I love to eat out at restaurants, but it can be difficult when you have food sensitivities. I’m not talking about allergies, because that’s a little more serious, but foods that give you digestive problems. Foods that I avoid for better digestion include: dairy, wheat, potatoes, sugar. I know, you’re probably thinking that these foods are in EVERYTHING, and you’re right. So, eating out is a bit of a luxury for me, but I have found a few ways that I can enjoy a restaurant meal without having to stray too far from my preferred way of eating.

If you have food sensitivities, or are just looking to avoid certain foods as part of a healthy diet, these tips will surely help you out.

1) Pick the restaurant
If you have a say in which restaurant you’re going to, select one that has several menu items that fit your dietary lifestyle. For instance, Mexican is often good if you’re avoiding wheat, a restaurant with a salad bar is great so you can pick/choose what you want to eat. Italian restaurants can be ok if you’re avoiding dairy (but not so good if you’re avoiding wheat). Check out your local restaurant listings and write down 3-5 restaurants that you know have items where you can be mindful of your food sensitivities.

2) Review the menu BEFORE you go
Even if you pick the restaurant, it’s helpful to review the menu before you go. Most fast food restaurants list the ingredients for menu items so you can see if any include the foods you’re looking to avoid. For restaurants, although they don’t list all their ingredients, you can still get a pretty good idea of which menu items might be right for you.

3) Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask your server questions. If I’m thinking of having a soup, I always ask if there’s any dairy or flour used to thicken it. Broth based soups are usually my best option, but sometimes a butternut squash soup sounds great, until I find out they’ve added some cream. If you’re in doubt, ask.

4) Ask to omit an ingredient or substitute
You’re paying for your meal, so you should be able to get what you want. If you’re thinking of getting a burger, but don’t want the bun, ask for it without. If a dish has cheese or a sauce and you’re avoiding dairy, order your meal without it. Many restaurants are fine with substitutions as well. I avoid potato, so often ask for more vegetables or a larger side salad if I pass on the fries/potato side.

5) Salads are a great option
If you’re stuck for something to eat, go for a salad. You can almost always get a salad that suits your diet. You can usually get protein added to a basic garden salad, and ask for vinegar/oil dressing on the side so you can control the amount.

Although making your own meals is the best way to be mindful of food sensitivities, along with controlling portion size and ingredients, let’s be real – we all enjoy eating out and having someone else serve us. So, next time you’re getting ready to go out to eat, check the menu before you go so you won’t be overwhelmed with what to eat when you get there. And don’t forget, enjoy your meal and the company you’re with.

Oh, and if you’re thinking of indulging when you’re out at a restaurant, take a look at this blog post to see what one doughnut can do.