7 Tips for Eating Out With Food Restrictions

I always say that following a restrictive diet would be so easy if you have a private chef that puts delicious healthy meals in front of your nose. Unfortunately for most of us, that is far from reality. I firmly believe that the best thing you can do for your family and your own health is to cook meals at home from scratch. Especially if you or a member of your family has food restrictions. Once you get the hang of it, eating healthy at home is quite easy. No temptations, you can make the most delicious meals with ingredients you tolerate and you have total control of the ingredients that go into your food. If you are currently not already cooking at home, make sure to download my free e-book. 

But with that being said sometimes you just really aren’t in the mood of cooking or you want to enjoy a night out with friends or family. Eating at a restaurant is a lot more challenging and that’s often when people that have to follow a specific diet feel the most deprived. Watching your friends eat a delicious piece of tiramisu while you are nibbling on a carrot is not the most fun experience in the world. There have been times where I had so much anxiety about eating out that I am not sure what was worse: The stress and misery of feeling deprived or the accidental ingestion of something I didn’t tolerate. I also have said no to gatherings many times because of that. I still find eating at restaurants the most challenging part about living with food restrictions. But over the years I have developed a few tricks that have helped me tackle the issue and I am going to share them with you.

1. Pick the restaurant

If you are a people pleaser like me you are going to find it hard to suggest a place to go to. Well, this is the perfect moment for personal growth;). Just be that person that suggests a couple of places to your friends, where you know that you can eat something for sure. Do your research and check the menu beforehand. For example, type gluten-free into google maps and check the area that you want to eat at. Call the restaurant and check if they can adapt dishes according to your restrictions.

2. Ask for substitutions:

I follow an adapted version of the autoimmune protocol and most places don’t have a single item on the menu that doesn’t have at least one ingredient that I cannot eat. Don’t let that discourage you. Just tell your waiter that you have food restrictions and ask if they can substitute ingredients. So far I have never had a problem with this. Most places can cook some meat or fish with veggies for you. I find that the easiest thing is to be very specific especially if you have a lot of restrictions. So instead of telling your waiter a list of 20 food items you cannot eat and asking if they can offer something else (you will probably get a blank stare), check the menu for items that you can eat and ask for those specifically, even if they are paired up differently on the menu.

3. Keep it simple:

Unless you go to a very specific place that caters to people with your food sensitivities (yay), don’t expect to for example get gluten-free pasta with dairy-free sauce. Be mentally prepared that you will most likely have something simple, like fish or meat with veggies or a salad. That way you set yourself up for less disappointment. It adds some extra excitement if you actually get to eat something unexpected like dessert..surprise!! :))))

4. Learn how to make your favorite restaurant dishes at home:

Once I learned how to make my favorite dishes at home I felt way less deprived compared to before. I used to go to restaurants to satisfy cravings for specific foods. Now that I take care of that part at home, I go mainly for the social/convenience aspect. For example, I used to envy my friends that would eat gigantic pancakes stacks in front of me while I was eating an omelet. Why? Because in my head that was what I wanted to order for brunch. Once I learned how to make my own paleo pancakes at home it didn’t bother me at all anymore. Because I didn’t associate them anymore just with eating out. I can now have them whenever I want, and make them taste just the way I like them the most. And the best part about it is that they are a lot more filling and won’t make me feel “blah” after.

5. Eat something beforehand:

If you know you will be at a restaurant or gathering and are not sure if there will be anything you can eat there, make sure you eat before and just go for the social aspect of it. If you don’t know for sure if they will have food for you, just do yourself a favor and assume that they don’t. I have been at weekend trips for work where I was told they have gluten-free options for me, to arrive at the lunch table with wraps and sandwiches for everyone and my gluten-free option was carrots and celery! Woop Woop.

But even if you go to a restaurant where you can eat, but you constantly feel deprived when it is time for everyone to order dessert and all you can do is order tea..fun…NOT…keep reading. This used to happen to me a loooot especially at the beginning of my transition. Especially when I knew I would go to a place where I really really love the dessert. My remedy for that is to make sure I eat a very yummy dessert that I can tolerate before I go. For example in the afternoon or a couple of hours before. That way, I already had mine and don’t mind watching others while I sip on my tea:).

6. Don’t assume that waiters will get your special order right:

This is the most annoying part and has turned me off so much about eating out. In their defense, we all know how confusing it was for us at first so it is not really their fault. But with that being said I cannot even tell you the countless times that I would order something without cheese and it comes back with a huge chunk of melted cheese on top. The problem with that is that a lot of people don’t know what dairy-free or gluten-free actually means.

Also always assume that any dish could come with a little surprise cheese or sauce that has hidden ingredients that are not mentioned on the menu. One of the many examples was when I ordered a side of maduros (fried sweet plantains) and they came back with a beautiful layer of sour cream on top. So after all these incidents my orders now sound something like this: “I would like to have the salmon with steamed vegetables. Is it dairy-free? Is there any butter? Creme? Cheese? Is there any gluten in the sauce or any breading?” Yes, it sounds annoying but better safe than sorry. And if your order comes to the table wrong do yourself a favor and say something! I have eaten things that I had a feeling were not dairy or gluten-free because I was too embarrassed to send it back, only to suffer the consequences later. It’s not worth it, make sure you stand up for yourself and your health.:)

7. Enjoy your food:

I know after everything I just mentioned that sounds a bit funny. But it’s not as hard as it sounds once you get used to it. Now unless you are very allergic/sensitive or have a lot of health problems give yourself a break and don’t stress if you don’t get it right all the time. Guilt and stress are so bad for you. If you decide that you are going to “cheat” a little then make sure you actually enjoy every single bite, otherwise, it totally defeats the purpose. A lot of people do well with an 80/20 rule (eat healthy 80 percent of the time and indulge 20 percent of the time).

I would like to hear from you in the comment section below. What are your strategies when you are out and about? I hope these tips were helpful to you. Make sure to check out my social media and share this article with your loved ones.

Stay healthy and happy

~Annika

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