When you’re working on cleaning up your diet and avoiding gut bombs like gluten, dairy, sugar, etc., eating out can be pretty tricky. I’m a big believer in the 80-20 Rule when it comes to diet. If you’re on point 80% of the time, you’ve got 20% wiggle room to live life without feeling restricted or deprived, i.e. having that extra glass of wine, eating some birthday cake, or having pizza night with the fam, etc. That said, you don’t want to take a mile when you’re given an inch. This “rule” isn’t a free pass to binge all weekend and then be super strict all week. Instead, it’s a recipe for balance and freedom without totally derailing your health and weight goals. So when you do indulge, you don’t feel guilty and you know that it will be fine because you’re getting right back on the clean eating bandwagon for the next meal. A good example would be having a Friday pizza night and then waking up the next morning and starting your day with warm water + lemon, followed by a green smoothie for breakfast. Balance, ya see?
Ok, so now that we’ve gotten that all straight, let’s talk about how to navigate menus and eat healthfully when dining out. First, set yourself up for success by choosing a restaurant/café that has at least a few healthy options. A great help is the Happy Cow app. Whenever I’m traveling, I check Happy Cow for plant-based, healthy restaurants in the area. I’ve found some real gems that I would have never found otherwise using this app!
Once you get to the restaurant, ask the waiter to please not bring the basket of bread. Empty. Calories. If you’re starving when you arrive, ask for some olives, hummus or guacamole + veggies, or immediately order a house salad. Let’s get that blood sugar stable so you can make better choices!
As for dessert…. Is it your birthday? Didn’t think so….so don’t really need your own, do you? Share one with your dinner mate(s). Have a few bites and call it a night.
Now that we’ve got the ground rules in place, here’s how to order at various types of restaurants:
Get whatever fish they have that is wild-caught, ask for it grilled or steamed, plus two veggie sides, or a salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.
Scan the menu or ask the waiter if they have a grass-fed fillet. Generally, steaks are pretty huge so you can share with a friend and pair it with a side of broccoli and perhaps a sweet potato.
A good option is a coconut green or red curry dish – you can keep it all veggie, or add some chicken or shrimp. If they have brown rice, do that, otherwise a bit of white rice is fine. Just try to keep your rice intake to about ½ cup. They give you way too much!
Start with a cucumber salad and then hit up the sashimi menu. It’s easy to go crazy with all the different rolls so maybe just order 1-2 to split with your dining partner. Ask the waiter to bring some tamari (gluten free soy sauce) – most good sushi restaurants have this now.
Skip the pasta and go for the grilled protein + veggie option or perhaps the cioppino (fish stew). Start with steamed mussels or an Italian salad.
Start with some hummus and crudites. Steer clear of all carb-y and cheesy menu items and order some roasted fish or rack of lamb with mixed veggies.
Chips and salsa are certainly not the worst thing, but it’s very easy to go overboard and totally fill up before you even order your entrée. You can ask the waiter for raw veggies and guacamole instead. Fajitas are a great option – meat, salsa, guac, onions, peppers, beans on top of a salad or in a GF tortilla. Skip the cheese and sour cream.
Places to grab lunch on the go…
Hit up the salad bar or get some brown rice sushi
Massive salad bar
Keep it simple with chicken and a side salad
Skip the tortilla shell and get a bowl full of lettuce, black beans, brown rice, peppers, onions, chicken, salsa and guacamole.
When you're eating out, it's not going to be perfect -- your chicken may come breaded when you thought it would be grilled, your veggies might be sauteed in canola oil, the sauce might sneak in some sugar or gluten, or the salad may come with some cheese that you can't pick out. Not ideal, but that's ok. It's what you do most of the time, not what you do some of the time, that makes a real, lasting impact on your health.