Dining out on keto

How to eat low carb and keto when dining out

Going out tonight? Wonderful! This guide will help you eat out and maintain your low-carb lifestyle. Get ready for delicious food – anywhere!

 


 

The basics

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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.

Low-carb fats & sauces guide

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.

Rethink dessert

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

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The beauty of buffets is that there are plenty of choices, including low-carb 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

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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, 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.
 


 

Fast-food restaurants

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Grabbing lunch or a quick dinner? Make it low carb at any of these common restaurants.

 

Delis, sub shops and bakery cafés

Often, the best choice in these casual eateries is a large salad.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  1. Choose a burger with a lettuce wrap (instead of the bun). If unavailable, simply discard the bun.
  2. 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.
  3. Order fast-food chicken grilled, not fried. This eliminates both the flour in the batter and the vegetable oil in the fryer.
  4. Enjoy chicken with a salad or go with a sandwich (ditch the bun) and veggie sides.
  5. Avoid barbecue sauce, as it is full of sugar.

 

Mexican

Lots of nice options here — but pass on those tortilla chips!

  1. Order a burrito bowl. Carnitas (pork), steak, chicken, or fajita veggies all work.
  2. 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.
  3. No bowls? No problem. Unwrap your burrito and eat the contents with a fork. When you are finished, discard the tortilla.

 

Asian

Proceed with caution at Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.

  1. Focus on staying away from choices that are battered or taste sweet.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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

Indian cuisine offers many good options for adventurous low-carb eaters.

  1. Ask for ghee, an Indian staple; it is clarified butter – pure fat! It is perfect for low-carb — add to any dish!
  2. Choose kebabs, curries (without potatoes), meat in creamy sauces (like tikka masala and butter chicken), and tandoori dishes. Skip the rice and the naan.
  3. Try adding Raita (a creamy dip made from plain yogurt – hopefully full-fat – and shredded cucumbers.)
  4. 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.

 

Pizza

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.

  1. Load up on toppings and eat as little of the crust as possible. Most toppings are low-carb. Consider doubling your favorites.
  2. Ask for a knife and fork to help you avoid eating most of the crust.
  3. Skip ordering and make pizza at home instead! Try a cauliflower crust, a Fat Head pizza, or our super simple egg and cheese pizza.

 

Video guide

Keto and fast food

 
Bon low-carb appétit!
 
 

Visual low-carb guides

 

More

A ketogenic diet for beginners
Ketogenic diet foods – what to eat

 

Comments

What are your best tips for how to stay low carb when you’re dining out? Please let us know below.

37 comments

  1. Pat
    In a cafe I order a ploughman's without the bread. Just becomes a salad?
  2. KPM
    There's a pizza buffet we go to with an awesome salad bar. We usually end up eating 3-4 pizzas because we only eat cheese and toppings, lol. We get a few odd looks, but I'd rather that than eat the carbs. ;) My husband even orders french onion soup without the bread! Just the broth, onions and cheese. Now, THAT almost always gets a reaction from our server.
  3. Gabby
    Mexican : Carne Asada on a bed of lettuce, with a generous side of shredded cheese. Add a little salsa.
    Be sure to say no tortilla chips because some places add those to every dish.
  4. Krikkit
    Some pizza places will, on request, make a crust-less pizza. Basically, all the toppings, cheese and sauce layered in a pan.
  5. Ann
    Even asking for butter is tricky. We asked at one restaurant (breakfast place) and they said yes, we use real butter. I asked her to be sure, she brings the stick out and it's labeled "Real Butter", but the ingredients include margarine! So even asking doesn't always get you to the truth.
  6. C
    We always get a salad from the pizza place. Better than the pizza IMO.

    Generally, I eat out so little that I just consider them "cheat days". Eating at friends houses is the hardest. Sometimes there's hardly anything to eat.

