Eating out Paleo style can be such a hassle! Can you relate?
A Paleo eater’s greatest hurdle may be getting the rest of the world to respect their dietary preferences. At home, YOU have complete control over what you eat and how your food is made, which begs the question: what’s even the worth in leaving one’s house?
Well, you’d be a hermit if you didn’t, and hermit-ism is so 4th century (keep up with the times, guys). Also, you’d be missing out on associating with other people and experiencing new settings, which in our opinion, is as vital to one’s health as eating the right foods!
So whether you’re contemplating a vacation or making plans for the next social gathering, this regularly updated guide will arm you with tactics for staying true to your Paleo lifestyle out of the house.
Do you dread eating out for fear of falling off the wagon?
You’re not alone.
In a poll on our Paleo For You Facebook group (click here to join!), we found that among our primal eaters, the most common struggle – at 38% — is the struggle of eating out.
This challenge is multidimensional. Not only must you fight off non-Paleo temptations, you also have to prepare for every kind of outing and every kind of restaurant!
And if you’re not prepared, what then? Well, you either wind up taking the easy menu options which could possibly lead to digestive discomfort or guilt later on, or you have to pass on social invites altogether and suffer from the lack of personal life that a healthy diet has cost you!!
Aspiring to overcome these worst-case scenarios? Just read on, and become a master of eating out Paleo!
Part I: Dread dining out no more!
As we see it, there are three bedrocks (yabba dabba dooooo) to having a great time when eating out Paleo style – preparation, communication, and creativity.
Of all of these, preparation might be the most imperative. If you haven’t done your research, and you end up at a restaurant devoid of Paleo options, then deprivation or non-Paleo enticements are your only option.
NOTE: Nothing wrong with non-Paleo options every now and then, but if you’re trying to avoid tummy upsets, or trying to be a Paleo Purist, then this is something you need to consider.
So, with no further ado, here’s our general checklist for restaurant adventures:
Eating Out Paleo Tactic #1 – Do your research.
With the wonder of the web, you can study your chosen restaurant’s menu online and single out the most Paleo-friendly options well before you get there. Study the reviews too, for any input from fellow primal eaters! And if you’re looking for places that cater specifically to your needs, there are fantastic resources out there for you.
Eating Out Paleo Tactic #2 – Eat before you eat!
No such thing as too much preparation! Considering the obligatory waiting time at especially in-demand restaurants, it’s actually good practice to have a snack beforehand. Not only will this help lessen temptation (willpower is a hard thing to hold onto in the midst of hunger pains!), it’ll also helps to fill you up in case the most Paleo-friendly option on the menu doesn’t quite do the trick.
Eating Out Paleo Tactic #3 – Communication, communication, communication.
Befriending service staff can be essential in ensuring Paleo friendly meals. (If you’re new to the Paleo way, we can guarantee it will REALLY develop your verbal skills!)
First and foremost, inform staff about food allergies. Ideally, you’ll get this part out of the way when you call ahead and slip those special dietary requests into the reservation order.
And while you’re on the scene, strike up and sustain a dialogue with wait staff about what they’re serving you. In some cases, your questions may need to be (respectfully!) directed to the chefs themselves. Serious allergies deserve no less care. Don’t be afraid to ask what the dressings, sauces and other food items are made from. And don’t be afraid to ask for them served on the side too or to have the ingredients altered. All they can say is no, so there’s no harm in asking!
LIFE HACK: if you’re “merely” sensitive to some particular food, we recommend rounding up that sensitivity to an allergy – that way, your request will be guaranteed to be taken seriously.
Eating Out Paleo Tactic #4 – Take some liberty with your orders!
Substitution is the name of the game. This comes in handiest with bread-related business. Go bun-less with your burgers; ask for those fillings over some lettuce instead, or just on their own!
Oh, and Grill’d Burger Joints even have a Paleo bun, which has been taste tested by us personally and the verdict is out — they’re delicious!
You can also ask waiters to substitute sides for healthier alternatives – i.e. don’t want chips, ask for salad – don’t want mashed potato, ask for steamed veg, etc.
Eating Out Paleo Tactic #5 – BYO
Sometimes you have to employ your BYO ninja skills and bring some Paleo options with you! For example, bring your own small bottle of olive oil to pour over salads (dubious non-Paleo dressings, made with toxic vegetable oils, are generally the norm at restaurants). Or take your own coconut milk/almond milk to cafes and ask staff to use that in your double mocha frappa-lappa-cino!
Is it slightly ridiculous to bring your own foods when dining out?? Perhaps. Will it save you from splurging, tummy soreness, and remorse?? Possilby. Besides, ridiculous is totally subjective — what’s ridiculous to some is completely normal to others. Also, it’s fun being ridiculous.
