How to eat a low-carb or keto diet when dining out
Low-carb eating works anywhere. Here are six awesome tips:
Eliminate the starch
Bounce the bread. Pass on the pasta. Purge the potatoes. Refuse the rice. Keep temptation off your plate by ordering your meal without the starchy sides.
- If ordering an entrée, most restaurants will substitute a salad or extra veggies for the starch.
- If ordering a sandwich or burger, most restaurants will substitute lettuce wraps for the bun.
- If they will not substitute, simply eliminate the unwanted item, regardless.
If, in spite of careful ordering, your plate arrives with a starchy side, consider your options. If you are certain you can leave it there, untouched, feel free. If you will be tempted to eat some of it, immediately ask the waiter to replate the meal without the starch. If you are at a more casual place, take care of the unwanted food yourself by discarding it in the trash.
If you feel you must explain yourself (to the waiter or your fellow diners), simply suggest stomach issues or a restrictive diet.
Add healthy fat
Restaurant meals can be low in fat, making it hard to feel satisfied without eating carbs. But this problem can be fixed.
- Ask for extra butter and melt it on veggies or meat.
- Ask for olive oil and vinegar dressing and drizzle the oil liberally on salads and your meal.
- Some restaurants serve cheaper vegetable oils (full of omega 6 fat) rather than olive oil. This is not as healthy, unfortunately. To avoid this many seasoned low-carb eaters carry a small bottle of olive oil with them.
Keep an eye on sauces and condiments
Some sauces, like Béarnaise sauce, contain mostly fat. Others, like ketchup, contain mostly carbs. Gravies can go either way.
If you are unsure about the sauce, ask about the ingredients and avoid it if it contains sugar or flour. You can also ask for the sauce on the side so you can decide how much to add to your meal.
Choose drinks with care
Perfect drinks are water, sparkling water, tea, or coffee.
If you chose to add an alcoholic beverage, champagne, dry wine, light beer, or spirits – straight or with club soda – are all great low-carb choices. For more details, check out our low-carb alcohol guide.
Are you really still hungry? If not, preferably enjoy a nice cup of coffee or tea while you wait for others to finish their sweets. Perhaps you don’t want to drink coffee if it is late? Good thinking — ask for decaf coffee or herbal tea instead.
If you are hungry and need more food, look for a cheese plate or berries with heavy cream. Sometimes just cream or butter in your coffee is enough to satisfy.
Get creative if necessary
If nothing on the menu seems to work for you, feel free to improvise.
- What about the Spaghetti Bolognese item – could the restaurant serve just the sauce in a bowl, like soup, with a large serving of sautéed veggies on the side? Both would be perfect sprinkled with Parmesan cheese!
- Or, might you order two or three appetizers? A salad paired with a shrimp cocktail and a cheese plate makes a delicious low-carb dinner.
Just ask – you’re the customer, and the customer is always right.
At buffet restaurants
The beauty of buffets is that there are plenty of choices, including low-carb and keto dishes. Don’t eat to get your money’s worth – eat for health and enjoyment instead!
Set rules before leaving the table
Before walking past the many tempting offerings, take a moment and re-commit to skipping the biggest offenders. Remember GPS – grains, potatoes, and sugar. Don’t put these on your plate.
Use a small plate?
Consider starting small if you’re trying to lose weight. You can always go back for more, if it’s not enough to satisfy you.
Focus on fats, vegetables, and protein
Focus on the healthy food: the salad bar, carving stations, seafood spreads, and vegetable platters are the real sweet spot. And you can usually find some healthy fats to add to your plate: olive oil, butter, sour cream, and cheese. If you don’t see them, ask the servers to bring some to your table.
After savoring your delicious, low-carb selections, any cravings for the ‘carbage’ should diminish.
Take your time
Enjoy your dinner companions and the conversation. Drink your water and sip your coffee or tea. Sometimes it takes a bit of time before you feel satisfied, so don’t rush back for seconds if you’re trying to lose weight. Perhaps you’ll feel satisfied soon anyway.
At a friend’s or relative’s place
Don’t fret about that dinner party or holiday gathering. Hosts are typically understanding and cooperative. Here are four tips:
Communicate as needed
Before the party, consider sharing your food preferences with your host. If you are very strict low-carb, i.e. on a keto diet, you host may appreciate some advanced notice so he or she can accommodate your needs.
Have an excuse ready if you think you might need it. (“I have been having some stomach issues, so I am experimenting with eliminating sugar/bread/potatoes/etc…”). Any mention of stomach issues usually silences all inquiries.
