if you still plan on eating at the restaurant (since it’s often socially awkward not to), you don’t want to be starving by the time that you get there. Being hungry makes it much less likely that you’ll stick to your plans. Eating something Paleo before you go does 2 things: a) it makes you less likely to order something unhealthy, and b) it allows you to order something like a burger without a bun and not worry about being hungry. Carry some Paleo snacks with you like these to ensure you’re never left hungry!
- Try to Convince Your Friends/Family to Go to Certain Types of Restaurants. In particular, BBQ, Mediterranean/Greek, Middle Eastern, and steak restaurants are excellent, offering a lot of Paleo choices, from kebabs to steaks to seafood. I don’t know specifically which restaurants you have around your area, but you almost definitely have one of these types of restaurants.
- Many National (U.S) Chains are Good. Applebees, Chili’s, Outback, and TGI Friday’s all have a fair number of options to choose from, including steaks, chicken dishes, fajitas, seafood, and more. You’ll need to be careful about whether some of these options are breaded and/or have sauces with added sugars, but you’ll be able to find good choices.
- Never Go to Certain Restaurants. You should hang out with friends, even if it’s not convenient for your diet, if for no other reason than that community and friends are healthy. However, you should occasionally turn down offers, mostly if it means you’ll end up going to a restaurant where it’s extremely hard for you to order healthy Paleo food. Here are a few examples: Pizza joints, sandwich shops, many small mexican restaurants, and many italian restaurants. You can often get fajitas at a mexican restaurant and salad or chicken at an italian one, but the options are more limited. Pizza joints and sandwich shops are usually the worst.
- Don’t Be Shy When Asking Questions. You’re the one paying for and eating the food at a restaurant. You have a right to know what’s in it, so don’t be shy about asking questions.
- Say You Are Allergic or Sensitive to Gluten. Gluten is one of the worst things you can eat at a restaurant, but there’s an easy way around it. So many people are actually allergic to gluten now, that restaurants are very keen to avoid making anyone sick and becoming liable for it. Just tell your waiter or waitress that you’re allergic to gluten, and they’ll almost always be extra-careful to make sure that your food doesn’t contain any.
- Ask if the Dish You’re Ordering is Breaded. (Especially for seafood). I’ve ordered food so many times only to have it come and be breaded. I’m always so disappointed and shocked, even though I shouldn’t be. Make sure you ask.
- If You’re Very Sensitive to Something, Tell Them You’re Allergic. Allergies and sensitivities aren’t exactly the same thing, but it’s close enough. Restaurants are much more careful with allergies, so use that to your advantage. For some higher end restaurants, they can be super accommodating. For example, we ate at Meadowood in Napa for Louise’s birthday, and they recreated their set menu just for us to take out gluten and dairy.
- Say that You’re on a Prescribed Diet. You don’t have to say who prescribed it or exactly what it entails. Just give your waiter or waitress the details that matter. For instance, no gluten, no processed sugar, and no seed oils. Most restaurants try to accommodate prescribed diets, but they’re not always as helpful if they just view it as your preference.
- Read Reviews of the Restaurant Before Going. Search within the reviews or on google for Paleo or gluten-free. You might be able to use information previous customers have gleamed. For example, you might find that a particular restaurant has good gluten-free options.
- Ask If They Can Cook in Olive Oil Instead. It’s hard to go almost anywhere that doesn’t cook in corn, vegetable, or canola oil. Try asking if you can get your food cooked in olive oil (or if you tolerate dairy, in butter). Often a restaurant can’t change their cooking oils, so you have to decide whether it’s something you want to compromise on.
- Beware Added Sugar. Sugar is often added at various stages of preparation and cooking, so wait-staff might not know. For instance, they often don’t think about what went into make the sauce to begin with. Still, it’s a question worth asking.
- If the Wait-Staff Doesn’t Know Everything, Get Them to Ask the Chef. Many of the tips above are questions to ask, but often, your waiter or waitress won’t really know the answer. The chef usually does.
- Substitute Veggies as Side. Vegetables may not even be listed as a possible side, but most restaurants serve some time of vegetable (although many consider corn to be a vegetable).
- Ask for No MSG. Particularly if you’re eating at an Asian restaurant, but even many other restaurants add MSG. I don’t always remember to ask, and MSG isn’t the worst thing you can eat, but I try to remember as often as possible.
- Don’t Let Wait-Staff Leave Tempting Items on the Table. For instance, if they try to leave bread on your table, just say “No Thank You, We Don’t Eat Bread.” Having the bread (or other non-Paleo food) on the table just makes it that much harder to resist.
- Don’t Stress Too Much. Obviously, if you’re very sensitive or allergic to something, it’s a bigger deal. If you’re not, then don’t worry about eating something non-Paleo every once in a while, especially if it’s a small amount and only occasionally. Stress is neither healthy nor Paleo.
At the Restaurant
Like I said, these are tips that have gotten me through a lot of eating out while still trying to stay Paleo. Nothing will keep you from occasionally having to compromise your diet, but that’s OK. It’s just a diet, and you can always eat better at the next meal.
What are your favorite restaurants to eat out at and stay Paleo? What are your favorite “cheat” restaurants if you have them? Let me know in the comments!