Eating Away from Home and Restaurant Ordering (aka Can I Have “that” Instead of “this”?)

Since this is a cooking blog, we obviously cook a lot.  Sometimes though, we like to have someone else do the cooking for us, but don’t really want to sway from the delicious and healthy foods we are used to eating.  We have specific places we like to go because we know the quality of food is good, is worth paying for, and we know they will usually make the substitutions that we request.

Additionally, I follow food logs for quite a few people.  I get a lot of similar questions like:

  • I am going to a potluck, so what should I bring as nobody there eats the way I do?
  • I have a (insert social gathering here) at a place I know will not have optimal food choices.  What should I do? I don’t want to look like “that guy/gal.”
  • What are some ideas for eating out as I always seem to “give in” to the unhealthy stuff?
  • My (parent, friend, wacky relative) thinks I am crazy to eat this way.  They roll their eyes at me when I pass on certain foods and say “are you sure you are doing the right thing with your ‘diet?'”

I like these questions.  It shows that those whose food logs I am following are making a true effort to make some great changes. None of us want to sound rude or demean those who question us and we don’t want to sound like we are preaching either.  We certainly don’t want to look like that person with the weird “diet.”  What I love is when I hear from people who say , “My mom made me my own special lunch since she knows I’m trying to avoid bread.”

To address these questions above:

1.  When going to a potluck where you suspect the only dish there you will be able to eat is your own, eat a small meal before you leave.  When you arrive, you know for sure your dish will be one you can have. Usually at potlucks someone also brings a plate of veggies or fruit.  We have plenty of recipes on our site that are great for potlucks. Type “potluck” in the search engine and you will get plenty of ideas.

2.  For any social gathering at someone’s home where you aren’t asked to bring your own food, or if you meet at a restaurant, again, one option is to eat before you leave.  Also, most restaurants will have something that fits within your parameters.  If you don’t mention anything about how you eat, chances are nobody will really notice.  Your friends will understand (do I sound like a mom?). Keep in mind that it’s also OK to occasionally stray and enjoy something “off limits” – just be prepared for any physical consequences those choices may bring (and don’t do it very often).

3.  Here are some great tips for eating at restaurants.  The main goal is to order it correctly before it shows up at your table:

  • Try going to a place you know has great food quality and will make substitutions.
  • A lot of restaurants like to bring loaves of bread, bread sticks, corn chips, etc. to the table.  Simply ask the waitress not to bring these items.
  • You can order dressing for your salad on the side.  Lots of restaurants will have balsamic and olive oil that they can bring.
  • Order a hamburger wrapped in lettuce instead of on the bun.  If they give you a puzzled look, just ask them to put it on some lettuce and you can wrap it yourself.
  • Instead of fries, rice, tortillas, etc., ask if they will substitute vegetables.  Most places will, and won’t charge you extra.  I always like to ask for a side of avocado if possible and if they don’t charge too much.
  • If you want to have dessert, try to order something that is grain-free, or at least gluten-free.
  • One of my biggest pet peeves is the kids’ menus. Usually they are filled with a lot of fried, unhealthy things. Do they really think all kids eat is corn dogs, chicken fingers, and mac & cheese?  I try to get my kids to order something from the adult menu and split it.  Often I will ask the server, “can you make a smaller version of ‘this?'” – usually they will and will charge less (check, because they should).  I also encourage my kids to order their own food instead of me doing it. I want them to understand the choices they are making.
  • Of course ordering things sautéed or marinated doesn’t give you a lot of info about the sauce unless you ask specifically.  You can only do so much, so just make the best choice you can and enjoy your night out.

4.  Without sounding like you are preaching, just tell them based on the research you have done and the fact that you feel so much better, that you feel it is working for you right now.  You can always direct them to a specific blog or book and leave it at that.

All of this is assuming you are being really strict with what you are eating.  Of course you are allowed to have some fun and have a “cheat” meal if you wish, but if you know you will feel really bad eating some bread, then just skip it.  If you are questioned just say you would regret it the next day.  Most of the time your friends or family will understand and wouldn’t pressure you and may, in fact, be interested in what you have to say about the way you are eating.  Of course, let them ask the questions and you won’t feel as if you are telling them what to eat, but just giving them information that allows them to make their own choices.

Some friends of mine, Jessica and Xi Xia, have a great blog called MeatEats.  They do some great reviews, mostly on restaurants in the Portland, Oregon area, but they do have some reviews on some chain restaurants and a few restaurants in other locales. Even if you don’t live in the area it will still help give you some wonderful ideas on how to order your food and whether or not you are actually getting the best bang for your buck! They are fantastic about taking advantage of Groupons and coupons too! I love the witty humor,  yet they take their eating seriously!!

If you have any great tips, feel free to post them to comments!