How do you stick to grain-free when you’re traveling and dining out on the Paleo diet?
That was one of the most frequent questions I got while on the road, and after traveling for 2 weeks straight, I guess I am now qualified to answer! I try to prepare a few snacks ahead of time to take with me and help mitigate the chance of ending up in an airport with a delayed flight and my stomach growling with only a McDonald’s in site. When I’m in need of a meal though, my go-to order when traveling is a bunless burger. I typically search on Yelp to find a place that offers grass-fed, or at least local, beef and love when I see them offer a lettuce wrap alternative. It is a fantastic and cost efficient fall-back order when you’re faced with a restaurant that doesn’t cater to grain-free, or even gluten-free. I usually ask to have avocado and bacon on top and have it served with a side of vegetables or sometimes sweet potato fries as long as they’re not battered (which most places are!).
I usually start off the meal telling the server or the kitchen that I am gluten and dairy-free and then modify items from there. A lot of restaurants are now starting to offer gluten-free menus, and if not, make sure your server is informed and can help guide you. If you have celiac and are sensitive to cross-contaminiation, I suggest finding a restaurant that verifies a completely gluten-free kitchen. I am fortunate enough to be ok when I come in contact with gluten, I just cannot consume it.
For other places that don’t serve burgers on the menu, here are a couple of quick tips:
Asian: did you know there is gluten in most commercial soy sauce? It’s hidden in everything. If you’re forced to go out to eat in a place that uses soy sauce in all of their sauces, see if they can at least substitute organic Tamari. Tamari is still soy based, so I don’t use it at home, but it is fermented which gives it a half a point in my book if there’s no other option. You can also ask for them to omit it all together and carry your own coconut aminos with you. Always specify no MSG as well, as some places still somehow think that using it is acceptable but will generally abide by your request. Chinese restaurants are tough, but I find Thai and Vietnamese restaurants are easier to navigate around my food sensitivities. I go for the curries that have coconut milk as a base as they are generally naturally gluten-free.
Mexican: I find these pretty easy to dine out at in California because most of the restaurants use fresh produce and don’t add a lot of unusual ingredients to their dishes. Easy, except for the fact that my love for tortilla chips and salsa still has not diminished and I have to slap my own hand when I feel it reaching for the basket in the center of the table. I look like I’m 4 months pregnant almost immediately after eating corn. Skip the beans, rice, cheese, and tortillas and opt for more veggies or just get the burrito contents on top of a bowl of lettuce. Chipotle is a go-to for us when I don’t want to cook, and their carnitas doesn’t use soy oil and is GMO free. I pile mine high with a side of guacamole (for $1.75!) and lots of lettuce.
American Cuisine: Just order what protein looks best on the menu to you and ask them to omit the potatoes, rice, bread etc. that accompanies it and instead have them give you more vegetables. Also ask the server if their salt rubs or seasonings contain MSG. There’s a restaurant that we frequent here in the Bay Area that has a fantastic pot roast that doesn’t use any flour in their sauce and usually comes over mashed potatoes, but they happily serve it over sautéed spinach for me. It never hurts to ask!
Italian: It is so hard to say no to the abundant warm bread and pasta at Italian restaurants, but they generally have a lot of options for grain-free too that are just protein and vegetables. If you cannot tolerate dairy, make sure to let them know as a lot of Italian restaurants throw Parmesan at any and everything. Also ensure that they are not using wheat flours to thicken their sauces.
Burgers are not just my fall-back when on the road though. They are also one of our staples at home when I have had a busy day and don’t want put a lot of time into cooking. If you don’t eat much red meat, you may find my Hawaiian Turkey Burgers more appealing, but this recipe for barbecue burgers is super easy to throw together and never disappoints. The lovely buns that you see in the photo (found here on my blog or a rendition in my book) make a mundane burger night go from bland to glam, but more often than not, we just sandwich our burgers and all of the fixings between 2 pieces of romaine or butter lettuce. We love a good guacamole and bacon on top, or just sliced avocados as well.
*the liquid smoke provides a smokey bbq flavor without the use of a smoker. Feel free to omit it if you’d like or you can this one from Amazon. Wright’s Brand also sells an all natural bottle for about $4 in grocery stores.