Eating Out Paleo Tactic #6 – Last but not least, allow yourself room for “error”!
Like much wiser people have said before us: Paleo should be a template, not a rigid set of laws (see our blog post on this here!). With the exception of debilitating food allergies, a celebratory night out might be the moment to break some of your own rules. After all, we’re not living in the stone-age any more, and there are some absolutely delicious foods out there! Who wants to be the one on a holiday in France saying no to all the pastries, cheese and wine? Not us!
However, understand your limits. Whether you have a devastating intolerance, or a minor sensitivity, it’s crucial that you know your own gut and your own boundaries. Be careful not to let a splurge turn into a binge. And if you’re taking a risk with a new establishment, or a dish that’s new to you, pay attention to what your body says afterwards! After all, the whole point of this is to embrace a dietary regime that’s ideal for the individual YOU.
Now that we’ve armed you with an all-purpose guide to eating out Paleo, let’s get down to specifics, shall we?
In addition to Eating Out Paleo Tactic #1, you’d do best to visit restaurants that you know are Paleo-friendly!
Thus, here’s a shortlist of our favourite kinds:
- Burger joints. Go bun-less, of course. (Alternatively, find yourself a place like Grill’d!)
- Salad bars. Absolutely ideal for a primal eater. Watch out for non-Paleo dressings though! But don’t forget, you can always BYO olive oil.
- Steakhouses. Just the way our Paleolithic ancestors would want!
- Mexican. Certain items are to be avoided (more on that below), but with all the varieties of meat and vegetable-based dishes on the menu, it’s a veritable feast for a primal eater.
- Mediterranean. Spit roast — we say no more!
- Southeast Asian cuisine (e.g. Thai, Vietnamese, Indian). Beneficial for the varieties of curries based on coconut milk.
- Any “farm-to-table” joints. For those who can afford a splurge, of course. Do make sure to properly research the venue and read reviews.
Conversely, these are the kinds of restaurants that are a little trickier:
- Pizza parlours. They’re a gluten fun park!
- Sandwich bars. See above.
- Chinese. Your best bets are steamed vegetables and BBQ meat. Unfortunately, most everything is a deep-fried gluten party, plus the sauces are often loaded with sugar and MSG.
- Any of the typical fast food places – McDonalds, KFC, etc.
Hence, we suggest saving any of the above for a once-in-a-while celebration – for instance, when a close friend wants to celebrate their birthday at a pizza joint. In this sort of circumstance, if you’re not coeliac or gluten intolerant you can choose to loosen the reins for the evening and enjoy the nourishing element of eating in celebration with friends! (Most pizza places these days have gluten free bases too, so this could be the friendliest option for such a celebratory occasion.)
Next, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of menus!
Firstly, some general advice for navigating your order:
- Say no to table “freebies”! Sad to say, most freebies offered to you (i.e. bread baskets) after you sit down are generally quite un-Paleo!
- Beware suggestions of flour. If you encounter such words as “crispy,” “battered,” and “breaded,” take cover – these are red alerts for deep-fried gluten bombshells!!
- Approach with caution some of the more indulgent kinds of meat items, including meatballs, sausages, and dumplings. These are often hotspots for canola cooking en masse, and also often contain gluten fillers.
- If you’re comfortable with doing so, ask to have your food cooked in either butter or olive oil. Canola is less than ideal health-wise, since most of its healthy Omega-6 fats are destroyed during aggressive high-heat processing.
- Understand cooking methods. Some are more Paleo-friendly than others. Foods that’s broiled, grilled, steamed, poached, smoked, or roasted are arguably the safest options. Sous vide is also a nifty way of cooking that deserves more hype (it’s achieved by vacuum-sealing food and dumping it in a hot water bath for several hours)! Anything deep-fried, obviously, is quite questionable.
- If you’re unsure, ask about the ingredients used. Menu descriptions might meet one’s Paleo standards, but preparation of the meal and ingredients in sauces and gravies might get into murky territory with added sugar, wheat, and preservatives and additives.
So, those are some universal guidelines for any kind of restaurant.
Furthermore, from here, we’re going to get REALLY specific.
As a result of the wonders of globalisation, wrestling with the infinite varieties of cuisines out there can be a Herculean task for a Paleo eater!!
Thus, for your convenience, we’ve put together the following table of popular cuisine categories, and which dishes to either embrace or side-step!
While this is by no means a comprehensive catalogue of every dish ever in the world, it should nonetheless be handy if you’re out on the town and need a quick reference.
- This is a “traditional” Paleo eat and don’t-eat list. As we promote a “Paleo for You” approach to diet (i.e. learn to listen to your body and find out which foods work best for you), you may find that you’re the type of Paleo person who does include rice, dairy, legumes, or GF breads in your life. If that’s the case, you will obviously be able to eat more foods from the “non-paleo” column below (GF breads, corn tortillas, rice, lentil dishes, etc)!
