As someone who tries to adhere to the paleo diet as much as possible, I know firsthand the temptations and difficulties that arise when eating at a restaurant. It's tough when you don't get to see the plate from start to finish like you do at home. For some restrictions, like gluten, it's a specific issue that can be dangerous. However for paleo, the problem lies in the range of foods that should be avoided.

meat, barbecue, pork, chicken
Christin Urso

Most restaurant plates combine foods of all varieties. This means it can be tricky to find one that sticks to just meats, vegetables, and nutrient-dense starches. Some spots are totally cool with substitutions, while others are not. Some have tons of whole foods but some you just can't be sure. Having to work around a menu can take the fun out of the dining experience. 

Over the last few years, I've learned which types of items to avoid and which are usually safe. It's not always easy, and a lot of places that I used to love to eat at are no longer a reasonable option, unless I'm willing to break a few rules (i.e. Chick-fil-a and Panda Express). It can seem frustrating and demoralizing at first, but with time you learn to navigate a menu again. With a few simple tips, eating out will become the special treat it once was.

Always remember to keep it simple.

When I go out to a full service spot, I usually stick to the meat entrées. You can almost be guaranteed that there won't be any hidden issues when ordering a piece of chicken with veggies on the side. A more elaborate dish could hide something in the preparation that you might not realize. Paleo emphasizes whole foods, so stick to ordering plates that feature those. 

Read the descriptions.

This might seem obvious, but you have to read the ingredient list all the way through. Most servers will describe the preparation of a particular dish if you ask, and menus at more casual places typically list out all of the ingredients that make up the dish. Carefully going over the components can save you.

lettuce, cheese, spinach, tomato, vegetable, salad
Bernard Wen

Salads are one of the safest things to order because most of the ingredients are raw, and you can usually add protein. There shouldn't be any unusual preparations, and every ingredient should be listed. Just make sure to keep an eye out for the type of dressing. Avoid creamy dressings unless you're at a place that provides non-dairy alternatives. 

Read the menu before you go.

This might seem high maintenance, but I have plenty of friends without dietary restrictions who read menus beforehand. This is a great way to see if the place has reasonable options for you before you go. Check to see if there are a lot of grain-based dishes. If the menu has a section for side dishes, check for vegetables. If they do, you will likely be able to substitute something unwanted for a side. 

Know the reliable options.

chili, parsley, tomato, meat, corn, pepper, vegetable
Margaret Ross

For those following paleo, it's a lifestyle adjustment, not a necessary change. I will not get sick if I eat some Ben and Jerry's, I won't have an intense reaction if I eat a bagel, and I won't break out in hives if I eat peanuts. But this makes things difficult in its own right. Since all foods are technically available to you, you want to make smart choices that will limit your temptation

muffin, sprinkles, sweetmeat, cookie, cream, goody, pastry, candy, cake, sweet, chocolate
Hana Brannigan

I know that if I go to Panera for coffee, I will take a long hard look at the pastries. If I got out to one of my favorites spots in Boston, Mei Mei's, I will have to fight the urge to order their fried wontons. Don't put yourself in this position if you have a hard time with self control.

Consider the options that will allow you to follow your diet and still feel satisfied. I eat salads at Chipotle and never feel like I'm missing out on rice. Or, I order sashimi instead of a roll. It's these small things that make the experience of dining out less of a burden. If you take the few extra minutes to prepare, it can make a world of difference.