How To Dine At Restaurants On The Paleo Diet

order meat and vegetables at restaurants to eat Paleo style!

Dining at restaurants Paleo-style actually isn’t that difficult once you get the hang of it. Most restaurants have some sort of¬†meat dish on the menu, as well as vegetables.¬†You just gotta think outside the box!¬†Paleo is also super easy because you don’t have to gauge calories or scrutinize portion sizes {sigh of relief}.¬†Here’s¬†some tips and tricks to Paleo-ify most restaurant meals, so you can publicly embrace your caveman habits!



Easier “Types”:¬†Steakhouses¬†are usually the best in my opinion. (Show me a steakhouse that doesn’t have meat and veggies?).¬†Seafood¬†restaurants probably come in second (same concept as steakhouses, just fish instead). People often say¬†Italian¬†is difficult, but in my experience they usually have meat entrees.¬†French¬†and¬†Mediterranean¬†also typically have meat/veggie combinations.¬†Japanese¬†can be ok with meat and veggies (especially at the cook-in-front-of-you types, just avoid the sauces).¬†BBQ¬†is usually good: although inquire about the “rubs” when going American style (sneaky sugar!), or just do it yourself¬†Korean¬†style!¬†And this may go without saying, but any restaurant which prides itself on its¬†organic/”fresh”/sustainable-farming¬†or¬†local-farming¬†options is usually a winner.

More Difficult “Types”: ¬†Mexican¬†and¬†Chinese¬†tend to be more difficult, just because of the sauces. (Plus trying to figure out what the menu actually means, coupled with the language barrier). For Mexican, consider fajitas without the beans. For Chinese….yeah I’ve got nothing. (Unless you go chain-style with their gluten-free menus, a la¬†P.F. Changs¬†and¬†On The Border).¬†German¬†is also difficult since they tend to feature sausages with questionable additives and breaded meats. (I realize most people don’t typically dine German style: I just come from a German family.)¬†Tapas¬†type restaurants can actually be difficult, since they usually prepare the individual tapas¬†very¬†specifically, and substituting just seems kinda weird for such a small portion. And¬†Vegetarian¬†fare…I’d just rather not. (Unless it’s the appetizer for the steak I’m ultimately gonna consume when I get home).

$$$: In general, fancier and more expensive restaurants tend to be more accommodating to special requests, while also using less additives and processed ingredients. (That is, until you reach the super expensive ones where the celebrity chef has concocted the perfect combination of ingredients which would never entertain substitutions.)

Chains:¬†Most American chains (Chili‚Äôs, Red Lobster, TGI Fridays, etc.) have tons of options, since they have to #deal with picky eaters all over the country. They also often have easy “mix-and-match” type menus with the whole meat/veggie thing, and¬†don’t go crazy in how they prep the sides. One of my favorite chains for Paleo concoctions is¬†Seasons 52.¬†

Gluten-Free Menus:¬†Some chains even have gluten-free menus! (Oh hey¬†Carrabba’s,¬†Chili’s,¬†Bob Evans, Bonefish,¬†and Outback¬†Steakhouse!)¬†Of course, these menus tend to just highlight gluten’s pervasive nature when you realize things which really¬†shouldn’t¬†have gluten…do.¬†(You mean this chicken¬†isn’t¬†gluten free? Oh.)

Fast Food:¬†While I shudder stepping foot in fast food places, Paleo can still be done! The fact that you can typically look up the “nutrition” facts is a nice bonus (for carb and sodium content, rather than calories, of course). Favor salads. While this is super easy at places like¬†Subway,¬†you can still go this route at¬†McDonalds.¬†“Bowls” at places like¬†Chipotle¬†or¬†Freebirds¬†are also a win! Be wary of breading. (Chick-fil-A’s¬†chicken nuggets, while delicious, are a no-go. Try their salad with grilled chicken instead!)

Secret Menus:¬†Some fast food places have “secret” menus which are way more Paleo friendly!¬†Panera Bread, for example, has a¬†“Power Menu”¬†featuring high protein and salad options, like a “Power Breakfast Bowl” with egg, steak, avocado, and tomato, or a “Power Steak Lettuce Wrap” with steak, lettuce, and veggie garnishes! (I find it ironic that a chain with the word¬†“bread”¬†in their title, chooses the word¬†“power”¬†for menu items that include…no bread).¬†In-N-Out’s¬†“Not-So-Secret-Menu”¬†lets you order burgers “Protein Style” (the bun is switched for lettuce), “Double Meat” (double the meat,¬†no cheese!), or 3x3s/4x4s (increasing the number of burger patties by that number).¬†Even¬†Taco Bell¬†recently jumped on the Paleo bandwagon with their¬†“Cantina Power Menu,”¬†featuring protein-heavy items with double the meat, but still under 500 calories. (That’s just how they’re pitching it – we Paleo people laugh in the face of calories!)

Disney Dining:¬†Because I’m obsessed with Disney, it gets its own section! Remember you can always order off the kids menu. And customizing meals can save you money. Asking for no sides at counter service makes the meal cheaper! And never buy bottled water in the Parks – they’ll give you free cups of water at all counter service places!¬†Actually, this really has nothing to do with Paleo, I just love Disney.

Basic Paleo Protocol 1. Pick a meat dish you like. 2. Ask for sauce on the side. 3. Substitute sides for veggies. Done.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about eating out Paleo style isn’t so much¬†finding¬†something to eat, as it is¬†communicating¬†with the waitstaff (nerves, questions, fears of being annoying, etc.).¬†¬†I have found once you assume the proper approach, the whole thing becomes quite a breeze.

