Eating Out Paleo

A Paleo Guide to Eating Out - Includes the sneaky foods that aren't as safe as you'd think! Love this!

Summers are for eating out, that’s just the way it is. A new taco place just opened up a few blocks from our house aaaand we may or may not have eaten there about 100 times in the past 2 weeks. Ok maybe not 100, but seriously at least 5. They have pork belly tacos. It’s amazing. It’s summer-ey. They play Michael Jackson. What’s not to love.

Now that we have been eating paleo (or paleo-ish, as I like to say) for over a year, finding paleo-friendly menu items or substitutions is pretty much second nature. But it hasn’t always been that way. So here is a quick run-down of paleo-friendly (or mostly friendly) foods to keep an eye out for when it is too hot to cook and you just can’t say no to the promise of sangria and not having to stand in front of an open flame inside your already 100-degree kitchen.

The tough thing with restaurants is that, unless you are at some trendy restaurant that locally sources their eggs, processes their own pork, and asks you if you have any allergies or food sensitivities before seating you (yes, there is a place like that in Denver), you are pretty much just left hoping that any meat, cheese, or even veggies aren’t full of additives and pesticides. There also is usually no way to control what kind of oil they use to cook–and you can almost guarantee that it won’t be grass-fed butter or coconut oil. But beyond those variables, there is a lot you can do to stay paleo when eating out!

Mexican Restaurants: I’ve found that Mexican places are the best restaurants for paleo options. Fajitas are always a favorite, because all of the cheese/sour cream/other dangerous things that Mexican food is typically associated with usually comes on the side, so you get to totally choose your own adventure. Tacos are also usually pretty safe, as long as you get them without cheese. If you aren’t going fully strict, you can almost always substitute corn tortillas to keep the gluten at bay, or you can just eat the contents of your taco with a fork. And if you are at a super legit Mexican restaurant, they might even use lard instead of vegetable oil. A girl can dream.

Burrito Places: Kind of like Mexican restaurants, burrito places like Chipotle are great because you can customize almost everything. My go-to order at places like this is a burrito bowl with no rice or beans, double chicken or carnitas, mild salsa (or whichever kind doesn’t have corn in it), lettuce, and double guac. Mmm…

Thai/Chinese: Asian food gets a little trickier because almost everything is served with rice, and most of the sauces are super sugary. If you aren’t going super strict, you can usually substitute brown rice at most restaurants these days, and if you’re ok with that then I think the safest bet at Asian restaurants is fried rice – no suspicious sauces and usually lots of veggies. If you want to keep it strict, there is often a pan-fried fish option on the part of the menu that no one looks at (time to get adventurous!), just be sure to ask about what sauce comes with it. If they make their curry sauce from scratch, sometimes you can get lucky. And I have also tried ordering egg rolls and just eating the filling… I wouldn’t really recommend that approach though unless you are a fan of hot stringy cabbage.

Italian: Breadsticks, pasta, melted cheese… Italian restaurants are not the best place for a paleo eater. However, they do typically have pretty awesome and enormous salads, so that is usually my go-to when everything else on the menu is baked, breaded, and covered in marinara sauce. Just make sure you ask for it without cheese or croutons.

Delis: Another place where bread is the main event. A lot of sandwich places will give you a lettuce wrap if you ask for it (I recently discovered that Jimmy John’s does this!), or I will ask for extra meat and just pull it off the bread. You would also be surprised to find that many even lower-scale delis make their soups from scratch, and those can be an awesome alternative.

Sneaky foods that are not as safe as you thought:

Burgers. This seems like a no-brainer… just get it without the bun, right? But be careful, lots of restaurants put bread crumbs in their burger patties! Be sure to ask what all goes into the making of a burger patty, and if you’re suspicious ask for the grilled chicken option instead.

Scrambled eggs. A lot of restaurants make their scrambled eggs with milk! I usually get poached eggs because that even takes out the what-kind-of-oil-are-you-using variable.

Mashed potatoes/sweet potatoes. Many restaurants use milk in these, too.

Almost all sauces. Turns out that restaurant-grade sauces are usually made with a LOT of additives, usually at least including sugar but typically also including corn syrup and wheat thickeners. If I can, I always ask for sauce on the side no matter where I am or what I’m getting. This includes even house-made salsas and guacamole–sometimes places will even add cream cheese to their guacamole to make it creamier.

Corn chips and tortillas. If you are worried about gluten but are ok with corn, be sure to make sure that the corn chips or corn tortillas are indeed gluten-free… just because they aren’t flour doesn’t mean they don’t have other additives in them!

Your turn! What are your tips and tricks for staying paleo while eating out?

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Eating out #paleo is easy with this guide from @clairechay–plus the sneaky foods that aren’t as safe as you think! 

  • Simone

    Ah, JJ’s — there’s one right next to REI. I order their “unwich” all the time. :)

    You just broke my heart with burgers — I’ve been virtuously telling myself they’re fine, but you’re definitely right. Ah, well. Thanks for the tips! :)

    • clairechapman

      Ugh right? Fillers are so sneaky…

    • Rose

      Just FYI too – I worked at Jimmy Johns for 5 years and can attest that there are NO additives or preservatives in any of the meats, which are all sliced fresh within the past 48 hours. :)

  • NJ Paleo

    Great tips! It’s very very difficult when eating away from home. I follow paleo pretty strictly at home, but when I’m out, I just try to do the best I can. Fortunately, I don’t have a serious allergy that requires absolute adherence.

    • clairechapman

      Yeah I feel pretty fortunate that I don’t have any serious allergies either! I definitely notice it right away if there is heavy cream or another kind of heavy dairy in something that I wasn’t expecting (like tomato soup or something), but otherwise a little bit here and there doesn’t hurt!

  • Evan;salt, dogs, and duct tape

    I’m very happy with eating paleo-ish! At most mexican/taco/burrito places I’ll get chicken fajitas with seasonal veggies instead of rice and beans. At first I was nervous to ask how things were prepared, didn’t want to seem picky, but most times people are happy to accommodate you. Just gotta accept that it might not be perfect. But that’s why it’s paleo-ish, right?

    • clairechapman

      Haha exactly. I think the most important thing is just to always keep that priority of always knowing exactly what you’re eating. I mean, sometimes it’s ok to eat crap… just as long as you aren’t under the wrong impression that you’re making a healthy choice…

  • Koritt

    Bison ribs sound so tasty! Jealous! Eating out is definitely a challenge. I went through a phase where I was eating out a lot and staying pretty paleo, but when I started to realize that I wasn’t feeling that well, I decided to stop being lazy about cooking and eat my own food. That is just the best way. Can’t deny that eating out is so much less hassle and more fun, though. :)

    • clairechapman

      Cooking in is definitely always a better option! I also agree that it can be a slippery slope between “pretty paleo” and getting so off-track that your gut suffers… definitely need a balance.

  • Theresa Baumgartner Mahlik

    Cream cheese in guacamole?? That should be illegal. The bison ribs look delicious!

    • clairechapman

      right! I also felt totally violated when I found out about the milk in scrambled eggs… I mean is nothing sacred!

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