by Kira A.
I think when you’ve committed to a Whole30, socializing and eating out can be the trickiest bit. There are some of us for whom alcohol is a major trigger and just being out makes us want to drink. If that’s you, you need to think about whether being out is worth the torment. For others, it is missing out on eating a great meal or feeling like a weirdo in a restaurant by asking a thousand questions.
I want to say that if you are doing your first Whole30, I really encourage you to commit and avoid eating out as much as possible. A few things happen when you prepare every bit of food you consume. The first is that you begin to understand the volume of food you are consuming because it is way less of a “grab and go” mentality. The second is that you appreciate it more because you are aware of the time it took to make it. You are just more thoughtful about what you are eating and you reduce mindless eating to zero. The third is that you have much more control over your food when you make it. You never know what is in a restaurant meal, even if they promise you that it is compliant.
That said, over the course of 30 days, there will be at least a few invitations to eat out so here are some thoughts about navigating a menu.
Step 1: Evaluate the Invitation.
Do you need to “go out to eat” to accomplish this business or social event? Could you meet for coffee instead? Could you take the meeting by phone? If social, could you have the person to your home and make a compliant meal? Try to limit non-necessary eating out engagements. You’ll find you are less tempted and less frustrated. Remember, this isn’t forever, it is just 30 days.
Step 2: Picking a Restaurant
If this is an event that you feel you need to attend or really want to attend, and you have any sway over the restaurant selected, now is the time to use it. Try to steer toward places where you know there is a more complaint option on the menu. Think about high-quality steak houses offering simple grilled fish or meat or farm to table restaurants where the staff is likely to be knowledgeable about ingredients. You may want to try to avoid Thai or Chinese restaurants where most food will be prepared with sugar or soy or Indian or Ethiopian restaurants where you may not be familiar enough with the ingredients to know what is compliant.
If you see the choice is made and you know there won’t be options. Stop here. Eat a full meal before you go. I can’t stress this enough. Eat a full meal. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to watch people eat if you aren’t the slightest bit hungry. If you’re going to be ordering food off the menu, move on to the next steps!
Step 3: Navigating the Menu
I like to look at a menu online in advance and think about what comes closest to be compliant. If you know what you’re going to order, there’s less of a chance of getting nervous and winding up with the fettuccine alfredo.
Most restaurants have a plain steak, piece of fish, or grilled chicken. Read the description, does it sound like it has been marinated? If so, it is probably out as most marinades contain at least some sugar or industrial vegetable oils. Does it sound like it is served in a sauce? Ask that they omit the sauce (or butter) and finish with olive oil.
Feel free to call or email in advance if you don’t think you’ll be able to get your questions answered satisfactorily in person. I did this at Volt in Frederick to explain my dietary needs and ask that they assist me in ordering.*
Step 4: Making Your Peace
Sometimes you do everything right and the food that gets delivered is not-compliant. Maybe you can tell it has butter on it. Maybe it is in a wine reduction sauce. Maybe they forgot and covered it in soy sauce. Sometimes it happens. Now you have to decide what to do.
Depending on how hungry you are, how bad the mistake is, and the company you are in, you might opt to politely send it back and ask them to remake it. Or you might just make the best of it and eat the most compliant part of the meal.** Both are valid choices and it is up to you to decide what is right at the moment. If you accidentally eat something non-compliant move on, it isn’t a reason
to throw out all your efforts and order a brownie sundae for dessert. It happens sometimes when you are eating in restaurants and it is a chance to learn about what to do next time.
*That was a low point for me. Eating brunch at Volt on a Whole30 (or paleo challenge) is not something I’d recommend. I didn’t “cheat” but I was emotionally bereft not sampling those biscuits.
**Or you might do what Liesl did and pretend to eat it while throwing food over your shoulder.
Tips for Eating Out in Silver Spring
The Classics (formerly Ray’s the Classics)
- I’d get a plain grilled steak or the salmon, I’d avoid any of the special preparations (Au Poivre, blackened or otherwise because they may contain sugar). I’d ask that the protein be finished with olive oil. I’d order steamed broccoli crowns and ask for no butter but olive oil on the side. The burger (no bun) is also compliant.
- Try a plain steak or fish but hold the smoked butter and hold the fries.
Republic (Takoma Park)
- Get the oysters but skip the cocktail sauce in favor of a lemon, Tabasco, or mignonette.
- Filet de Pollo a la Parrilla. I can report the marinade has no sugar and they use only olive oil and no industrial oils or soy in the mojo sauce.
- They offer a “low carb menu” that seems to offer decent options. I’d probably get the grilled shrimp over the mixed vegetables. I’d be concerned the sausage has preservatives, fillers, or sugars in it and the mango salsa accompanying the salmon likely has sugar in it.
- Pechuga de pollo a la parrilla (plain grilled chicken) comes with guacamole and pico de gallo. Ask for a side of vegetables or a green salad instead of the tortillas.
These are some chains that provide higher-quality proteins that I feel comfortable eating at now and again when eating out is unavoidable.
- The carnitas are compliant but all of the other proteins and vegetables are cooked in soybean oil. Get a carnitas bowl. No beans, no rice. Add guacamole, pico de gallo, and medium or hot salsa. If you’re really hungry, double the meat and the guacamole.
Elevation Burger and BurgerFi
- Get a burger with yellow mustard, onions, and tomatoes, in a fresh lettuce wrap. Skip the mayo, ketchup, BBQ or house sauces or anything else likely to contain sugar, soy, or industrial oils.
Nando’s Peri Peri
- Their hot and medium sauces appear to basically compliant (no sugar, no soy) but I can’t verify whether they contain low quality vegetable oils. I don’t know if their chicken is marinated with sugar or other off plan ingredients. In a pinch, you could certainly give it a shot.
Chop’t and Sweetgreen
- Both offer lots of salad ingredients that are compliant. Neither (to my knowledge) offers a compliant dressing. Get lemon juice, olive oil, and/or vinegar.
Whole Foods Salad Bar
- Sometimes the salad bar at Whole Foods could save your life. Every ingredient is posted so you know exactly what you are getting. The selections without non-compliant ingredients are limited but you can absolutely put together a satisfying prepared meal here.