Guide to Eating Out on Paleo
So you’re in the swing of cooking paleo at home, and you’re feeling great! But when you eat out you’re confronted by a long list of menu items, leaving you feeling a bit stressed and anxious (hold up… did that barista use almond milk in my coffee?!). Having less control over your food can certainly be a challenge when eating out on paleo. But having food requirements need not be a stressful event!
With a little bit of know-how and some help navigating a menu, let’s make eating out on paleo what it should be: stress-free, relaxed and enjoyable!
We’ve got you covered with our top tips for eating out on paleo:
#1 Apply the 80/20 Rule when Eating Out
If being super rigid with your diet creates unnecessary stress around food you may want to consider applying the 80/20 rule when eating out. This means comprising your diet of 80% wholesome food and 20% indulgent or not-so-nutritious food.
Here’s the trick: rather than thinking of paleo as a strict set of rules, think of it more as healthy living principles and a way of making informed and better choices.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean going all-out and ordering a cheese pizza – but if you’re happy with making some sensible compromises then know where that compromise will be (Gluten? Dairy? Grains?). In general, I tend to avoid gluten wherever possible when I’m out, but I’m quite happy making exceptions for dairy, gluten-free grains (i.e. rice) and legumes.
That said, some people do much better with an all-or-nothing approach (i.e. my partner) or may need to for certain health reasons, and that’s perfectly ok too!
Some things you may want to consider when applying the 80/20 rule:
- Do you follow strict paleo for specific health concerns? If you’re following a paleo diet due to food sensitivities/ intolerances, an autoimmune condition, leaky gut etc., then you may feel that you need to be more strict with your diet. If you don’t tolerate dairy, don’t eat dairy. If you have gluten sensitivity, don’t eat gluten.
- Do you follow paleo for general health? If you don’t have any major health concern you may benefit from following more general guidelines or 80/20. That doesn’t mean going all-out, but for example, if you tolerate dairy then a bit of cream in your meal won’t be the end of you!
- Are you an ‘all-or-nothing’ person? Or do you need to indulge every now and then to maintain your sanity? This comes down to the individual. For some, slipping up once opens up the flood gate to poor eating choices (one cookie begets another and another), whereas others are ok with indulging and then returning to their healthy eating habits.
- How often do you dine out? If you’re eating out frequently during the week you may want to be more conscious with your choices to ensure 80/20 doesn’t become 20/80!
#2 Picking A Paleo Friendly Restaurant
Most of the time, you’re unlikely to find a restaurant that caters specifically to paleo (though more places are springing up!) and that means knowing how to navigate a menu effectively. You can, however, make this easier on yourself by picking a restaurant that is more flexible with options that you can adapt to suit your needs.
Restaurants that are generally paleo-friendly include more modern places that offer gluten and dairy free options. Steak houses, seafood places, sushi joints and Japanese are also fairly clean. Fine dining restaurants are also good (you know, the kinds that serve smaller portions) as they often steer away from cheap carbohydrate fillers like bread and pasta, and tend towards quality meats and seasonal produce.
Restaurants that are best avoided include Chinese and Indian, as many of these dishes include sauces with unidentifiable ‘gooby‘ ingredients (hello MSG, soy and gluten). Italian can also be difficult for obvious reasons. Now, that’s not to say these places are impossible to navigate – but it can be more tricky, and you will likely have to compromise.
This is all well and good if you’re picking the restaurant yourself. However, if you’re dining with friends or attending an event you often won’t have control over the restaurant choice – and that’s totally ok! This brings us to…
#3 Ordering Off the Menu
When it comes to ordering off a menu, it’s important not to overcomplicate things or stress yourself out. Before you get overwhelmed by the choices, here are a few key concepts to remember:
- Keep it simple and JERF (Just Eat Real Food).
- Know your ‘ideal’ food template: protein, vegetables and clean carbs.
With that in mind, start by looking for a protein component (steak, fish, seafood etc) and pair that with a vegetable side (steamed greens, side salad etc) and you have a winner. Don’t be afraid to mix and match. If the meal you’re looking to order comes with a gooby side, ask if you can have some greens instead. Most restaurant will be happy to do this for you, so long as you’re polite of course!
Some other tips for navigating the menu when eating out on paleo:
- Skip the chips (and other deep-fried foods): Unless otherwise specified, you can almost guarantee they have been fried in some kind of nasty, polyunsaturated fat. At high temperatures these fats become unstable and form trans-fatty acids – the most detrimental kind of fats for your health. If the meal you’re looking to order comes with a side of chips, ask if you can have yours without or if you can swap it for more greens.
- Be Wary of Battered/ Crumbed Foods: There’s nothing like ordering a piece of fish, only to find when it arrives that it’s been crumbed and deep fried! Keep a lookout for how your meat has been cooked and if you’re not sure, ask.
- Swap sugary salad dressings for olive oil and lemon/ vinegar/ balsamic: The salad may seem like the most innocent item on the menu – but keep in mind that salad dressings are often loaded with refined sugar, soy and gluten. When ordering, ask the waiter if you can swap the dressing for olive oil and lemon (or vinegar/ balsamic) or ask for the dressing on the side. Almost every restaurant carries these basics so it shouldn’t be any extra trouble!
- Order the burger bun-less: The contents of a burger can be surprisingly healthy when you take away the bread. One option is to order your burger on gluten-free bread. Though gluten-free bread isn’t exactly optimal or paleo (often containing soy flour and other weird stuff) it may be a slightly better option if you’re going 80/20. The best option: Ask if you can order the burger, sans bun. Yes, you might get a strange look, but hey, you’re prioritising your health! In some places, they will compensate the lack of bun with more salad and vegetables: win!
- Order the all-day breakfast: Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to order, as most places offer standard bacon and eggs. If you’re going out for lunch, keep an eye out for an all-day breakfast option!
Let us know if these tips help, and feel free to comment below with your own tips for eating out on paleo!