Wondering what to eat when you go to a restaurant on a gluten and dairy-free diet? Check out these 4 restaurant tips to help you navigate the menus and choose something that suits your body’s needs.
Here’s the scenario: you’re headed out to dinner with your family. It’s someone’s birthday – maybe even yours – and you’re excited about not having to prepare a meal for one night.
You chit chat with your loved ones while you wait for a table, but in the back of your mind all you can think about is “What the heck can I eat here?? Will there be anything for me on the menu?”
You get seated at your table, open the menu and realize while just about everything looks amazing, you have no idea what’s safe and what isn’t anymore when you’re now eating a gluten and dairy-free diet.
All of a sudden, you’re paralyzed with uncertainty. Everything you’ve learned about how to eat gluten-free and dairy-free at home doesn’t necessarily apply to eating out.
I have been in your shoes a million times over. Taking on a new diet change and trying to figure out how it will work with your lifestyle brings up a ton of questions.
You want to enjoy going out to eat like you did before you knew you had to cut the gluten and dairy, but you aren’t sure how.
Here’s the bright side: it IS possible to go out to eat, to live a normal life, and to eat delicious food while gluten-free and dairy-free. Let’s go over a few tips to set you up for success next time you head out to a restaurant.
4 Tips for Going to Restaurants on a Gluten and Dairy-free Diet
1. Seek a few safe go-to options in your area.
Instead of walking into any restaurant and not being sure if there is something you can eat, do a quick search online to know what your options are.
Do some research, so you’ll have a nice go-to list of safe restaurants for when you want to grab a bite out of the house.
A simple tip is to hop onto Yelp or any other restaurant review sites that are popular in your area to help you narrow down your search, and figure out a handful of restaurants to dig into their menus further.
Restaurants with gluten-free menus are a great place to start, so then you just need to think about if you can customize a dish to be dairy-free.
You can also look through any menu that serves steak or grilled chicken dishes, and these will be usually be a good jumping off point.
Places that serve steak, fish, or grilled chicken dishes are also going to be a great bet.
Mexican and Asian restaurants may have the best options for gluten and dairy-free eating – or at least customizing dishes can be fairly easy.
Most Mexican and Asian restaurants may have a few options, though you’ll want to be sure there’s no cheese on Mexican dishes, and to avoid traditional soy sauce as it contains gluten.
I often order curries at Asian restaurants, because they tend to not have either gluten or dairy.
Read on: Gluten-free Chinese Food
Customizing dishes is fairly easy if you have a good jumping off point with grilled meat, a salad, or a rice dish.
If you’re looking for noodles, be aware that ramen and many other noodle based dishes contain gluten. Find out some gluten-free ramen alternatives.
Removing things like cheese, leaving off croutons, and making sure there’s no breaded options are how you can make many dishes work for you.
For a big list of restaurants and their gluten-free offerings, be sure to check out my Gluten-free Restaurants post.
2. Be prepared by knowing which foods are safe – and which to avoid.
Become knowledgeable about what items on menus most commonly contain gluten and dairy – and avoid them.
I review all the hidden names and sources of gluten and dairy in my free download – which you can enter your details to get instant access to below.
When it comes to what foods are safe on a gluten and dairy-free diet, stick with the basics!
What foods are naturally gluten-free or dairy-free? Eat those! If you can find them as close to the source (i.e., without tons of sauces or breading on them), even better!
The foods that are safe to eat even when you’re avoiding gluten and dairy are: meat, eggs, and seafood, vegetables, fruits, rice, quinoa, healthy fats that are from nature, like nuts, avocados, and olives.
3. Eat similarly at a restaurant as you would at home. Or better.
Don’t go crazy when you go out to restaurants just because you can. Eat as whole food based as you can to ensure that you’re avoiding gluten and dairy as much as possible.
Again, like I mentioned in the tip above: Eat whole foods when possible.
Eat meat, seafood, and eggs, gluten-free whole grains like rice or quinoa, loads of veggies, fruits, and healthy fats. These are naturally gluten and dairy-free and completely safe to eat.
Instead of looking for pasta or dishes that will almost always have gluten or dairy in them, opt for something that will take less to rework it to be safe for your diet.
I usually opt for salads, rice bowls, or broth-based soups. Even if these aren’t the most sexy items on a menu, they will help keep you feeling good long after the meal is over.
Even if you don’t eat this healthy when you’re at home, you’ll feel much better by following these tips than just going for it and paying the price later when your tummy is bloated and uncomfortable bathroom trips are in your future.
4. Look ahead at menus.
One of the easiest ways to know if you’ll enjoy your time at a restaurant while on a gluten and dairy-free diet is to look ahead at menus! Find out what they have (or don’t have) to offer.
Make your decisions based on this research, so that you don’t find yourself somewhere ordering french fries and side salad, wondering why everyone else is enjoying a delicious meal while you eat the sad dishes.
Save yourself frustration by choosing a few dishes that you can order at a specific restaurant. Find menus online of the restaurant you’re visiting and do your research.
This way you know there is something for you – and you can order with confidence when you get there.
Some restaurants now offer nutrition and allergen information on their websites too – so these are great places to start before you spend time deciphering a menu.
You can dig into charts and ingredient lists to get a full detailed view of what dishes are safe for you. I would LOVE if every restaurant was required to share this information – it would make our lives about a million times easier!
If you can’t find a menu on the restaurant’s website itself, use an app like Yelp to help you determine if there are options for you.
Oftentimes, even if a menu isn’t listed officially, someone will take a photo of the menu and share it to these restaurant review sites.
If there aren’t any menu details, then scroll through some of the reviews for the phrases “gluten-free” or “dairy” to see if others have gone before you and navigated it without worry.
Read on: Are French Fries Gluten-free?
Read on: Is Ketchup Gluten-free?
I hope that if you find yourself going out to a restaurant and you’re new at this whole gluten and dairy-free diet thing, that this post has helped you see what’s possible.
You can definitely find ways to make this diet work and still enjoy spending time with family and friends outside the comfort of your own kitchen.
If you’ve been wondering how to go gluten and dairy-free, you might want to check out my book The Gluten and Dairy-free Diet: A Beginner’s Guide.
Would you love more tips on dining out? Be sure to check out my Dining Out Survival Guide by clicking here or below! Simply enter your details for instant access!