It’s almost time for school to let out and many families hit the open road for vacation or family reunions. For people with food sensitivities or those adhering to a specific nutrition plan like Paleo, dining out can be filled with tension and downright daunting. When there is not a grass-fed, organic, picked by Tibetan orphans, sprinkled with tears of unicorns, blessed by a Paleo Priest restaurant close by, you may have to eat in chain restaurants where everything is covered in soybean oil or MSG. Here are some easy ideas to make substitutes or ask for specific food requests without coming across like a neurotic twit. And yes, I’m one of those neurotic twits with Celiac disease so I ask a ton of questions or I stick to basics. I have no shame about taking all precautions about what I put in my body.
1. Fast food-Grilled chicken, hold the bun.
Most fast food places have assembly line type food preparation. Asking for a freshly grilled piece of chicken with no sauce is not that extreme. In fact, it seems to be more common than a year ago. I order that often and rarely get any questioning looks or “lemme ask the manager”.
2. Baked potato, no fries.
When it comes to Paleo, a white baked potato is a grey area. If you have fat loss goals, these are not recommended. However, fries cooked in vegetable oils are definitely not on the list. If there is no option for a sweet potato, go for the baked white instead of fried anything. At least with a baked potato, you know the inside of the skin has not been tampered with or contaminated with gluten.
I love skewers. Many chain restaurants have various meats and seafoods with veggies on skewers. If there is any marinade or sauce, be careful with soy sauce. If you are not gluten-sensitive, this may not be a crucial issue. Skewers are easy to customize with a butter sauce or no sauce at all.
4. Salads, no croutons
These are no-brainers. I am a little leery of fast food pre-prepared salads, but have eaten them in desperate times. Restaurant salads with no croutons and a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing with some chicken, steak, or seafood can be very flavorful and filling.
5. Grilled protein, not fried
Mainstream and local holes-in-the-wall will most likely have a sirloin burger, sirloin tips, grilled chicken, grilled salmon, or steak. Even pasta places have grilled sirloin that you can ask for steamed vegetables or a side salad.
6. Burrito bowls/salad bowls
This time of year, salads are on the sale menu. At Mexican restaurants, burrito bowls are easy to customize. Ask for a bowl with rice (another Paleo grey area) lettuce, meat, salsa, guacomole and/or pico de gallo. Ask for a taco salad in a bowl without the tortilla. You can always ask for double anything. I like to ask for double fajita veggies at Chipotle to go with my carnitas, rice, and salsa bowl.
7. Don’t skip over the appetizer menu
Sometimes the best bets are on the appetizer menu. Potato skins with veggies, salsa with raw veggies from a salad bar, broth-based soup, chicken tenders ordered grilled instead of fried (ask! many places can do this), and a side salad are found on many appetizer menus. If you ask for a dinner portion, most places will do that for a couple of dollars more.
Adhering to a %100 Paleo plan while dining out can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Check out mainstream restaurant websites for nutrition information. Pick your battles. If I have to choose between a white potato or pre-cooked veggies in a questionable sauce, I’m going with a potato that won’t contaminate me. If everything looks to be covered in soybean or vegetable oils, you can bet I’m going to be difficult and ask for a naked piece of protein, grilled, with steamed veggies. It all depends on your health goals, your hard lines and gray areas, and what will make you feel good about your nutrition. Hit the road and enjoy!