Take the edge off your hunger at home
Eat a fatty snack before you leave for the party. Nuts, olives, or cheese are all good choices. This takes the edge off your hunger and makes it easier to resist starchy hors d’oeuvres and dinner rolls. Check out our low-carb snack guide.
Pick and choose
Remember, this is only one meal. Some people choose to eat more liberally when dining at a friend’s home. Perhaps you elect to enjoy the crispy coating on the fried chicken that is served– a relatively small indulgence.
That said, feel free to pass on the breadbasket and avoid putting starch on your plate. If your meal is presented with a starch, do not hesitate to leave it untouched.
As for dessert, with all of the talk about cutting back on sugar, skipping dessert is becoming more accepted. At least there’s no need to eat it to please others. Perhaps you’d be happy with a cup of coffee or tea instead?
Bring a low-carb dish
Call ahead and arrange to bring part of the meal. Your host or hostess will be grateful and you will be sure to enjoy the healthy fats included in your dish.
Grabbing lunch or a quick dinner? Make it low carb at any of these common restaurants, or check out our list of the top 11 fast-food options for keto.
Delis, sub shops and bakery cafés
Often, the best choice in these casual eateries is a large salad.
- Order a Chef’s salads or Chicken Caesar salad. Add delicious foods such as chicken, ham, shrimp, cheese, hard boiled eggs, olives, and avocado to your salad.
- Pour on olive oil (plenty of it!) and vinegar, Caesar or blue cheese dressings. Avoid any dressing that might be sweet, including raspberry or balsamic vinaigrette, poppy seed, French, or honey mustard. Double-check with your waiter about the dressing if you are not sure if it contains sugar.
- Add coffee or tea. Ask for whipping cream or butter to add fat.
Burger or chicken joint
Skip the fries and the soda – this is half the battle.
- Choose a burger with a lettuce wrap (instead of the bun). If unavailable, simply discard the bun.
- Load up on toppings like bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and sprouts. Avoid ketchup – regular mustard (but not honey mustard or sweet mustard) and mayo are fine. If you are really hungry, order two burgers or double down on the patty.
- Order fast-food chicken grilled, not fried. This eliminates both the flour in the batter and the vegetable oil in the fryer.
- Enjoy chicken with a salad or go with a sandwich (ditch the bun) and veggie sides.
- Avoid barbecue sauce, as it is full of sugar.
Lots of nice options here — but pass on those tortilla chips!
- Order a burrito bowl. Carnitas (pork), steak, chicken, or fajita veggies all work.
- Eliminate the rice, go easy on the beans, and load up on meat, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, and salsa. You can usually pay a little extra to get double servings of these ingredients.
- No bowls? No problem. Unwrap your burrito and eat the contents with a fork. When you are finished, discard the tortilla.
Proceed with caution at Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.
- Focus on staying away from choices that are battered or taste sweet.
- Order a dish made with brown sauce — usually a safe, savory option. Ask your waiter to be sure. Stir-fries or curries made with meat, seafood, and low-carb vegetables taste great without the rice.
- Ask for coconut oil. It’s a great way to add fat to your meal. Peanut, sesame, or olive oil might be available as well. And most restaurants have butter if you ask for it!
- Order crispy Duck (ensure that it comes without a sweet sauce) or Chop Suey (without thickeners in the sauce, if possible). If you find Shirataki noodles on the menu, note that they are very low in carbohydrates.
Indian cuisine offers many good options for adventurous low-carb eaters.
- Ask for ghee, an Indian staple; it is clarified butter – pure fat! It is perfect for low-carb — add to any dish!
- Choose kebabs, curries (without potatoes), meat in creamy sauces (like tikka masala and butter chicken), and tandoori dishes. Skip the rice and the naan.
- Try adding Raita (a creamy dip made from plain yogurt – hopefully full-fat – and shredded cucumbers.)
- Indian homemade cheese is fine, but watch for hidden carbs (flour or other thickeners) in some of these dishes. Ask your waiter about the ingredients.
The flavor of pizza is a near universal favorite — and it’s in the sauce and toppings, not the crust! If you will be too tempted to leave most of the crust on your plate, choose a different kind of restaurant.
- Load up on toppings and eat as little of the crust as possible. Most toppings are low-carb. Consider doubling your favorites.
- Ask for a knife and fork to help you avoid eating most of the crust.
- Skip ordering and make pizza at home instead! Try a cauliflower crust, a Fat Head pizza, or our super simple egg and cheese pizza.
Bon low-carb appétit!
Visual low-carb guides