So you decided to start the Whole30. Two words: Hell yes. If you still have questions about what in the world you just signed up for, you’ll want to check out our comprehensive Whole30 guide to give you the basics, tips, tons of recipes, and more.
Aside from the fact that there’s a surprising amount of tasty options to make at home, you’ll be happy to know that you won’t have to hibernate (or be a total anti-social hermit) all month long. It’s totally possible (and actually enjoyable) to eat at restaurants with friends and family. Here are some of our top tips for dining out on the Whole30.
Tip 1: Focus on what you can, not can’t eat.
A common challenge on any diet is the feeling of deprivation, which typically just leads to a binge. This can become particularly evident and stressful when you’re dining out with friends, and a lot of the typical restaurant staples are total no-nos while you’re committed to the Whole30.
Regardless of how or what you eat, try thinking of all the different foods you can enjoy—you have more options than you think. This way you won’t feel deprived and you can stay enthusiastic and on track.
Look for lean meats, poultry, and fish with a side of vegetables to keep your decision-making simple (you can pretty much guarantee most restaurants will have both). Going out for brunch? Fried eggs with a sweet potato hash and greens is a delicious go-to choice.
Tip 2: Check the menu before you go.
This is a no-brainer. Being prepared is the key to a relaxing (and Whole30-friendly) night out. Most restaurants share their menu, and even sometimes nutritional stats and ingredient lists, online so you can easily do the legwork ahead of time and come up with a game plan before you arrive.
If you still have questions and don’t want to be the Diet Debbie Downer at the table, feel free to give the restaurant a ring ahead of time. If your friend picked an Italian joint that only serves pizza and Caprese salads, she’ll understand if you decide ahead of time that you want to go somewhere else so you aren’t just eating a bowl of tomatoes and being the most boring dinner date ever. If she pushes back and insists on getting her pizza… boy bye!
Tip 3: Ask lots of questions. Like, as many as you want.
Whether you choose to call ahead or grill your server on the spot, you’ll want to be as specific as possible. And don’t feel ashamed about that. Be proud that you are working toward making yourself feel better in the long run and asking simple questions will help you get there. Aside from the obvious Whole30 don’ts like grains, beans, and dairy, which are often listed on the menu, you’ll also want to find out the nitty-gritty of what’s in your food and how it’s cooked.
Often, sauces, dressings, and sautés have wheat flour or sugar added to them, and proteins can be similarly dredged in flour or vegetable oils if you’re not careful. See what other options the restaurant offers. While they may not have coconut oil or ghee, they’ll definitely have olive oil, so ask if they can stick to that. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
Tip 4: When in doubt, swap it out.
With the rise in dietary restrictions and options, most restaurants are well equipped to make reasonable substitutes whenever they can. That’s not to say that you should ask the line cook at the Cheesecake Factory to create a whole new dish for you, but you absolutely should be able to swap out a starchy side for veggies if they’ve already got them on the menu. You may have to pay a bit of a premium for the switcharoo, but at least you’ll be able to confidently enjoy everything you’re paying for.
Tip 5: Mocktails can be just as fun as cocktails.
Alcohol is an absolute no on the Whole30, but that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck sipping plain seltzer all night. Ask the bartender to spruce up your sparkling H2O with some muddled citrus, fresh fruit, herbs, or even a splash of juice (as long as it’s 100-percent pure!).
Sometimes just the act of drinking something besides water can take your mind off of the wine list you’re doing your best to ignore. Even better, sip your mocktail out of a wine or martini glass to get extra festive. A sober buzz is fun too, guys, and what’s even better is that you won’t have a hangover or a foggy brain the next day.
Tip 6: DIY your dressing.
Dressings can be a hidden source of a lot of off-limits ingredients while on the Whole30. It’s not uncommon to see a seemingly healthy dressing get packed with dairy, sugar, and other processed foods. DIY it by asking your server for a side of olive oil and vinegar, and then MacGyvering your own quickie dressing at the table. This way you can also control the quality and quantity of the ingredients to your taste with total Whole30-approved precision.
If you’re feeling really motivated, you should make your favorite dressing at home so you aren’t stuck with just plain oil and vinegar. Just bring it in a mini Tupperware and be prepared to impress your dinner buddies. If you know you’re going to want something creamy, give a tahini-based dressing a try. It’s a game-changer.
Tip 7: Choose condiments with caution.
Restaurants love to sauce things up… literally. Be aware of what’s going on your plate. Stay away from any teriyaki or other sweet Asian sauces, BBQ sauce, or ketchup that all pack in added sugar. Instead ask for mustard, hot sauce, oils, or vinegar. Pro tip: Bring a Whole-approved mayo like Primal Kitchen in your bag and mix it with hot sauce. It can be a dream for your baked sweet potato wedges or bun-less burger.
Tip 8: Buns out.
Admit it: Your favorite Whole30 proteins can be just as good without relying on their carby vehicles. Burgers, sandwiches, and tacos can easily be ordered sans bread, bun, or tortilla with a few sturdy pieces of lettuce in its place. No lettuce? No problem. You can just knife and fork your meat and get right to the goods. Just be sure to ask the obvious questions to make sure the proteins are prepared to your Whole30 liking.
We can’t wait for you to discover just how much you really don’t need the bread to make your meals complete. (This is one of those lessons that you’ll keep with you long after the Whole30 is over).
Tip 9: It’s easy to dial back the dairy.
These days, it’s very common to find dairy-free options on virtually any menu. If the item you have your eye on has a little cheese on top, it’s easy to omit or swap it out for something like avocado or extra veggies.
While the dairy on a cheeseburger may be pretty easy to spot, there are a few more stealthy items to look out for. Soups, meatballs, sauces, and even sausages can contain generous amounts of dairy, so always double check with your server before you place your order.
Tip 10: Ask for the gluten-free menu if you need somewhere to start.
Like dairy-free, gluten-free options are becoming more commonplace in both quick service and sit-down restaurants. Some larger chains even often have an entirely separate gluten-free menu, helping you easily narrow down your picks.
Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s Whole30-approved (you’ve still got to rule out dairy, grains, and other off-limits ingredients), but it will at least be a good place to start if the thought of flipping through an entire menu is too overwhelming.
Tip 11: GBB is your BFF.
GB-what? Here’s a little diddy to help you easily navigate your protein choices: GBB stands for grilled, baked, or broiled, but it could just as easily include steamed, braised, boiled, and sautéed as well (but GBBSBBS sounds a little excessive).
The key here is to stay away from items that are labeled as “crispy” or “battered,” which almost always means some sort of non-Whole30 flour, batter, or carby-coating. “Baked” casseroles are, of course, an exception, as they too can often also contain pulses, dairy, or grains, so be sure to get the full scoop on your choice.
Tip 12: Choose nature’s candy if you must have dessert.
Alright, you’ve made it through your meal and hopefully enjoyed something tasty, but what happens when everyone starts ordering dessert? Well, this one is going to be tough. Since one of the main goals of Whole30 is to significantly reduce your sugar intake and to avoid “healthy” style versions of traditional treats, your best bet for something sweet is to order fresh fruit.
If you’re not hungry or not feeling the $13 berry medley, but just want to keep your mouth occupied while your hubby is shoveling cheesecake into his mouth, consider a cup of herbal tea. You can always enjoy something Whole30-approved like a date with a little bit of almond butter on top if you’re hungry later on at home too.
Tip 13: Tip well.
And finally, if you’ve called ahead, asked a lot of questions, and made substitutions and special requests, be a good human and tip well. Your server (and the kitchen staff) will appreciate the gesture and will continue to look after Whole30-ers like you.