  7. Kerstin
    At our local Mexican place, I enjoy getting the fajitas with loads of meats and veggies. By eating it without the tortilla and adding lots of sour cream and guacamole, it is really filling and low carb.
  8. Maggie
    This is such a great guide for eating at a restaurant; thanks for sharing! I had no idea that it could be a good idea to ask for extra butter on veggies instead of going for carbs. My mom has it drilled into me that butter is bad, but I need to try and step away from that kind of thinking. Plus, I really love steamed veggies with salt on it!
  9. Cindy Wei
    This sounds so sad, people should really enjoy life.
    Eating pizza with no base?
    Replies: #23, #29
  10. Ansley
    So what about at a wing place? They have options for non breaded and breaded and of course naked which has no skin or bread. And I love teriyaki sauce or lemon pepper dry rub which is a seasoning basically. They also have chargrilled wings which are marinated in the lemon pepper or BBQ and cooked on the grill. And all of the sauces are somewhat honey based. I need help! I'm a first timer!
  11. Kevlowe
    I ate out at pizza express they do a amazing aubergine dish in tomoto sauce with cheese it's fantastic and very tasty.
  12. Gil
    Cindy... it's a diet. If people want to diet and place a higher priority on being a healthier weight than eating certain foods, it's not sad. What's sad is that you think you have to eat fattening food all the time to enjoy life. There are other aspects to enjoying life.
  13. Gil
    Ansley... wings at most wing places aren't breaded, so they're fine. Avoid sugary sauces (Teriyaki) if you're low carb. Also, hots sauces are usually fine. Garlic parmesan should be fine too. Spicy rubs, usually good to go. Lemon pepper might have some sugar. Ask them! They should know the ingredients.
  14. Laurie
    Great article, and really appreciate all the ideas in the comments!
    My favorite is the all-meat burrito. My local Mexican drive-through offers different meats (even ' lengua' - tongue) and I simply eat the best part out of the tortilla.
  15. Lois
    Buffalo wings are a great low carb choice, the kind of wings cooked with no coating, ( so no Hooter's wings). The wing sauce is usually made with just hot sauce and butter. This of course is for an occasional treat or outing since many places fry them in "bad oils".
  16. Chris
    Gil you are a buzz kill.
  17. Howie
    This guide is great!

    I come back to it almost every time I go to an ethnic restaurant.

    I'm going out for Italian Food tonight and came here to check,
    but don't see Italian?

    I know you have pizza here and I know of' course to avoid the
    pasta and ask about any hidden sugars, but am curious to see
    what you would suggest to order while dining out at a nice Italian
    Restaurant.

    Thanks again for this very helpful guide and for all you do!!