- As always, when in doubt, ask your waiter about the ingredients they use in their restaurant’s dishes. No single restaurant dish is ever identical to another’s!
|CUISINE||PALEO FRIENDLY||NON PALEO|
||Most rich curries (such as butter chicken, korma, as they contain cream)
Part II – The Wanderer’s Guide to Eating out Paleo:
Eating Out Paleo, Travel Tactic #1 – Be Portable!
It should go without saying that stocking up on snacks is a must. Consider both the longevity and filling factor – you want sustenance that both travels well, and satisfies enough to remove risk of falling off the wagon.
Therefore, here are some tried and true choices:
- Fruit. If your digestive system tends to get moody while travelling, then bananas are the go-to backpack snack for your bowels. Apples, of course, are terrific travellers.
- Dark chocolate. Our Rumbles Paleo Choc Rocks, with their conveniently resealable packaging, were created just for occasions like these!
- Boiled eggs. Will you get odd stares while peeling and eating a whole egg in-flight? Possibly but heck, YOLO!
- Trail mix – once again, Rumbles Paleo is here for you! Alternatively, just a lot of one type of nut does the trick too.
- Jerky — filling and, needless to say, designed for keeping well.
- Cold cuts. If you prefer meat of the non-dried kind, deli meats in airtight bags/containers will stay good for a few hours.
- Almond or coconut butter, in a resealable tub – an unusual and underrated option that works great in conjunction with other snacks or simply devoured on its own!
- Paleo cookies. Our top-seller Neanderthal Nuggets are practically a meal by themselves, if we do say so ourselves!
- Kale chips – a healthy alternative to your typical deep fried potato poison. They’re easy to make, keep fantastically, and in addition the crunchable factor is unbeatable.
For longer sojourns, it may also be worthwhile to take with you a ready-made meal or two, in the interest of avoiding non-Paleo options on the road (or in the air, or wherever). Cold meals work best, obviously – salads, frittatas, Paleo sandwiches. Check out the Rumbles Lifestyle Hub for quick, easy recipes that travel well and hit the spot!
Eating Out Paleo, Travel Tactic #2 – Self-contained accommodation is your friend!
Rather than that overpriced hotel room, a humble apartment with your own kitchen ensures you can have complete control over your meals during your stay – just like you do at home. Just fit in a quick grocery session after sightseeing, and save yourself the extra cost and hassle of dining out.
But – you ask – what if you wind up somewhere without a fridge??
Well, hope is not lost. Because there are always those non-perishable foods you can keep on the shelf and throw together for a quick and cheap Paleo-friendly meal, including:
- Coconut milk
- Canned salmon or sardines.
- Tuna in water.
- Dried/cured meats.
- Olive oil
- Coconut butter
- Boiled eggs
Additionally, there are a few fruits and veggies that do just fine at room temperature:
- The aforementioned apples and bananas.
- Melons, although they should be eaten within a day or two.
- Lemons and limes do better and longer out of the fridge. As do cucumbers.
- Pineapples – if kept upside down at room temperature for a day or two, they taste even better!
- Tomatoes and mushrooms – so long as they’re somewhere cool and dry.
- Garlic and onions – naturally! Just let ‘em breathe.
Eating Out Paleo, Travel Tactic #3 – Be prepared to compromise.
Realistically, staying totally “clean” is nigh on impossible when you lack control over menu options and food preparation methods. Just as with dining out, it might become necessary to make an informed decision about the non-paleo options you can afford to make.
Of course, such bargains will depend greatly on your individual food-related idiosyncrasies and sensitivities. At the least, we recommend avoiding gluten and super processed sugars. However, when there’s a lack of alternatives, it’s not a crime to make an exception to your rules!
So on that note: Don’t let food-related anxieties spoil your fun! You’re getting away to have a good time, are you not? Beating yourself up over your dietary regime definitely defeats the purpose of that. Leave yourself realistic wiggle room, and in the words of Elsa… Let it go!
Part III – Road Trips: Survival Strategies
If you’re daunted by the mere prospect of dining out or flying while on a primal regime, then road-tripping might seem a particular nightmare.
But we’re happy to announce, there are ways to embark on a road trip and come out the other side with your Paleo principles relatively intact!
Firstly, before doing anything else, arm yourself with a quality cooler—preferably coolers.
What’s in your cooler? Hopefully, some of the following:
- Fruits that require minimal prep — avocados (drizzle with some olive oil and scoop it right from the shell with a spoon!), bananas, apples, plums, peaches, to name a few. A lot of these actually do better at room temperature, but on a long drive, the cooler is arguably the best place for them. As for the likes of berries and grapes, we suggest bringing in moderation and eating quickly.