1. Always be nice in communicating with the waitstaff. Kindness gets you far!

2. Start by (sincerely) saying something to the effect of “I’m a little picky/crazy/etc. with my ordering, sorry!” This acknowledges you don’t¬†want¬†to be annoying, while preparing them for the madness.

2. Always thank them after ordering. Make it known you appreciate their time. I always like to throw in another “sorry about the pickiness” or something of the like at the end.



574696_3006684695100_1086821023_n1.¬†Substitute: ¬†Substitution is key. If you embrace substitution, you can usually Paleo-ify most dishes.¬†Ask to substitute any ‚Äúsides‚ÄĚ for vegetables only (this includes fries!) I usually peruse the entire menu to see what sides¬†other¬†dishes are served with, and then request whichever veggie looks best (which includes paying attention to the sides that come with the specials).¬†If the menu says “no substitutions,” ask anyways! They usually don’t enforce that one – it’s happened to me maybe twice in the 5 years I’ve been “substituting.” If they¬†still¬†insist, ask for no sides, and hope they ramp up the ¬†entr√©e.¬†Or just ignore it and don‚Äôt eat the sides. No one can make you eat anything you don‚Äôt want! It’s your mouth and your body.¬†Or give them to someone else. Trade. Barter.

2. Simplify Veggies:¬†If you see “complicated” vegetables, you can usually get simpler versions. If they’ve got saut√©ed spinach, they can probably do steamed. The special has a mushroom roulade? Ask for mushrooms!

3.¬†Sauce On The Side: Ask for sauce and dressings on the side. I always do this. In fact, I do this even when I have NO INTENTION of eating the sauce. Wasteful you say? Perhaps. But I feel like it‚Äôs a nod to the chef, in an¬†‚ÄúI appreciate this sauce you have concocted‚Ä̬†type way. And don’t stress about the inconvenience – there’s often an easy “sauce on the side” button for the waitstaff to press when they input the order into the system.

4. Substitute Buns/Bread For Lettuce:¬†I¬†could¬†put this under substitute, but it’s an awesome one most people don’t think about.¬†You may feel weird, but you can pretty much¬†always¬†ask for sandwiches and burgers over lettuce. (A few restaurants even offer this as an option up front.) To me, Sandwiches and Burger are really just Meat & Veggie Plates in disguise.

5. Ask Questions:¬†Don’t be afraid to ask questions! ¬†I always ask if the meats are prepared in anything (i.e.: marinated, breaded, with a sauce, etc.) Ask about gluten and added sugar. Ask what type of oil they use. Ask what the “mixed” vegetables entails (sometimes it’s only starchy vegetables, which I personally minimize.) If you feel awkward, cite ‚Äúhealth reasons.‚ÄĚ It‚Äôs true after-all! (This sounds like a lot of questions, but you’ll be tailoring the questions to your potential entr√©es, not running down the entire menu. Oh my.)

6. Embrace The Unknown:¬†Even if you don‚Äôt see a specific side veggie or type of entr√©e, they still might have it! Who knows! Ask away. (Although I don’t think I’ve ever asked for an entr√©e not on the menu…if you do this with success, please let me know.)

7. Say You’re Allergic.¬†Whether you’re¬†actually¬†“allergic” by technical standards may be up for debate, but it definitely eradicates feelings of being “picky.” It also makes the waitstaff and chef more likely to honor your wishes, in my personal opinion. And of course,¬†maybe you are allergic and just don’t know it!

8.¬†Salad Dressings:¬†Ask for oil and vinegar. It’s the safest. And most restaurants usual have it, even if they don’t say or list it.¬†

9. Approach Dessert Differently:¬†Some restaurants have fruit dessert plates, and many do cheese plates (if you’re including dairy in your protocol). I typically just munch on my family’s leftover meat while they eat dessert. I’m not kidding. But then again, I’m a crazy carnivore. I used to feel weird, but now it’s whatever. #Accepted

10. Look At The Menu Online Before:¬†You can always “prepare” ¬†your choice (and salivate over it) ahead of time. I did this even before I was crazy picky.

11. Beware Hidden Things: This is more of a problem at larger scale chains. The cooking oils can be especially problematic. And Ihop puts pancake batter in their omelettes, just saying.

12. Consider Ordering Sides: You can always order a side of this, a side of that. In fact, you could possibly order tons of sides and end up with more food for a cheaper price. This is especially handy for breakfast meals.

13. Don’t Feel Bad:¬†I used to feel bad about being picky. I don’t anymore. (Partly because I’ve been a waitress, so I feel like I’ve earned my right in a way.) Just be nice and appreciative. And if you ask lots of questions, the¬†server will either know or not know. If they know, then what’s the worry? If they don’t know, they’ll know¬†next¬†time somebody asks! So you’re saving them future trouble! Also, since I’m so picky up-front, I usually am pretty happy with the end result. I’m¬†rarely¬†ever¬†picky when the actual food comes. Because I did all the prep work up front!

14. Choose Your Battles:¬†With all of this being said, sometimes it’s not worth it to be super crazy with the substitutions and questions. If you’re really only hungry for the main “Paleo” portion of your dish anyway, just go with it.

15. Live And Learn:¬†If all of these tips make Paleo-dining look super obnoxious, have no fear: after dining out Paleo for awhile, you begin to learn how to minimize questions and annoyances while maximizing return on investment. Besides, if someone can ask how the sea bass is prepared, why can’t you ask what oil they cook the meats in? (acknowledgment of dangling preposition).


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