Too often, many paleo-dieters are left isolated in the comfort of their own kitchen in an effort to stay away from the not so healthy foods found in restaurants. This can leave many people with a heavy feeling of anxiety when they go out for social gatherings and of course, hungry.
Never fear, there are many things you can do when eating out to reduce your exposure to foods that are not paleo friendly, and foods that are just downright unhealthy.
First of all, you can do yourself a big favor and save yourself some time in ordering if you can look up the menu online, if you know where you are going to be eating out. Many restaurants these days have gluten-free and dairy-free food options because of the increase of awareness about these food allergies.
If you do have food allergies, make sure to let the server know ahead of time because sometimes even foods that don’t contain them can be cross contaminated because of cooking on the same surfaces as foods that contain the allergens. If you have a question about a sauce or salad dressing, or how something is cooked, just call the restaurant ahead of time to stay on top of things.
Avoiding GMO Food
One thing that all paleo pro’s know to do, is avoid anything fried in vegetable oils (especially GMO canola and soybean oil), because these polyunsaturated fats become rancid when exposed to high heat and promote inflammation in the body.
If you want to order a food that is usually fried in vegetable oil, ask if the food can be cooked in butter if it is available at the restaurant. If butter isn’t available, ask if the food can be steamed. I do this with the red potatoes at IHOP, and they never have a problem with steaming them for me.
Something that many people don’t know, because it would destroy the authenticity that you think many restaurants have, is that the majority of restaurants in the U.S. are serviced by one food supply company for everything! From frozen meats to produce, sauce, salad dressings, and many other food items. Unfortunately, most of these dressings and sauces are going to be made in a factory and will most likely include junk genetically engineered such as high-fructose corn syrup, soy, corn, and wheat gluten.
Always ask your server about the ingredients if you are unsure, and if it’s commercially-made, it’s always safe to just use vinegar, lime juice, lemon juice and olive oil (if available) for your salad or adding some zest to other parts of your meal. Some restaurants that make their food in house may have sauces that could be safer, but always check to make sure. There is always going to be a little wiggle room between paleo enthusiasts on just how much sugar, msg, or minimal amounts of other unfriendly foods they will allow in a meal.
Paleo friendly cooking methods
Broiled: Broiled chicken, steak, seafood, and all kinds of other meats can be a great choice when eating out. Just ask if the meat is braised with anything before or after cooking to make sure there are no unwanted ingredients.
Steamed: Steaming is usually the safest route to take when it comes down to the having the lowest probability of your food being contaminated with anything else. To be on the safe side, always ask if the vegetables are topped with seasonings or vegetable oil.
Poached: Fish and chicken poached in water or broth can be extremely flavorful, and a wonderful addition to a paleo meal. Sometimes flavorings such as wine or msg can be added, so make sure to clarify if this is the case before making your order.
Roasted: Roasted meats and vegetables always make a safe and great addition to any meal. Sometimes the vegetables are dry-rubbed with marinades or oils before being put into the oven, so always check to see what ingredients may be used in these. You can always make a request that yours go in without it, or possibly with some butter or olive oil if they need something to keep them from sticking.
Grilled: Another fabulous option, but just as I mentioned with roasting, remember to double-check on marinade and dry rub ingredients. If BBQ sauce is added afterwards, you will want to check the ingredients on this and see if you are comfortable with the amount of sugar that it may contain. Many places carry gluten-free BBQ sauce.
Sautéed: Food that is cooked with this method could be a marvelous dream, or a horrific nightmare of the hungry paleo-dieter. This is because 80 percent of the time, or 100 percent at buffets, food is sautéed in GMO canola and soybean oils. There are many restaurants, though, that do serve different sautéed dishes cooked in butter. I have found that many Italian and French restaurants use butter in many dishes.
Smoked: Smoking is generally a very paleo-friendly cooking method. As said with grilling and roasting, the same applies here, always ask if the meat is rubbed in anything prior to and after cooking. Sometimes sugar is included in the rubs used on meat, but the amounts used are usually very minimal.
The staples of eating out on Paleo
Burger without the bun: You may frequently find yourself meeting friends at burger joints, and find yourself desperately trying to find something you can eat on the menu. Although you probably won’t ever have much to choose from, there is one safe combo that you can almost always go with in this situation, and that’s a burger patty and a salad. Once you mix the two together, try adding some salt, pepper, and little lemon to spice things up a little bit.
Salads: This is one of the standard go-to meals for the paleo person on the go. Almost every restaurant and even most fast food joints offer a menu of different salads that are available. Although they may not be organic, you can still stay well within the paleo boundary line by ordering salads that are topped with raw veggies and boiled eggs. Many places also serve salads with a variety of different meats to choose from. Just make sure to stay away from salads such as the “Santa Fe” style ones that contain things like tortilla chips and corn.
Barbecue: Barbecue pits can be a great choice for many people. You can always order meat without the sauce if there is an ingredient that you are not comfortable with in it. Although many of the salads they make contain mayo, such as the potato salad and coleslaw, they still offer a few paleo-friendly vegetable foods like baked potatoes, green beans, and salads.
Eggs: Most restaurants will have options that contain eggs, whether poached, over-easy, or scrambled, they are all safe options as long as they aren’t cooked in vegetable oil. I frequently order eggs in different forms when I go out to eat and have never had an issue with anyone not being able to prepare them without oils.
Steamed veggies: Any restaurant that serves vegetables is usually capable of steaming them for you. I can’t think of one time that I asked if I could get steamed vegetables and was told no. The most common steamed veggies served are carrots, squash, and broccoli.
Mix-matching: If you are dedicated to the paleo lifestyle and you have to eat out often, you are without a doubt going to have to mix-match foods quite a bit. This may seem like a hassle at first, but once you memorize what foods you can eat at certain places it will be easy. Mix-matching is simply just asking the server if instead of ordering an entrée, you can just order a few different items that are on the menu and combine them to make your meal.
I’ll give you an example of mix-matching that I frequently use at restaurants as long as these ingredients are all available. I order steamed broccoli, steamed potatoes, steamed squash and steamed/roasted chicken. If I’m eating out at an Asian restaurant, I usually just order steamed chicken or beef, and a box of mixed steamed veggies. The veggies will typically include mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, and sometimes corn (I always just throw out the corn).
At the end of the day….
One thing that deters many people from eating out is the embarrassment of having to make “special orders” in front of friends and family. It can feel uncomfortable to ask for what you need sometimes, but you MUST remember that at the restaurant, you’re the one paying the tab and leaving the tip. You have the right to get exactly what you would like on your plate, as long as it’s possible and available.
I know that many of us, paleo advocates, can get really anxious and worrisome when it comes to our food. We have to realize that after slaving away preparing all of our meals almost every day at home in the kitchen, occasionally we deserve the chance to be wined and dined at the expense of someone else’s labor. It’s counter-productive to get so stressed out about what you’re eating that you render the health benefits of eating well useless. Sometimes you just have to relax, breathe, and enjoy your life and your Paleo Diet.