Essential Tips for Dining Out on a Low-Carb Diet

Learn How to Navigate a Restaurant Menu and Reduce Carbs

Rack of Lamb and Vegetables
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Changing the way you eat and following a new diet is difficult enough at home, but what happens when you go out to eat? It can be easy to fall prey to temptation and order something at the restaurant that sounds delicious, even if it's not right for your low-carb diet. After all, those mouth-watering foods you banned from your house are right there, just waiting for someone to bring them to your table.

The good news is that it's entirely possible to enjoy a good restaurant meal that fits your new diet. Simply follow a few tips that will help you navigate the menu and the service. You'll leave the restaurant feeling guilt-free and satisfied because you made healthy choices.

Plan! Plan! Plan!

The more you decide ahead of time, the fewer choices will confront you when the waiter hands you the menu. Be clear about what you’re going to do and, if possible, look at the menu ahead of time. Most restaurants now have their menus available online, so this is easier than ever.

At First, Take the Easy Street

If you are new to a particular diet, make it easier on yourself. You can handle pasta places some time down the road, so save that Italian restaurant for later.

When making dinner plans, don't forget about the carbs present in other cuisines. The rice and noodles at Chinese restaurants throw up red flags, as do the tortillas at Mexican restaurants.

With each of these, there are ways to order a great low-carb meal, though it may be a little too difficult at first.

For now, think about restaurants with easy and natural low-carb choices. Places where things come separately (like steak and salad) are easier than cuisines that emphasize dishes with lots of ingredients.

One of the big questions people have is whether or not fast food should be avoided. Generally, it's best to visit these restaurants only on occasion and to learn how to spot their low-carb menu items. The good news is that many fast food restaurants are making this easier as well.

Don’t Be Shy

Order confidently with the understanding that restaurants are used to special orders. As someone who can’t eat wheat products, I have become comfortable asking questions about the various dishes. Although I don’t expect a dish to be changed for me, I often get offers if I am polite about explaining my needs.

You might think about adopting the attitude of someone with a medical condition who just can’t eat certain things. You may be surprised at how accommodating the chef can be. It's also good to remember that the more casual the restaurant, the less likely this is to happen.

Ordering Tips

Restaurant menus vary, but there are some tricks you can use with many of them to reduce the number of carbs you eat. Here are some of the easiest things to order for a low-carb diet:

  • Look for fairly plain (and unbreaded) meat with vegetables and/or salads (no croutons). Ask for extra veggies instead of the potato or fries. Quite often, if you say “no potato” you will be asked if you’d like more veggies, or the chef may just "fill out the plate" with them.
  • “Meal Salads” are quite popular and can be very tasty. If you don’t like the options, pick a sandwich that looks good and ask for the “innards” to be put on top of a green salad instead of a bun.
  • Order the burger, steak sandwich, etc, without the bun. Have a salad on the side.
  • If it’s a “breakfast all day” type of place, order an omelet for lunch or dinner, with low-carb veggies such as spinach, peppers, mushrooms, etc. Have fruit on the side instead of the toast and home fries.

And Always…

  • Substitute salad or veggies for higher carb sides like fries, rice, or macaroni salad.
  • Ask for no bread basket or chip bowl–-or at least keep it as far from your seat as possible.
  • Order nothing that is deep fried because these almost always have breading.
  • If you're feeling dessert-deprived, taste your tablemate's. A small spoonful could be all you need to satisfy your curiosity.

Finally, if you see something that you really wish you could eat, try to figure out how to make it low in carbs at home. It's amazing what a quick switch of an ingredient or two can do and you can find many low-carb recipes that replicate that taste you desire.

A Word From Verywell

While you might want to eat at home where you can control the menus when you're starting a low-carb diet, restaurants are not out of the question. Using these tips, you'll be ready to make those healthy decisions required to keep yourself on track.