This post on eating out paleo originally appeared as a guest post at the Paleo Treats blog. Check out the site for delicious deals on paleo goodies.
When I transitioned to a paleo lifestyle after 10+ years of being a vegetarian, the first meal I ate out was a chicken salad. I distinctly remember every bland bite of it (grilled chicken, spinach, a few other forgettable veggies, and olive oil as dressing), wondering if this would become the new norm for dining out as my newly paleo self. While I can’t say I have avoided chicken salad all this time (it’s since been three years since that first bite of meat – not sure if I can ever go back), I have discovered that eating at restaurants while sticking to a paleo lifestyle is not nearly as bland or boring as initially thought.
For myself personally, I have to pay extra attention to soy or gluten-derived ingredients for health reasons. This makes it especially important that I cautiously approach new restaurants, menus, and food groups that I’m not familiar with.
When traveling, I typically research places in advance by reaching out to local paleo bloggers and checking Yelp reviews for insider tips. This helps me get an understanding of which restaurants are most likely to cater to a gluten free/paleo lifestyle while also unearthing places I may have never even thought to try.
Recently, I visited Portland and enjoyed several delicious paleo dishes (think: bacon wrapped dates, a hearty beef and liver meatloaf, and coconut flour battered chicken fingers) at the city’s first paleo restaurant and food cart, Cultured Caveman. I highly recommend it! In San Francisco, local paleo foodies go crazy for Pica Pica and Roam Burger. Nearby in Berkeley, Mission: Heirloom Cafe gets rave reviews for its gourmet paleo eats.
While Portland and San Francisco offer numerous paleo and gluten free options, not every city will provide this luxury. When eating out, here are a few basic tips for sticking to a paleo lifestyle and keeping your health and fitness goals on track.
Research the restaurant. In advance of visiting a new restaurant, scour the menu online, ask friends for tips, and check online reviews. A great resource for gluten free restaurants is Find Me Gluten Free, which locates nearby options. If still unsure, give the restaurant a call and ask if they can cater to food sensitivities such as gluten or soy intolerance. If you have restrictions due to health issues, don’t risk it — make sure to find out about special menu items ahead of visiting.
Identify sneaky sources of hidden gluten and soy. Hidden in many sauces and dressings, soy and wheat often find a way to sneak onto your plate unintentionally in the form of dressings, bread crumbs, oats, soups, potato chips, rice cakes, imitation crabmeat and even marinara sauce.
Soy sauce in particular can get overlooked as a hidden source of wheat, and is typically included in Asian food dishes such as anything made with teriyaki or peanut sauce.
Again — when in doubt, be sure to research ahead of time or ask a staff member at the restaurant in order to be sure. Coconut aminos is a paleo friendly alternative to soy sauce. Pack a small bottle from home the next time you eat a sushi restaurant and skip the soy sauce in favor of coconut aminos instead.
Navigate the menu like a paleo ninja. Consider requesting a sandwich without the bread (at the fast food joint, In-N-Out, this is called “protein style”) or a burger served on top of salad. Replace fried side dishes and appetizers with a double order of veggies, sweet potatoes or plantains, and skip the bread basket in favor of deviled eggs or a charcuterie plate if you must have a pre-meal bite. Opt for any sauces, dips or dressings to come alongside the dish rather than slathered on in advance. Stick to wine or cider rather than beer if you choose to indulge in a drink with your meal. Many dressings include additives such as sugar, soy and wheat, so consider opting for olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or a fresh squeezed lemon instead. At the end of the day if in doubt and no gluten free or paleo menu is available, a protein and a veggie should suffice.
Bring your own snacks when on the go: Most airports and gas stations are way behind the ball on offering any type of whole food options. The best I’ve found is a $7 fruit bowl or possibly a “protein box” from an airport coffee shop or a KIND bar at a gas station if I’m lucky. In a pinch, these might be OK but being prepared when on a long trip is a less stressful and more enjoyable approach, rather than relying on fast food. Some of my go-to travel snacks include plantain chips, Larabars (or other gluten-free friendly snack bars) and beef jerky. Check out Thrive Market to search for more delicious and paleo-friendly snacks. When you’re hungry and in transit for several hours, you’ll be glad you thought ahead.
Dining out while eating paleo does not have to be boring, and nearly any restaurant can offer modified dishes to meet your needs. Be sure to research ahead of time, understand the hidden sources of things like soy and gluten, don’t be shy about requesting modifications to menu items, and take snacks when you’re on-the-go to always have a backup plan in place.