Updated: Aug 1, 2021
Eating out while on your Whole30 may seem a little tricky, but I am here to help you navigate those waters! Along with being a Whole30 Certified Coach, I have also been in the restaurant industry for about 10 years. I’ve got the inside scoop to share with you!
Tip 1: Plan ahead
If it is possible, the best thing you can do is plan ahead and figure out which restaurant to go to. Almost all restaurants have their menus online, so you can scope it out before you go. This helps with two major things. First, it helps you choose a restaurant where you have options and where there is something that sounds good to you to eat. If all you can find on the menu is a side salad then that is no fun! You want your dining out experience to still be a good one. Second, picking out two or three options you have found ahead of time will help you stay on track and not get distracted by what you are seeing on your neighbor’s table, or the smells coming from the kitchen.
Another trick to use while looking for compatible foods is to use the restaurant’s allergy menu online. Many of the larger chain restaurants will have a menu online that will list the major allergies. This will help you stay away from the big ones like gluten, dairy, and soy.
Although, this may not be 100% helpful because it does not take into account substitutions. The allergy menu may automatically take a burger off because the bun has gluten even though you could easily swap it for a lettuce wrap.
Here is a really great example from Five Guys. I am really really impressed with their transparency here! They even go as far as to list what contains MSG and High Fructose Corn Syrup, which many places do not.
Tip 2: BYOD- Bring your own dressing
You may think this sounds a little odd. But, I promise, no one cares or is even paying attention! The restaurant won’t mind because you are still spending money on the salad, or whatever else it is you ordered, you are just adding your own dressing to it.
I personally like to keep a bottle of vinaigrette in my purse because I do not have to worry about keeping it refrigerated like you would a creamy one. Tessemaes and Primal Kitchen make super yummy Whole30 approved vinaigrettes in many different flavors! Another super awesome hack is the Tessemaes dressings that are in individual to-go containers. You can grab one and have the perfect amount with you for your dinner and then you just toss the container and not have to worry about toting a bottle of dressing around with you.
You do not have to stop at dressings, you could also bring your own BBQ sauce or ketchup for your burgers! Or any other sauce that would make a good addition to your meal. Just put a serving in a small to-go container and bring it with you to the restaurant.
Tip 3: Make friends with your server
Let your server know about your dietary restrictions. They are the menu experts and they can assist you with ordering. They know the inside scoop and the limitations of the kitchen. Ask them for recommendations for substitutions on the menu. If you have come to the restaurant with a couple of meals in mind already you can ask them which one would be easiest or best to modify to make it Whole30 compatible.
Do not be afraid to ask questions about the ingredients! It is much, much, better to ask and know, rather than accidentally eating something non-compatible. Also, ask what swaps are available. Are they able to use olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oil? Steam instead of cook in oil? You won’t know unless you ask!
Smaller/local restaurants that make more of their menu from scratch or in house will know the ingredients on their menu better than a chain would because the chef is there making it fresh! It can potentially be easier to create swaps because the items are made fresh to order, rather than pre-made. Plus another huge bonus is supporting a local business!
Tip 4: Get creative with your order
Dressings & sauces are one thing to be careful about at restaurants. Dressings will almost always have added sugar or soy, and the same with other sauces like mayo or ketchup. If you did not BYOD then you can use oil & vinegar, or even lemon wedges for your salad. Salsas and guacamole can be great options too- but just make sure to ask about them because they may have added sneaky ingredients. Freshly made is typically best. If they are compatible you can use them to dress up your meal as well! Another good option is mustard, especially if they bring it to you in the squeeze bottle because you can read the ingredients on the bottle for yourself.
Great options to order are:
Burgers or sandwiches as a lettuce wrap
Steaks (No butter or oil)
Seafood (No butter or oil)
Omelets (Make sure there are no additives to the egg mixture, such as milk. Sometimes they will add this to make the omelet fluffy.)
Tacos with a lettuce cup instead of a tortilla.
Baked potato (Plain- bring your own ghee or some ranch to go on top!)
Pasta dishes that can be put on top of a bed of greens, rather than noodles.
Get creative with sides, for example, a side of grilled chicken, steamed veggies, avocado, side salad, etc.
Also always ask about what they season with. If it is a seasoning blend it could potentially have something non-compatible like sugar. Or you may be pleasantly surprised by what you can have such as a spicy cajun seasoning.
Get creative! You may be surprised when you start thinking outside the box about how many things you can substitute with lettuce or make into a salad!
Tip 5: Keep a Positive Attitude
During your Whole30 you are changing not just what goes on your plate, but also your habits and relationship with food. Keeping a positive attitude through this is a great habit to work on because you are making lifelong changes to your health! Reframing your mindset is a huge tool to do that.
When someone at your dinner table offers to share something with you or says, “Come on, it’s just one bite!” keep your words positive. Instead of saying, “I can’t have that”, say something along the lines of “I am doing a Whole30” or “I am actually doing a little self-experiment right now, but thanks for thinking of me”. Saying “can’t” will give others the impression you are depriving yourself of something and it also can make you feel like you are being left out of the group. Also being firm with your words will show others you have the boundary and they will hopefully be less likely to try to keep pushing to get you to order a drink or share a basket of fries.
Reminding yourself of your “Why” before going to the restaurant can help you as well. Read it to yourself before you go out so you can stay focused on your goals rather than being tempted to fall back into old habits. You are changing your health and your relationship with food, you can do this!!
Lastly, show your appreciation to your server for all of their help! A 20% tip is customary so slightly higher always is a great thank you. In addition, write a little note on top - “Thank you for helping me with my dietary restrictions- great service!”
I hope these tips make ordering out at a restaurant feel less daunting. The experience should be a good one, not one that you are nervous to do. During Whole30 it is common for people to be spending more time in the kitchen than they typically do. So, enjoy the night out and the break from doing so many dishes!