You’re going to eat restaurant or convenience food sometime over the next six weeks. You just are. I mean, maybe you are a freak of nature who is ALWAYS prepared and never feels like socializing. Power to you. But most people are going to run into work lunches, dinner with the girls, happy hour, pure laziness, or some other similar non-ideal situations. And while it’s not always easy, there are strategies for sticking to your diet while you eat out.
1. Do some research ahead of time.
This will be especially helpful if you’re in a situation like a work lunch, where you don’t want to be this guy who orders your meal like Sally orders dinner in When Harry Met Sally. So look at the menu ahead of time. If you’re just grabbing Panera for lunch, it’s easy to look online for the nutrition facts and ingredients for every food. If it’s a nicer place, the menu likely won’t list all ingredients but they’ll generally indicate what’s in the sauce. If you have a few good options identified, you won’t have to study the menu intensely for the right option once you’re there. If you’re really dedicated, you can probably even call ahead and inquire about anything that concerns you.
2. Stick to the basics.
Meat. Vegetables. Oil and vinaigrette. You can usually get a basic steak or fish and side of vegetables or basic salad at at most places.
3. Don’t go to Cracker Barrel (or any place like it).
Or any place like it. Look, while I”m of the firm belief you can make a good choice or a bad choice almost anywhere, I’m also fairly convinced (despite the guy who lost 37 pounds eating only McDonald’s) that some places just don’t offer anything worth buying. A few months ago Patrick and I were starving and driving through the middle of rural New Hampshire, so we stopped at Cracker Barrel. We figured it was better than Wendy’s, right? And I had pretty good memories of playing checkers when I was a kid. But the food was awful – processed, cheap, and not even appealing. Your sides of vegetables were maybe 1/3 cup while you got almost a whole plate of white pasta. My point being, even when you order the best thing on the menu there, it’s a far cry from a healthy meal. So avoid places like that as much as you can. Better places include Chipotle or Panera, where you can get a decent salad.
The Best Meal Ideas
- If you’re at a fast food joint (Panera, Sebastian’s, Chipotle…) – go for the basic salad. Lettuce, meat, beans, veggies, avocado, etc.
- If you’re at a nicer place – steak, fish, or chicken and a side of vegetables, sans any featured sauces. If you’re not on the transformation challenge but still trying to stay healthy, you can add a side of roasted potatoes if they have them.
- If you’re at a sports bar – bun-less burger topped with lettuce, tomato, and onion, mustard, and avocado with a side of vegetables.
- If you’re skiing/riding – chili. Almost every ski lodge has it, and it’s usually mostly beans, meat, veggies, and tomato sauce. Yes that sauce might have sugar in it, but it might be the best non-salad item you can get there. I don’t know about you but salad doesn’t sound so good when I’m coming off the slopes freezing with ice down my back.
The Best Drink Ideas
To be perfectly clear, none of the below booze-y beverages are transformation challenge compliant. But if you must have a drink (no judgement here, it is football season afterall…) these are going to be the best options.
- If you want to appear social but don’t feel like alcohol – seltzer water with lime. Because sometimes “why aren’t you drinking?” and “ugh you diet too much” get old. Order the soda water with lime and you can fly under the radar in social situations without playing paleo 20 questions.
- If you want the booze – red wine is the best choice here. Yeah, yeah, Rob Wolf says tequila is paleo. And I’m pretty sure that’s because he likes tequila and recognizes (correctly) that in our world abolishing all alcohol is unrealistic for most. But red wine is the one with science-demostrated heart health benefits, so I’d stick with the Merlot/Cabernet.
In short, if you do some research ahead of time and stick to basic meat and veggie dishes, you can absolutely enjoy a nice meal out with friends or a date without abandoning your diet. What’s your go-to paleo-approved restaurant meal?