Dining out can be a challenge for people who want to eat primally. Chefs are trained in the culinary arts that encompass wide range of dishes catering to a broad spectrum of people’s tastes. Checking out a restaurant’s online menu or calling ahead can be beneficial to help you choose your meals to ensure you can still dine primally.
When you look online at a restaurant menu, look for items that won’t be deep fried, have grains intrinsic in the dish, or items touted as sweet. Instead, look for menu options such as salads that are built- meaning they are put together upon order by the chef. The chefs can leave off any sweet infused dressing- unless you are okay with honey, and the can leave off grains, such as croutons. Often times the oil for dressings will be extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), but you can always ask about that. We’ll touch on taking to the restaurant later in this blog. Asking for the dressing on the side is a simple fix, where you can taste the dressing on arrival, and its it is sweet, choose to leave it off completely, or just use a small portion.
Soups can be an excellent choice, without the side of bread. But minestrone does have noodles in it, and although you could ‘eat around them’ the noodles will be slightly dissolved into the soup. Avoid choosing soups with grains already in them. Sugar can be added to some soups, ie: sweet and sour.
Appetizers are a broad range of menu items, that may have sweetness in their ‘garnish’ dressing, or may be deep fried. Many appetizers are deep fried because it makes it easy to prepare and provide to the guests while they are waiting for their mains. Substitute in a salad or soup (you can ask if the chef does a half portion of those items, if not listed on the menu, but they may already be in a small size). Sometimes they will have a cheese board listed on the dessert menu. If so, this can be a lovely appetizer along with some olives and fruit, minus bread and crackers.
For mains, even in fancy restaurants, they will often still provide items like burgers, beer bettered fish or deep fry some of they sides. Close items that have been flame grilled, sautéed in olive oil (does not need to be EVOO) or butter, and request a substitution for any sides that are not part of your primal diet (note: sometimes substitutions cost money because food ingredients cost different prices, and that may vary from restaurant to restaurant). Fo9ur can be hidden in items that may not seem obvious, such as being in the burger patty.
What about rice? Going out for Asian food, it seems like rice is inescapable. To some extent that is true. Many Asian dishes are designed to be done on a bed of rice because of the nature of the sauce. The sauce often has sugar included. Choosing restaurants that offer options of food without sauce intrinsic to the dish, such as a sushi location, may be preferred. But even items like miso soup and seaweed salad may have oils, sugars and vinegars that would not be considered primal. However, sashimi (individual fish and seafood slices) most certainly is. If they are served on rice, it is easy to eat the slice of meat without the rice underneath. Be careful though, as they chefs will often use a dab of wasabi to hold the meat to the rice. Most wasabi is not wasabi, it is coloured horse radish. Wasabi in its natural form is a root, and does not grow outside of Japan, and is quite expensive and difficult to obtain.
Speaking of rice, which is such an abundant staple in food cuisines around the world, when it is combined with lentils, like in Indian dishes or Mediterranean dishes, or beans, like in Mexican dishes, you are getting a full protein profile. Just be careful how much you eat. You can always request of half portion of rice/lentils, beans/lentils on your dish. Just remember. these types of carbohydrates can stimulate hunger and if you are just beginning your primal journey, they may push you off of keto back into a glucose burning cycle.
When it comes to dessert time, it can feel awkward to be left out. A plate of fruit, cheese board or oysters can be good substitutions. Oysters? Yes, oysters. In fact, I would recommend oysters over fruit as they can have a sweet, salty and acidic quality to them, helping to calm the digestive system. Garnishes for oysters, scubas a shallot vinaigrette can be primal depending if sugar is added or the type of vinegar used. Do not care for oysters? Cheese then is a great substitution. Although often paired with fruit or crackers as a way to transport the cheese to your mouth, feel free to request just the cheese, and use a knife and fork. Olives would be a compliment to them, instead.
Just watch out for fruit. Fruit can be served for appetizer and salad. There may be a high glycemic veritable you enjoy with dinner, such as sweet potato, and then you order a fruit platter for dessert. This may push you out of fat burning and back into a glucose cycle.
What to drink? Water with lemon, coffee (ask for a side of butter and see the looks of the servers!), but having some full fat cream is just fine if you can handle the dairy. Tea, mineral and sparkling mineral water. What about alcohol? Alcohol is full of sugar, and ethanol. So your body will burn the ethanol first. If you are trying to lose weight, stay away from the alcohol. But having a glass or two can be acceptable if it is occasionally. Again, remember that ingesting sugar can stimulate hunger and alcohol lowers inhibitions, so ensure that your habits and convictions to living primally are well formed before you make decisions when you can deviate.
When you contact a restaurant they may not be able to assist you immediately. Possibly getting an email to send through questions or getting a phone call back after they have spoken with the chef, may prove to be more useful. Chefs are very willing to accommodate with advanced notice. Sometimes kitchens do not have all the ingredients on hand to make easy substitutions if told about dietary requirements on arrival. Also, depending on the level of business for the restaurant, creating dishes that are not based on a recipe can become confusing to the kitchen staff. Also, changing ingredients in a dish may actually change the flavour and texture of the dish. The staff may not recommend the substitutions you are requesting. So please be understanding if the food is not exactly the way you were hooping it would be prepared. On a side note, in severe allergies, I highly recommend contacting the restaurant ahead of time. In certain cases, brining in your own food may be acceptable. In those cases, the staff may take your meal and have it heated and plated by the chef so it can be presented with the other guests meals.
Let’s be realistic. If you’re eating out 1% of the time and eating at home 99% of the time, having a ‘cheat’ meal once per week or just understanding that one meal won’t throw you off course, enjoy your time out. I would ensure to keep these to a minimum, special occasions, not just when you’re feeling like it. But if you are a social person, or have a position where you are required to attend external events often, learning what types of food you can eat out, or how to speak with the staff to find out their composition, and how to alert the staff about your dietary needs, can be beneficial to assist you in your meal choices. Also, eating before going out can help reduce the amount of food you do eat out. Although people may inquire as to your menu choices, you do not owe anyone an explanation. However, talking about your food choices can provide opportunities to create new relationships and understanding. You may just inspire others to catch on to living primally.