Following a keto low carb diet can be tricky when dining out but don’t let your whole social life tank on account of your lifestyle. This guide is full of all the tips and tricks for eating out.
Article written by Amanda and Kelly
Tips For Eating Out On Keto
I have been low carb / keto for about two years now while my family is not and one of the questions we get asked the most is how to eat out when one member of your family is following a ketogenic diet.
It’s actually not as hard as you think since lots of restaurants these days cater to a variety of allergy and dietary restrictions.
When in doubt:
- bring your own keto-friendly food
- giveaway any sides or garnishes to someone else at the table (if possible) OR
- eat ahead of time.
And here are some more tips and strategies that can help you stay on track and not cheat on your diet when you’re heading out to the restaurant:
What is Keto and what foods are allowed on keto:
If you’re new to keto and are looking for a more detailed guide on how to start a ketogenic diet and wondering what foods are optimal when following a keto diet, check out my comprehensive guide HERE.
OPTIMAL KETO CHOICES WHEN DINING OUT:
- meat: chicken, steak, turkey, pork, lamb etc.
- seafood: salmon, tuna, shrimp
- leafy greans: spinach, lettuce, kale, collard greens, bok choi, choy sum, gai lan etc.
- non-root vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, jicama
- healthy fats: olive oil, ghee, butter (if not dairy free)
- low carb / sugar free dressings: cider vinegar, Caesar, ranch, Greek
1. PLAN AHEAD
Scope out the restaurant menu – if you know where you’re going to eat ahead out time, do some research and see if the restaurant has a website that includes the menu.
If the restaurant doesn’t have a website, check out Yelp or Google to see if their are reviews or if there’s a contact number, try calling the restaurant to see if someone can help you with any keto friendly meal suggestions.
2. BRING A FEW LOW-CARB SNACKS OR YOUR OWN ENTIRE MEAL
One of the ways to ensure that you’ll stick to your diet is by bringing your own stash of keto-friendly snacks or food.
I often pack my own avocado, nuts or salad dressings with me when I want to load up on my fats and keep me feeling full if the restaurant doesn’t have a big selection.
3. CUSTOMIZE YOUR SIDES
- Ask for a side salad or a double side of low carb vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, sauteed spinach, mushrooms, or green beans
- Avoid common sides like: rice, baked potato, fries, mashed potatoes, pasta, noodles, sweet potatoes etc.
4. CONSIDER FASTING OR FILL UP ON A LIGHT MEAL BEFOREHAND:
Don’t head out to the restaurant when you’re starving or hungry without being prepared otherwise, you’re more likely to make some less than optimal keto choices.
You can choose to eat something beforehand or pack some low carb snacks to take with you just in case.
Some people decide to skip the meal entirely by Intermittent Fasting (IF). I practice IF and you can read more about it here.
5. STICK TO CERTAIN TYPES OF RESTAURANTS
Certain types of restaurants are more keto-friendly than others (more options and open to substitutions):
- Mediterranean / Greek restaurants
- Middle Eastern
- Family friendly / chain restaurants – Applebee’s, Panera’s, Chili’s, TGI Fridays, Chipotle etc.
- Seafood restaurants
- Salads are usually a low carb safe bet. Cobb, Caesar or salads with mainly leafy greens are all great options. If there’s an ingredient on the salad you do not want, try substituting for another ingredient or giveaway any ingredients on your plate that are not low carb / keto friendly.
- Some soups like a broccoli and cheddar soup can be low carb as well. Look for hearty stews (preferably without thickeners) or soups that do not contain noodles.
- If a sandwich looks delicious, you can ask them to serve it on a bed of greens instead of bread. Egg salad, chicken salad or tuna salad are some great options.
Less Keto-friendly restaurants (fewer options or less likely to offer alternatives):
- Italian restaurants (smaller or not chain-type)
- Burger joints / sandwich chops
- Mexican restaurants (smaller or not chain-type)
- Chinese / Asian restaurants (smaller or not chain-type – they usually add sugar or starchy sauces to their dishes)
RESTAURANTS – SUGGESTED SWAPS AND WHAT TO ORDER ON THE MENU THAT’S LOW CARB:
1. Burger places:
- Order an entree-sized salad – Caesar (minus the croutons) or Cobb or both great
- Swap out a bun for a lettuce wrap or have the patty meat served on a salad instead
- Avoid fries (even sweet potato fries) and opt for a side of celery, pickles, cucumber spears or a salad
- Add avocado or another healthy fat to your burger
2. Mediterranean / Middle Eastern Restaurants
- Grilled meats: chicken Slouvlaki, chicken Sharma, pork gyros
- Grilled fish and seafood
- Entree salads (minus any high carb vegetables) (check to see if dressing has sugar or ask for dressing to be served on the side)
- Avoid hummus, couscous, tabbouleh, potatoes and rice
3. Mexican Restaurants:
- Avoid rice, beans, chips & tortillas
- Try ordering fajitas and asking for lettuce wraps instead of tortillas and extra meat instead of rice and beans
- Guacamole, carnitas, Carne asada are all okay to order for keto
- Grilled seafood
- If dining at fast food like Chipotle, order a burrito bowl salad / taco salad and top it with meat, cheeses, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole
4. Italian Restaurants:
- Avoid pasta dishes and look for those that are a “meat/veggie/carb” combo. Simply swap out the carb for an extra serving of veggies
- Grilled fish, steak & chicken entrees (check to see if there is breading or sugar in the sauce)
- Order entree-sized salads (ask for Caesar or ranch dressing on the side)
5. Indian Restaurants:
- Order items with less gravy or sauce that way you can avoid naan and rice
- Tandoori meats and kabobs are great options
- Many restaurants add sugar, high-carb starches & creamy to their sauces so it’s better to check and ask.
