Embarking on a Whole30/paleo adventure can be intimidating enough within the safe confines of your own kitchen – dining out is a whole other ball game. In fact, I didn’t eat anything I had not prepared myself (aside from a nearby salad bar) for almost the entirety of my first Whole30. My first experience dining out with in New Orleans… and let’s just say it went something like this:
Me: Can I get a po’boy with no bread or sauce – just vegetables and grilled shrimp?
Server: … What?
Me: Can I get the contents of the sandwich minus sauce and bread on a plate?
Server: … Why?
I ended up getting several pieces of shrimp on a small plate with no vegetables at all. It’s safe to say that I failed in effectively communicating my dietary needs that time (paired with the fact that this was the worst response I’d ever received from a server).
However, I have gotten better at ordering in restaurants and dealing with questions from servers and fellow diners alike – and it doesn’t have to be a monumental, scary experience! There are several steps you can take to make dining out a pleasant experience while maintaining a paleo lifestyle:
Research ahead of time. If at all possible, scope out the menu of where you’ll be dining ahead of time. Most restaurants have their full menus available online, so you’ll be able to see which menu items are already gluten/legume/sugar/dairy/soy free (or can be altered easily). For instance, most restaurants have a grilled chicken or seafood dish – swap out starchy sides like rice, pasta, or potatoes for vegetables, and you’re good to go. If you want to make sure something like this is possible, call the restaurant ahead of time to ask questions about substitutions, dietary restrictions, and oil usage.
Don’t be nervous. Servers and chefs encounter many, many diners with dietary restrictions on a daily basis. If you explain your restrictions, they should be able to help you come up with a meal that will fit perfectly – but they can’t help unless they know what you need to avoid, so speak up!
It’s okay to lie a little. While I don’t tell restaurants I have food allergies/am diabetic (though that does work for some people), I do not ever simply say that I’m on a diet. As a former restaurant worker, I can say with confidence that most people will treat diets far less seriously than you will need. Instead, I just say, “I have a few dietary restrictions,” before I even begin my order. While this isn’t technically a lie, it sounds a lot better and more serious than saying, “I’m on a diet.”
Don’t be a punching bag. Inevitably, your fellow diners will have questions about your dietary restrictions; answer them, but don’t allow the questions to turn into an attack on your eating habits. If the questions about what you do/do not consume, why you are paleo, etc. begin to turn into jabs, deflect and steer the conversation towards something else. When this happens to me, there are a couple of approaches I take: one is to remind my dining companion(s) about the positive changes I’ve experienced since beginning paleo, and the other is to simply smile and then change the subject.
Carry a snack. I try to carry apples, dates, sweet potato bars, carrots, and other similarly small snacks in my coat pocket, purse, or car at all times for occasions such as these. If you are able to eat something before going into the restaurant (or even bring your snack into the restaurant with you), you’ll be a lot less likely to stress out about finding enough food on the menu. Staying on track with paleo is difficult if you’re hangry (so hungry, you’re angry)!
That all being said, it’s still best to make as much of your food yourself as possible – only then will you have 100% control of what goes into your food. So, here’s a recipe that Tony created all on his own this weekend:
Tony’s Steak and Spinach/Green Bean/Almond/Bacon Deliciousness
Prep to plate time: 25 min
Steak (any cut)
Bacon (several slices)
Green beans (yes, these are Whole30 approved – they are considered more “pod” than “legume”)
Salt & pepper
Preheat two pans for sauteing. Cube steak while waiting. Place bacon in one pan and steak in the other; saute for 4-6 minutes. Remove steak and bacon, place on a plate. Place green beans in the bacon pan, using the bacon grease as cooking oil. Saute for approximately 4 minutes or until green beans reach desired tenderness. Place everything on plate, and top with chopped spinach, celery, almond, and crumbled bacon strips. Salt and pepper as desired.
Note: I have had intense cravings for very strong flavors for the past week, so I topped my green beans, bacon, and steak with brown mustard, tons of sauerkraut, and raw white onions.