Whether you follow a strict, normal or primal paleo diet, the thought of dining out paleo style can fill even the most easy going cavemen dieters and paleoista’s with dread – how can I stay faithful to paleo without worrying about everything I eat?
At home, you are in charge of the ingredients and the cooking methods you use. However, when dining out the control you have over the quality of the ingredients, where they have come from and what is being added during the cooking process is diminished and this can be a source of stress.
So, either you decide I’m never going out to eat again (probably not the best strategy!) or stay in control and set yourself up for enjoyable evenings out.
If you were buying a very specific present, which is not easily available would you just turn up at a shop and hope for the best? Unlikely. The same goes with eating out when the requirements are very specific. Most people go off track because they haven’t pre-planned and weren’t prepared. Ideally, if you get chance to choose, then you can suggest a more paleo-loving restaurant (I talk more about this a little later).
Otherwise, find the restaurants’ menu online and work out what you can eat before you go. If however you are a guest and would prefer not to make a fuss at the table, think about eating something before you go or you could even have a few nuts in your bag. Hunger is a sure fire way of making some less good food choices.
Going out with the right attitude goes a long way to ensuring you have a great time dining out. Paleo food choices are not normal for most people so go easy on yourself for the evening and adopt the 90/10 paleo approach. Be 90% perfect but allow yourself 10% flexibility.
This is not about ‘cheating’ with non-paleo foods, as paleo values are a healthy eating concept rather than a diet. Deciding to eat rice or a jacket potato might be your 10% but these foods are still nutritious and won’t negatively affect your health.
Eating out ‘at home’:
You have been invited for dinner at someone’s house. If they are good friends, it is likely they will know your food choices making life easier. However, if you don’t know the person well, my advice is to tell them beforehand what you can eat.
I hold a lot of dinner parties and appreciate knowing specific dietary requests allowing me to plan the menu so my guests enjoy their evening and hopefully my food.
I read an article recently suggesting that telling the waiter you have a food allergy will help your food requests to be taken seriously. I was uncomfortable with this advice for two reasons: firstly being celiac or having a genuine food allergy or intolerance can bring serious wellbeing issues and affect quality of life.
Using the term ‘allergic’ when you are not is disingenuous and not helpful to those with real health conditions. Secondly, honesty is always the best policy. Restaurants aren’t stupid, tell them about your food choices and they’ll probably want to help even more. After all it’s in their own interest to please their customers.
Hidden ingredients can be the most stressful and uncontrollable elements of the dining out experience.
Check out the following to ask about:
– Not organic/grass fed: the restaurant menu will likely already tell you if a product is organic, why wouldn’t they it’s a great selling point. If it isn’t then either use the 90/10 rule or choose the vegetarian option.
– Thickeners: a grain-based thickener such as cornstarch or arrowroot is often added to thicken gravy, sauces and stews. Oriental-based sauces often contain soy, a legume based condiment. Butter and eggs are good alternative thickening agents so it’s worth checking with the waiter.
– Added sugar: this is the processed, refined and artificial form of sugar not natural sugar from whole foods like fruit. Sugar is added to soups, salad dressings, desserts, dips, sauces, marinades etc and is also an ingredient in sushi rice. Ask for your salad dressings to be served separately or to be on the safe side go for olive oil and fresh lemon instead.
– Battered: if something is battered, you can be pretty sure it contains flour so avoid the battered fish and tempura options. If that wasn’t enough, the deep-frying is likely to be in refined vegetable oils and the food full of trans fats.
– MSG: a flavour enhancer widely added to Chinese food but also added to processed foods, meats, salad dressings to name a few. A restaurant cooking with fresh food shouldn’t be a concern but a fast food chain or cheaper restaurant using less good quality or frozen foods may be more likely to have this hidden ingredient.
The cooking method is a good indication of paleo quality. Grilled, steamed, poached or baked are usually the safest methods. Sautéing and stir-fry use little or no oil. The use of omega-6 refined vegetable oils is likely to be one of the main paleo issues in restaurants.
It is worth asking if they use coconut or olive oils. In a perfect world, olive oil wouldn’t be used for cooking either due to its low smoking point hence the 10% rule might need to be applied.
Appetisers, sides and desserts:
The ‘no bread’ is obvious but you may want to ask for a little side salad instead and see if they can add some raw vegetables to munch on. Replace fries and potatoes with a fresh salad or more vegetables. It’s completely acceptable to say no to a pudding otherwise fresh fruit is always a good option.
Paleo by cuisine type:
– Mediterranean/Greek: Greek salad (no feta), grilled lamb chops, lamb baked in clay pots and lots of vegetable dishes can deliver a nutritious paleo meal.
– Seafood: a great choice restaurant where there is nearly always a plain grilled fish to serve with salad.
– Steak/BBQ: An obvious choice for paleo dining and delicious even without BBQ sauce.
– Thai and Chinese: can be challenging as many dishes contain sauces and hidden ingredients. Rice can dominate but if in your 10% also include rice noodle soups with fresh ingredients. Watch for the soy and MSG.
– Mexican: Go for the burrito or fajita and just eat the meat and vegetables alongside guacamole and salsa.
– Indian: Many dishes are sauce rich but tandoori meats and vegetable curries can work well or try an Indian vegetable omelette.
– Italian: This choice is limited as carbohydrates in the form of pasta and pizza dominate. Grilled meat or fresh fish and a side of vegetables/salad will be your best option.
With a little pre-planning and adopting a flexible approach, you can be in control and Paleo dining out can be relaxed and enjoyable. Remember too that it’s not all about the food. Family, good friends and laughter are also very important ingredients to having a great time.
For those living in or visiting London, you will soon be able to dine out paleo 100% guaranteed. London’s first ‘Stone Age’ restaurant is opening in November on Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill.
The list of options at Pure Taste will be natural meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts and cater for diners looking for ‘free from’ foods avoiding gluten and dairy. Go tohttp://puretasterestaurant.com to see their menu and find out more.