- Veggies that make fine snacks when raw – think carrots, cucumber, cherry tomatoes.
- Your favourite Paleo dips – pesto, baba ghanoush, guacamole, salsa
- Deli meats
- Some trusty almond butter
- Pre-prepared meals – more on this later.
- Herbs and spices in their whole forms (i.e. bell peppers, basil leaves, etc.), if you’re in the mood for meal prep on the road.
- Water, and lots of it!
And of course, there are those goodies that can travel with you outside of the cooler (although, considering long drives, you might feel compelled to chuck these in there anyway):
- Various canned seafoods (in either water or their own oil, of course) – tuna, salmon, mackerel, etc. Easy to enjoy and best of all, easy to restock on the road!
- Canned olives, which easily improve any quick primal meal and are also very snack-able straight out of the jar.
- Olive oil. No further commentary necessary.
- Pemmican, which is… an acquired taste, but guaranteed not to go off on the road!
- Aforementioned snack favourites – nuts, kale chips, trail mix, etc. And if you’ve gotten bored of those, go for some seaweed!
- Salt and pepper shakers, mixed spices, etc.
And here are some non-edible items you should be packing to make the trip easier:
- A cooler (obviously…)
- An extensive supply of zip-lock bags, both for ice and for other foods
- Sanitiser is essential on the road, in the absence of a clean sink for miles
- A thermos or thermoses, for any other fluids you’re inclined to pack
- Utensils – a small knife, mini chopping board, can opener, plastic dishes, etc.
- Tupperware for storing meals
Now that we’ve gotten the grocery lists out of the way, let’s discuss strategy!
Eating Out Paleo Road Trip Tactic #1 – Cook beforehand
As is the motto of this post — one can never be too prepared. Thinking about winging it on the road? Well, that’s something we’d recommend only to the most seasoned of Paleo road-trippers. For everyone else, ready-made meals will save you from the stress of navigating the slim pickings of roadside restaurants and motels.
Daunted by the idea of bringing cooked meat with you on the road? Fear not, because there are simple ways to pull it off:
- Prepare a couple of pounds worth, and no more. This amount will last in the cooler long enough for a few good meals and, additionally, won’t take up too much space.
- Favour beef or lamb over pork or white meats, since the former keep better.
- Cook the meat in a way that it can be enjoyed cold—and dry. In other words, grill or roast a slab and season with your herbs of choice. Regrettably, road trips aren’t the time for sauces and stews.
The same principles apply to any veggie dishes you want to cook for the trip. Opt for vegetables that shine in cold salads—carrots, tomatoes, asparaguses, and so on. Grill, roast, or bake, and season as you please. Then, with your on-the-go stash of olive oil, tuck in!
Hard-boiled eggs are also a great investment for the Paleo traveller. Make up to a dozen of those bad boys for quick rest-stop snacks. On ice, they’ll last up to a week.
Eating Out Paleo Road Trip Tactic #2 – Make the most of roadside joints.
As established in previous sections, when eating out, it’s not particularly advisable to try to be Paleo at fast food joints!
Unfortunately, when you’re on the road, you’ll have considerably less choice. In no man’s land, you get the incredible variety of said fast food joints or gas station convenience stores.
But that doesn’t mean you should pass. Considering the uncertainty of road-tripping adventures, it is always a good idea to stock up on whatever’s available. Take solace in the salad options offered at even the greasiest of fast food holes. Gather all the fruits and nuts (and anything else that’s primal-ly safe) you can carry from the aisles of convenience stores. Seize on any hot food sections for cooked meats that should last at least overnight in your cooler.
To that end, be sure to pack extra Tupperware for takeaway!
Eating Out Paleo Road Trip Tactic #3 – Stay active
(Not strictly about eating out, but should be said nonetheless.) Take advantage of every rest stop to get the blood circulating. Take the time to stretch the whole body. Do some basic cardio exercises—jumping jacks, squat jumps, lunges, jogging in place, whatever. A few minutes of cardio will do wonders for the long drive.
Eating Out Paleo Road Trip Tactic #4 – Stay hydrated!
Tempted to skimp on water out of a desire to reduce bathroom breaks?? Don’t be. The more breaks, the better, i.e. the more opportunity to get your body moving. Refill or restock those water bottles at every opportunity!!
Eating Out Paleo Road Trip Tactic #5 – Aim for imperfect compliance
You know the drill, guys. Travelling the Paleo way is always a challenge, and most especially so on the road. Practise that emotional self-care.
And above all, stay rested! Weariness depletes willpower, and a lack of willpower is the road to regret and self-hatred. We hope you all journey the opposite direction.