On busy days with little time for home cooked meals, eating out comes in handy. Eating out is also a great way to meet up with friends and family. But when you're eating low-carb, restaurants can be tricky. No matter what joint you visit, it seems like no one wants to cater to the keto palate.
However challenging it may seem, eating out on a low-carb, ketogenic diet is possible. With a couple of tips and tricks, anyone can learn to navigate restaurant menus to suit their keto needs. In this article, you'll find out how to prepare for eating out on keto; which restaurants you should visit, and what options you have.
First, Stick to These Two Simple Rules
Avoid starchy, high-carb foods — that’s a keto no-brainer. However, we absolutely must emphasis this rule as avoiding carbs in restaurants and takeouts is tough and temptation is hard to resist. Most places serve meals that are based on standard diets and most standard diets place carbs at their base.
With all that said, high-carb foods you want to look out for include:
- Noodles– Even soba and whole-grain noodles are a no-no.
- Rice– And other grains like barley, millet, and couscous.
- Tortillas & chips– You can eat guacamole with some celery or salad instead.
- French fries – Too high in starch to do you any good on a keto diet.
- Bread and pastry – Pass the bread when dining out on keto.
- Sweet Sauces like ketchup– On the other hand, cream-based sauces and gravy are mostly OK.
- Side dishes with root vegetables– Sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, and onions are high in sugar and starches. Radish and fennel bulk are two exceptions.
- Most desserts – Except if the restaurant serves diabetic-friendly desserts which tend to be low in carbs.
On the other hand, you do want to order meals with protein and fat-rich foods which you'll usually find listed on the main course section of the restaurant’s menu. Examples of such foods include:
- Meats– Any will do as long as the meat is not breaded. Steaks, chicken breasts, and pork are all great options.
- Seafood– Fish, crab, mussels, shrimp, and squid are not only ok on keto, but an excellent source of valuable omega-3 fatty acids.
- Vegetables– Check out our list of the top 15 low-carb vegetables to eat on keto. If you find any on the menu, go and make your order. If not, you can always order a salad and ask to skip the dressing.
- Eggs– Scrambled eggs, poached eggs, eggs benedict (without the toast) – the choices are endless.
- Charcuterie Plate– Cheese and cured meat appetizers are also good.
In short, avoid grain-based and starchy foods and go for animal proteins and low-carb vegetables. This may be tricky with some restaurants, and especially with fast-food joints. However, that doesn't mean keto eating isn't possible outside your home. In fact, it can be a convenient way to meet your macros when you learn to navigate the menu.
Even with the above rules, you'll notice that most restaurants do not offer that many keto-friendly options. To make your hunt for keto-approved meals easier, ask the server the following:
- For entrée meals, ask for extra vegetables on the side or even a salad instead of the usual rice, potatoes, and bread.
- Optionally, order entrees without a side dish and ask for cream, gravy, or blue cheese dressing.
- For burgers and sandwiches, ask to have the bun replaced with a lettuce wrap.
- You can also ask for extra butter, olive oil, and vinegar. Not only are these condiments keto-approved, but they're also quite healthy.
- When ordering sauces, ask the server if the sauce was thickened with cream or starch.
What Restaurants Are Good
Whether it's ethnic, fast-food, or premium, there are countless restaurants out there for you to find keto suitable meals. But the best ones that are easiest to navigate for keto beginners include:
Steakhouses & BBQ
Besides steak, most steakhouses today also serve chicken, duck, fish, and seafood. Steakhouse menus are fairly simple and easy to navigate when you're eating low-carb. Order a steak with cream sauce and some broccoli on the side and you're good to go. Same goes true for BBQ places. Just make sure to pass on the fries and order a mixed salad instead.
Mediterranean restaurants serve keto-friendly options like fish with fresh, seasonal vegetables or a tomato and mozzarella salad with some olive oil. Mediterranean food is some of the healthiest on the planet, partly due to a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids from seafood and monounsaturated (MUFA) fats from olive oil and nuts .
There's more to Chinese cooking than wonton soup and sticky rice. At a Chinese place can also order stir-fried beef, roasted duck, egg foo young, and pork belly. Chinese food is fairly versatile, so chance are you'll find something to suit your diet on the menu. For more ideas, check out these 6 keto-friendly Chinese meals.
Seafood and Japanese
Traditionally, Japanese restaurants served mostly a range of seafood-based meals and most still do. So, consider ordering staples lie grilled fish, grilled chicken, or sashimi. Because sushi always includes rice, you'll have to pass on this Japanese specialty while on a keto diet. Other than Japanese, restaurants, you can find other restaurant chains that specialize solely in seafood.
