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June 19, 2017 / Amy Height

Eating Out on a Keto Diet: Hack the Menu

Pan-fried scallops with horseradish cream and arugula

You’ve made the swap to a ketogenic diet. You’ve upped your intake of high-fat, high-protein options and swapped out carbohydrates and starches for tons of low-carb, nutrient-dense veggies. You’re a pro at making keto work at home, but what about out in the world?

Thankfully, eating out on a keto diet is possible: you just need to know what to look out for. You’ll be looking to build meals that are low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and high in fat – just what your newly shifted metabolism needs to keep burning fat, rather than carbs, for fuel.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re out and about to stay aligned with your keto plan.

Types of cuisine that will be easiest to navigate

Steakhouses, burger joints, sushi, Korean BBQ

Stick to the simplest ingredients you can find

Meats, vegetables and dairy will be your best places to start on the menu. Look for simply prepared proteins, green veggie sides steamed or sautéed in oil, and basic dairy: a cheese plate without the bread and fruit, for instance. The more basic the food, the less likely you’ll be to accidentally ingest a sugary sauce or a high-carb veggie.

Restaurants like steakhouses that offer their mains separate from the sides can be a great option for just this reason: pick your protein (yes to butter on that steak) and pair it with your favorite low-carb veggie from the list of side dishes. Breakfast can also be a good time to find keto-friendly options: eggs, bacon, greens and avocado are staples at many morning spots: pair these with a coffee with whole milk and you’re good to go.

Read thoroughly (and swap if needed)

Sure, that salad with chicken looks like a great idea, but if it arrives and it’s covered with roasted sweet potato, grapes and a sugary dressing, you’re going to be disappointed. Make sure you look at every ingredient and ask about anything you’re unsure of (and to make sure nothing else is going to appear as a surprise). If it turns out you’re turning down many of the components of a meal as listed, see if the restaurant is willing to swap in some other compliant ingredients – tomatoes, bacon, avocado? – in their place for a similar price or small upcharge.

Skip the bun and breading

Eating out on a keto diet means eschewing the bread and grain-based foods that contain things like burgers, sandwich meat, grilled veggies and cheese. Ask for your burger to be served on a lettuce wrap or for a sandwich to be served deconstructed – with every ingredient arranged separately on a plate – without the bread.

The same is true for sushi: look for sashimi (or nigiri and remove the rice), grilled meats and veggie options from the appetizer section of the menu.

Similarly, if a food is listed as breaded or crusted on the menu, ask that it be prepared without the crumbs. Most kitchens can accommodate this. They may have a grilled option listed somewhere else on the menu.

Be wary of sauces

Not only do sauces add a tremendous amount of extra, often unnoticeable-until-it’s-too-late calories, they can contain a ton of sugar and grain-based thickeners. Opt instead for simple, single-ingredient sauces (Olive oil! Lemon juice!), or ask if it’s possible to see a list of a condiment’s ingredients before consuming it. While barbecue sauce may be out, mustard, mayo, Worcestershire, horseradish and hot sauces are typically compliant.

High-fat dressings like Caesar and blue cheese will also fit into a keto plan and as an added bonus, the high fat content will help your body absorb nutrients from the veggies they top.

Ask for modifications

It may be uncomfortable asking for special accommodations, but you should feel perfectly fine asking for certain things to be omitted from your plate. Say whatever you need – you have an allergy or intolerance, you don’t like the taste of a particular food, etc – or let your server know why you’re making a specific request. Chances are it won’t be the oddest thing they hear that day.

Get creative

Know that if a food in on the menu, for instance, it’s the component of a pasta dish or sandwich, that means it’s somewhere in the building. Ask if the kitchen would be willing to prepare something differently from how it’s listed on the menu. Perhaps they will grill you a piece of mahi mahi and serve it with the veggies from the Sonoma Salad (no berries, please), rather than putting it in the fish tacos alongside fries. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Amy Height
Holistic Nutritionist @ From the Ground Up Wellness

Amy Height is the founder of From the Ground Up Wellness, a holistic nutrition practice where she specializes in plant-based nutrition and helping her clients combat food addiction. She completed her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she received her certification in the Health Coach Training Program. She is a triathlete and CrossFitter with a passion for all things outdoors. By night, Amy stage manages Broadway musicals and she frequently travels North America seeking out the best vegan restaurants and the best run courses. Follow her on Instagram or check out her blog for recipe and wellness ideas.

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