How to eat whole foods at restaurants

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Since we started our 100 Days of Real Food pledge eating at restaurants has become quite a challenge, but we have also learned a lot from the experience. Below are some tips and suggested meals if you also want to try to stick to whole foods while eating out.

General Tips:

  • Avoid bread items such as rolls, breadcrumbs, tortillas, pasta, breading, crusts, etc. Unfortunately even if something is called “whole-wheat” it is rare to find items that are truly only made with 100% whole-wheat (unless the restaurant can confirm the ingredients for you).
  • If the waiter/chef doesn’t know (and can’t find out) the ingredients of an item then they probably don’t make it fresh in house which means it likely has all sorts of stuff (like sweeteners and preservatives) in it you don’t want or need.
  • If they don’t know where the meat came from then I can guarantee it is not from anywhere special (like a grass-fed local farm).
  • For children do not order off the kid’s menu. The kid’s menu is almost always processed foods or foods made from processed ingredients (like pasta from white flour, factory made chicken nuggets, corn dogs, french fries, etc.). Instead attempt to put together a plate of adult side items that you think your child would eat (like a baked potato, fruit, vegetable, and nuts or cheese you see offered on a salad).
  • Always ask questions when it comes to sauces and ask for them to be left off when appropriate. It seems as though everything under the sun (including lots of sugar) can be hidden in the most surprising places when it comes to sauces, dressings, and marinades. For salads opt for some oil and vinegar instead of pre-made salad dressing (unless they can confirm a simple list of dressing ingredients for you).
  • If time allows do some research and look at menus in advance to help you make the best restaurant selection and menu choices.

Suggested Restaurant Meals that follow our real food rules:

Generic Meals

  • Seafood
  • Higher end restaurants sometimes offer locally raised meats and poultry
  • Breakfast egg dishes such as scrambled eggs
  • Side items such as potatoes, vegetables, beans, fruit, and brown rice
  • Salads
  • Simple soups (always ask what is in it first)

Chain Restaurants

  • Chipotle Mexican Grill: (update Feb 2012 – some locations now have brown rice)

    • Burrito bowl with black beans, fajita vegetables, corn salsa, guacamole, sour cream and grated cheese (with no white rice or tortilla)
    • Salad with no meat or vinaigrette
  • Ruby Tuesday:(only place I called that has brown rice!)
    • Salad bar
    • Asian Salmon Spinach Salad with no glaze, wonton strips or dressing (use olive oil and vinegar instead)
    • Santa Fe Chicken or Southwestern Beef Salad with no meat, tortilla strips/chips or dressing
    • Avocado Shrimp salad with no crispy wontons or dressing
    • Creole Catch (just the way it is!)
    • Herb Crusted Tilapia with no bread crumbs
    • Asian Glazed Salmon with no glaze or peanut sauce
    • Any of the following side items: creamy mashed cauliflower, baked potato, mashed potatoes, steamed brocolli, portabella mushrooms, sugar snap peas, brown rice pilaf
  • Chili’s:
    • Fajitas with no meat and no soy sauce in the marinade (you could add shrimp or mushrooms to the veggie mix) with no tortillas
    • Side item plate including mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, black beans, and/or seasonal veggies
    • House salad with oil and vinegar for your dressing
    • Asian salad with no vinaigrette, no peanut drizzle and no crispy wontons (you could add salmon and oil/vinegar for dressing)
    • A custom combination including Spicy Garlic & Lime Grilled Shrimp (with no margarita marinade), Grilled Salmon, seasonal vegetables and mashed potatoes
  • Cracker Barrel: (almost all of their vegetable sides – even ones that look as innocent as corn, carrots, and green beans – have sugar in them at this restaurant):
    • Oatmeal with Pecans, Raisins, Fresh Sliced Bananas and/or 100% Pure Maple Syrup
    • Eggs and fresh fruit
    • Grilled Catfish with mashed potatoes and fruit (strawberries/banana)
    • BLT Salad with no bacon and no croutons
  • Applebees:
    • Cajun Lime Tilapia with baked potato or mashed potatoes instead of white rice
    • Grilled Shrimp & Island Rice with no BBQ sauce and potatoes instead of white rice
    • California Shrimp Salad with no bacon and oil and vinegar instead of dressing
    • Grilled Shrimp ‘N Spinach Salad with no bacon and oil and vinegar instead of dressing
  • Carrabbas:
    • Shrimp scampi appetizer
    • Grilled salmon with vegetable side, mashed potatoes and/or whole-grain pasta
    • Most pasta entrees can be ordered with whole-grain noodles so just inquire about the sauce before ordering
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59 comments to How to eat whole foods at restaurants

  • Mary

    Just went to Applebee’s today and they no longer serve the Cajun Lime Tilapia :( I had the salmon with veggies and potatoes instead but without the sauce they put on it.

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