Buffets allow you to pick and choose whatever you need to satisfy your keto palate. Most buffets offer keto-friendly meals like roast turkey, grilled fish, steamed vegetables, salads, and gravy. If you're concerned about food safety, avoid salad dressings, sprouted vegetables, and tuna as they can contain bacteria, mold, and toxins.
Studies also show that the greatest concern when it comes to restaurant food is poultry . Also avoid foods no one seems to touch at a buffet because chances are it's been sitting there for a long time.
Sample Keto Restaurant Meals
To give you a better idea of how your orders look like on a keto diet, have a look at these 3 daily meals you can order:
Almost any standard restaurant serves bacon and eggs for breakfast. If you want variety, you can order an omelet or scrambled eggs. Research shows that eggs are one of the best and healthiest sources of protein out there . When you get bored of egg-based breakfasts, we suggest ordering a Mexican breakfast bowl instead.
Order something simple like a chicken, Caesar salad (skip the croutons). Optionally, you can order smoked salmon or an avocado salad. However, we suggest making your lunch as energy-dense as possible as research shows hefty lunches rather than dinners helps with weight loss .
Order a meat-based entrée with some vegetables and sauce to spice things up. Fish is also great and so is squid, mussels, oysters, and shrimp if you're feeling fancy.
If you get hungry in between meals ordering a quick snack or brunch is also a good idea. Pork rinds, bacon-wrapped asparagus, guacamole, and deviled eggs are some good options.
What You Need to Watch Out For
Hidden carbs are everywhere. That's why you need to take a close look at the menu and even ask the server when in doubt. Here are a few orders to pay special attention to when dining out keto:
Sauce, Dips, and Spreads
Some condiments are thickened with flour or starch. Others are sweetened with sugar and honey. Luckily, there are plenty that contain mostly fat and protein. Keto-friendly condiments include mustard, mayonnaise, hot sauce, horseradish, cream, apple-cider vinegar, guacamole, béarnaise, salsa, and Hollandaise.
On the other hand, sauces to avoid include:
- Buffalo sauce
- Black bean sauce
- BBQ sauce
- Balsamic vinegar
Sparkling water, tea, and coffee are ok. Some alcoholic beverages are also good on keto. Examples include spirits, dry wines, and light beer. The ones you'll need to skip on keto are:
- Dessert wines – some dessert wines are higher in sugar than others. Better to play it safe and stick to dry wines.
- Liqueur – most are sweetened with sugar and many are flavored with fruit.
- Dark beer – stout and lager, especially the dark ones are higher in carbs than other beers.
- Cocktails – You'll rarely find keto-friendly, low-carb versions.
- Juices– Avoid all fruit juices, including lemonade. That is, unless you carry a stevia dispenser with you at all times. In that case, juice freshly squeezed from whole lemons is ok as long as there's no added sugar.
To avoid temptation and risk diet mishaps, it's a good idea to be prepared for eating out. When we're hungry, we don't think clearly and many of us succumb to impulse. This can spell disaster on your keto diet and you'll end up with feelings of regret and will need to start all over again.
To avoid making dining out stressful and tempting experience, consider doing these things:
1. Have a snack at home
Nothing worse than going hungry to a social dinner gathering. You want to enjoy your time with friends, family, or even coworkers, so do have a quick snack at home to curb your appetite. This will prevent you from making impulsive decisions like thinking that one piece of bread wouldn't do harm.
2. Research restaurants online
Look for keto-friendly restaurants near you on websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. You can also research the restaurant's menus beforehand, so you don’t have to stress out once you're there.
3. Research keto foods beforehand
If you're not very familiar with keto eating, you will likely struggle making orders. To succeed on a keto diet, the most important thing is knowing your food well. Give our Ketocademy course a try to learn everything you need to about keto eating.
When you go keto, it's best to make most of your meals at home. This way, you know how much of each macro you're taking in; you'll ensure you're eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods, and you have complete control over your diet.
However, occasional social eating and restaurant visits won't harm your keto diet. In fact, you can and should enjoy eating out on keto. Almost every popular restaurant offers meats, fish, seafood, and eggs. You can also order a range of vegetables side dishes, salads, wine, coffee, and cheese and cured meat platters which are all great keto options.
Make sure to follow our tips and plan your restaurant visits ahead. And remember, with the right knowledge in place, any restaurant can be a keto restaurant.