  18. Tiffany
    Meatballs with zoodles, (zuchinni noodles) and cheese, could also do a salad or see if they have any soups that are low carb. What did you end up eating?
  19. olympia
    What about in Chinese restaurants. I am invited tomorrow and really don’t know what I will order. Any help
  20. Angie
    Loved the article and there are alot of healthy tips in it. I have been doing the LCHF way of healthy eating for a long time now and have lost 60 pounds and have come off my insulin pump. the food and the recipes from Diet Doctor are wonderful and very easy and great!Give it a try you will be amazed.
  21. Alma Hassell
    The article is excellent especially for a novice such as myself.
  22. Charlotte
    In Italian restaurant try melanzane alla parmigiana, it's eggplant with parmesan, sometimes in the antipasti section (so small portion but you can order 2)
  23. Jackie
    Eating pizza with no base is 100% better than taking drugs for diabetes. It will also prolong my life. No brainer!
  24. Noni
    Italian Food Suggestions:
    Salad: with olive oil dressing, parmesan cheese and low carb veggies.
    Antipasti: with variety of meats, cheese, marinated veggies and olives.
    Soups: Italian Wedding Soup without pasta or Italian Egg Drop Soup.
    Seafood, Chicken, Veal, Steaks: Order with sauce on the side add just enough for flavor.
  25. CindyinOttawa
    An easy tip to avoid the temptation ti eat carbs if they arrive on your plate (i.e. rice, potatoes, fries as a side) is to douse them with salt, making them inedible. Easy and no explanations necessary.
  26. Richard
    This dining section was the closest I could find for what to do during extensive travel so I am asking my question here. I travel to Asia 4 times a year for 2 weeks at a time and it's going to be hard enough getting past the 15 hour plane ride, even in first class, with the limited selection of food and then what am I going to do the rest of the time while I'm there? Breakfast shouldn't be an issue since the hotels have a pretty good western buffet so I can choose what to eat but lunch is prepared by the factories everyday and dinner is usually out at some local restaurant where there are no English menus, it's family style. I eat pretty much everything so I'm not so much worried about sticking with fish, meat and vegetables and avoiding the rise that is present at every meal but my Mandarin is limited mostly to small talk and business, I can't even imagine how I will discuss what ingredients were used to prepare them, I'll likely just get a smile and a nod. I can't not travel but I'm not sure how many accidental carbs my body can take without throwing me out of Ketosis and I'm a little scared to destroy all my hard work.
    Reply: #32
  27. Melanie
    I've never been shy of asking for what I want in a restaurant. You have to be really careful and diligent. I'm shocked at how many dishes that should be straightforward as low carb have sugar and gluten in them. Recently we wanted takeout, so I opted for chicken wings in order to stick to my keto diet. They had several choices of sauces and dry rubs, so I asked which are both gluten and sugar free. NONE OF THEM WERE! Some were gluten free, but had sugar. Even in the rubs. Frustrating. I opted for plain wings which I used my own dry rub and sauce on. I thought the Thai curried chicken salad at another restaurant could be a safe bet. Nope! They said the mayo they use had corn syrup though the rest was gluten and sugar free. I opted for steak tips on a salad with vinegar and oil on the side. Hidden sugar and gluten are in a lot of seemingly safe foods. Best bets are salads without croutons where you can add your own dressing, grilled meats and veggies. Careful on the cooked veggies too. If they're steamed or sauteed in butter (if you can tolerate dairy), they're ok. Even pizza sauce can be loaded with sugar, so don't assume just cutting out the crust makes it low carb. Ask.
  28. Marisol
    My extended family has an Italian restaurant that has become our family’s “place”. Anniversaries, baptism dinners, birthdays, etc. so I knew for Father’s Day I needed to figure out how to not eat the pasta but still enjoy dinner (I LOVE this restaurants food!) So I asked for the sautéed vegetables “side” with 2-3 meatballs and marinara sauce on top. They happily obliged (I’m sure they’ve seen it before) and it was awesome! The garlic knots were only slightly tempting (hey I’m human! 😁) but didn’t have any (recognizable) carbs had a great dinner and stayed in ketosis! WIN!
  29. Susan
    I’m trying a Keto diet to help with my migraines. If it works, it will be a better way to enjoy life than with a couple migraines every week that ruin my enjoyment. If I have to give up crust for that, it’s worth it!
  30. Jill
    Richard, I travel a lot for business as well, some internationally, and I feel your pain (I'm on a domestic FOUR week trip right now myself!). You may have already thought of this, but one thing you can do is pack a lot of snacks - a variety of nuts and non-perishables (I'm sure you've seen this link: https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/travel#dining). In your checked luggage, pack a few greener avocados and you can add them to your evening meals (& bring with you on the flight). You can also buy packets of mayo & almond butter online to bring with you & keep on you, and I'm assuming you can grab extra butter at breakfast to keep in your hotel room's fridge, or in a container you carry with you. Before leaving home you can also buy prepackaged cheese singles from your grocery store that will fare well in your checked bags (you can even pack them in a small soft-sided cooler bag with a frozen ice pack). Plan to keep all this in your brief case or back pack so you can grab on the go, in transit, or add to your meals. More than likely you won't be able to STAY in full ketosis, but just do your best to maintain while you're away, and you'll easily get back in the zone when you return home. It takes effort to maintain abroad, and even just away from home, but it'll be worth it!
  31. Frank
    We are visiting Chicago next week. Just checked the menu in Lou Malnati's Pizzeria and discovered this - The “crustless” pizza is made from our lean sausage as the base, and then topped with our fresh mozzarella cheese and zesty tomato sauce. Of course you can customize it to your taste by adding any of Lou’s other fresh ingredients. Just because you can’t eat the crust, doesn’t mean you can’t get a great pie from Lou’s! I'll report back in a few weeks!
  32. Samantha
    Richard...I used to live in Hong Kong so I understand the potential pitfalls of yummy East Asian food. Fortunately there are low carb options that can be found at most places. Steamed fish with ginger, beef and broccoli/bok choi or roasted duck (without the hoisin sauce, obvs). The trick will be learning to ask for it. Try to learn the Mandarin for a couple of ‘safe’ dishes, or if you regularly have the same dining companions - explain to them “no flour, no sugar, no honey” and they can order for you. Remember, food is hugely important in Chinese culture, they want you to enjoy it, and special ordering is very commonplace. If you can figure out a way to explain low carb - a whole plethora of lovely dishes will open up. Also, if you often go to the same restaurant, they will see you coming and know what to do! Lastly, I wouldn’t try to travel with avocados as suggested above, as I believe travelling internationally with fruits and veg is illegal almost everywhere!
  33. Evan
    I’m thinking of starting a restaurant / fast food chain that is keto friendly. You wouldn’t need to make any substitutions and could order any of the tasty options right from the menu. Is this needed or are all of you relatively happy with your current options?
    Reply: #35
  34. Gail
    My standard answer to inquisitive family and friends is " I am trying to keep my insulin levels down" and they just accept it as they would if you were fat free to keep your cholesterol down!
  35. JANET
    I am in the UK and thinking the same thing
  36. Rahma
    Thank you for this guide !
    There is so much alternative keto friendly :-)

    Anyone know which fast food have a lettuce wrap instead of bun for their burger ?
    (I'm in Toronto....)

  37. Joy Butler
    My friend would like to host a pizza party on a beach owned by his uncle. He has just been promoted and would to celebrate it with us. I told him that I am amenable to that and just tell me the date and time, I'll be there! http://www.snappytomato.com/location/florence-kentucky/

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