How to Stick to the Paleo Diet When Dining Out

By Kellyann Petrucci, Melissa Joulwan, Patrick Flynn, Adriana Harlan

Eating out is an inevitable and pleasurable part of our culture. But when you’re committed to a Paleo diet, it becomes something of a challenge — although one you can meet with a little forethought and information.

Making informed choices

Here are some tips to help you win over your server and get the information you need to make Paleo-friendly choices:

  • Call ahead. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need; people are often happy to accommodate you, especially if it means repeat business.

  • Ask about gluten. Although gluten-free options may still involve grains, a gluten-free menu is a good starting point for asking questions and finding meals that don’t include glutinous grains.

  • Say “no” to the pre-meal freebies. When the server delivers snacks like bread or chips with your menu, smile and say, “No, thank you.”

  • Ask about oils. Most restaurants use canola oil for their griddles, pan frying, deep frying, and salads. If you know you’re sensitive to oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, skip any foods cooked in canola oil.

  • Make substitutions. You can always swap side dishes — request a side of fruit instead of potatoes at breakfast, for example — or ask for a double order of good things like vegetables.

  • Get creative. Request that sauces be served on top of vegetables instead of pasta, or ask for sandwich fillings on a bed of lettuce instead of between bread.

  • Check the dressing. Factory-made salad dressings are notorious for including hidden sugars, soy, and corn, so ask your server about the salad dressing. If it’s commercially made, opt instead for vinegar or lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil for your salad. Order whatever dressing you choose on the side so you can control your portion.

Managing the restaurant menu

If you’re diligent and ask lots of questions, eating in a restaurant can be a fun, pleasurable experience. Remember: You’re not aiming for perfection. Just do your best, and then relax and savor your food.

Forget battered and crispy and look for these cooking methods and descriptions to find the most Paleo-friendly choices on the menu — and remember to ask clarifying questions of your server to verify ingredients and cooking methods.

  • Braised

  • Broiled

  • Grilled

  • Poached

  • Roasted

  • Sautéed

  • Smoked

  • Sous vide

  • Steamed

Beware of soups and stews. They can be a satisfying one-stop source of quality protein and vegetables, unless the chef thickens them with a flour-based roux or adds cream for a smooth texture. Ask lots of questions about soups and stews, including whether they contain soy, flour, other grains, or dairy.

Be inquisitive! Terms like salsa and relish usually indicate fresh vegetables diced and tossed together with seasonings to add zing to meats and vegetables, which means they can be Paleo friendly. But these condiments can also include added sugar, soy, and wheat, so ask plenty of questions before you dig in.