6. Chinese Restaurants:
- Stick to stir-fries (beef & broccoli, cashew chicken, chicken and broccoli) (ask if they could leave out sweeteners or high carb starches for the sauce. If they won’t accommodate just ask for no sauce & to just season with salt and pepper instead)
- Avoid noodle dishes and fried rice
- Roasted chicken & duck are some great choices
- Steamed fish
- Curries are a great choice and instead of rice, you can ask for some lettuce wraps instead
- Rib or meat soups minus the noodles
7. Thai Restaurants:
- Stir fries: chicken, pork or beef (ask if they could leave out sweeteners or high carb starches for the sauce. If they won’t accommodate just ask for no sauce & to just season with salt and pepper instead)
- Coconut curries (minus the rice & serve with lettuce)
- Soups: (minus any root vegetables)
- Leafy green salads (minus sugary sauces or high carb vegetables)
- Avoid noodle dishes and fried rice (no Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, Pineapple Fried Rice or Basil Fried Rice
8. Japanese Restaurants
- Stick to sashimi or tataki (minus sugary sauces or soy sauce)
- Sushi-rolls minus the rice
- Chicken, steak, salmon or shrimp entrees minus sauce (ask if they could leave out sweeteners or high carb starches for the sauce. If they won’t accommodate just ask for no sauce & to just season with salt and pepper instead)
- Avoid edamame, noodle dishes and fried rice
9. Pizza places:
This can be a hard one, but more and more pizza places are offering low carb crusts:
- Order a salad instead and top with meats and cheeses
- Sometimes, it’s worth staying away from pizza places. When the craving for pizza hits, you can make delicious pizzas at home using cauliflower crust and all the toppings you desired
With those ideas in mind, try to suggest keto-friendly restaurants for meals out with family and friends. Explain to them that this will help you stay on track with your weight-loss and health and ask for their support.
10. Sports bars / pubs / wing joints
- chicken wings (no breading)
- Grilled chicken, steak, pork, lamb chops – no breading
- Grilled salmon or shrimp (no breading and ask for no sugary sauces)
- Bunless burger or serve patty meat on a bed of salad
- Entree-sized salads (ask for Caesar or Ranch dressing on the side)
BEST FAST FOOD RESTAURANTS TO VISIT WHEN EATING KETO
Sometimes, you can’t avoid hitting a fast food drive-thru line when you’re out with friends or traveling. While it’s best to bring your own keto snacks when possible, here are some tips to stay on track if you are heading out to these popular fast food places:
1. What to order at McDonalds when eating Keto:
- Order grilled unbreaded meats served without the bun and on lettuce wraps (grilled chicken burger, hamburger, quarter pounder, big mac etc.) with any sauces on the side
- Aim for leafy salads minus high carb vegetables or croutons (Caesar / Ranch sauce/dressing on the side)
- Avoid breaded meats, wraps, buns etc.
2. What to order at KFC when eating Keto:
- Order grilled chicken or grilled chicken burger without the bun and on lettuce wraps
- Aim for leafy side salads minus high carb vegetables or croutons (Caesar / Ranch sauce/dressing on the side)
- Avoid breaded chicken, wraps, buns.
3. What to order at Subway when eating Keto:
- Order tuna, egg or chicken salad (minus the bread) over lettuce / spinach and include low carb vegetables with cucumber, green peppers, avocado, boiled eggs, bacon and olive oil
- Ask for dressing on the side: Olive oil, Caesar / Ranch
4. What to order at Pita Pit when eating Keto:
- Order tuna, egg or chicken salad (minus the bread), chicken Souvlaki, chicken Schwarma, grilled chicken over lettuce / spinach and include low carb vegetables with cucumber, green peppers, avocado, boiled eggs, bacon and olive oil
- Ask for dressing on the side: Olive oil, Caesar / Ranch
Just say “no”
If the restaurant is not so keen on substitutions (which most are) you can simply set it aside or give away those carbs to a dining buddy if possible. If not, just ask the waiter to not include something. It’s better to not even see if than be tempted to eat something sitting on the table
And yes, saying no to a bread basket is a thing.
When it comes to beverages, stick to water
Sodas and sugary beverages are a big no-no
Skip the dessert menu or bring your own
Chances are, all of the desserts on the menu are not keto-friendly.
If the whole party is getting dessert and you don’t want to be left out, ask if they can serve a berry platter or veggie tray with celery, broccoli and cucumber.
Unsure? Ask the staff or look at nutrition facts
Sometimes it can be daunting to tell your waiter about your dietary restrictions but they handle this stuff all the time. Luckily, lot’s of menus include nutrition facts for you to make smart decisions, but also, there’s no harm in asking the staff!
Be prepared for surcharges
Eating healthy can come at a price. When you get charged to modify your meal, as annoying as it can be, stick to your why and remind yourself why you choose this healthy lifestyle.
Do the best you can with what you got
We’re human and it can be hard to adhere to rules 100% of the time. If you slip up, accept it and realize tomorrow is a new day.
Dine at restaurants or take-out places that are low carb friendly
Pita Pit, Panera’s, Chipotle, Qdoba, Whole Foods Salad Bar or other grocery store salad bars, TGI Fridays, Applebee’s, Chili’s are great at accommodating and offer lots of low carb options.
This one can be tricky because you are not always in control of restaurant choices, but encourage your friends and family to eat at places that accommodate you. Chances are, your friends and family will be supportive of your lifestyle decisions.
If you are completely out of control, however, that’s when you can be creative and customize your own meal.
It might not be the best dish in the world, but hopefully, with these tips above, you can create a meal that suits your needs!
More Keto guides: