Being on a diet isn’t easy unless you’ve got hardcore willpower. Eating out and eating with friends is often the challenging area. I tend to be an all or nothing, so if I treat myself I need to get right back on the diet afterwards to avoid falling off the wagon for good. So when eating out I try and stick to my diet as close as possible.
If you’re calorie counting, it’s easy to pick lower calorie options. But when you’re eating keto, carbs are everywhere. If you’re eating in a restaurant or pub it’s easy to order a main meal and just ask them to remove the potatoes or bread, or switch it for extra veg. But on the high street, cafes or coffee shops are a lot harder to find foods that work with a low carb diet.
For lunch, most options tend to be pre-packed sandwiches or wraps. Salads tend to have pasta, noodles or beans in. Even if you go for the hot meal options, it tends to be jacket potatoes or pasta. The best places to eat out when eating keto is a pub or restaurant – anywhere that’s not fast food where you can ask them to switch out the carbs for veg or salad.
The last time I ate out was for a work social in a pub. We had a set menu to choose from so I chose the bacon and cheese burger with coleslaw. But I asked for it without the bun and chips, and asked for a mixed salad instead. They were easily able and willing to switch that for me and it was still delicious and filling.
Nowadays, most pubs and restaurants cater for allergies and intolerances, so are willing to make a switch or adapt a meal where they can.
But eating out at fast food places and coffee shops I still struggle.
Here’s my tips on the types of meals to order or choose when eating out on a keto diet
Fast food places
McDonalds (or Burger King). I always used to order the grilled chicken and bacon salad with balsamic vinegar. But the last time I visited, it wasn’t an option, only crispy chicken. So I’m not sure if this has now been stopped (it might come back once they’ve stopped the limited menu during covid times). You could order a cheese burger without the bun, and have veg sticks or a side salad on the side. You can customise burgers, so add extra lettuce, tomatoes or onions as you want.
Alternatively the breakfasts are a good option. A sausage, bacon and/or egg McMuffin minus the bun works well.
KFC is more limiting as all the chicken is coated in breadcrumbs. But as long as you order chicken pieces and not chicken burger type meals, you can still keep under 20g of carbs, then add coleslaw and salad to keep under 40-50g of carbs. Drumsticks, mini fillets and zinger fillets are all around 7-8g of carbs each, and small or medium popcorn chicken also comes under 20g.
Watch outs are sauces like ketchup (switch for high fat sauces like mayo rather than high sugar),, full fat soft drinks and salad croutons. Of course, one meal eating a small amount of sauce isn’t going to do much damage across a week’s worth of food. But it depends how strict you are about following a keto diet.
Ask for a burrito bowl minus the wrap, refried beans or rice. Or fajitas without the wrap.
Obviously naan bread and rice are out, but also watch out for curry sauces which often have starch to thicken it. If you ask the restaurant how they make their sauces, you might be lucky. Better dishes to choose are jalfrezi, butter chicken, makhani or karahi (onion, pepper and tomato based sauce) Otherwise, opt for tandoor style meals which are marinaded and cooked in a tandoor oven (often chicken, lamb or prawns), and can be served with salads, or with veg on the side.
Look out for spinach based sides rather than lentils or potato based (look for saag, but ask what vegetables they include). Vegetarian options that are keto approved are paneer based – palak paneer (spinach and paneer cheese) or paneer bhuna. Otherwise look at the vegetable curry (avoiding lots of potatoes).
Look out for sugary sauces, but there’s a few dishes you can choose on keto. Try beef or chicken with broccoli, or garlic prawns. Egg foo young is just eggs and veg, although you can add chicken, beef or prawns. Chop Suey (minus the rice or noodles).
Kebabs and greek salads all work.
Opt for meat dishes with vegetables, or try asking for chicken alfredo or carbonara sauce but over vegetables like broccoli rather than pasta. I’ll quite often have a salad without any croutons.
Ask for a bowl of filling with salad. Or ask for a lettuce wrap rather than bread.
Costa I always struggle because they don’t always have the food you want left when you’re in there. The only option is a chicken and bacon caesar salad. In Cafe Nero, there’s a couple of options – tomato and basil soup, or a breakfast (or veggie) box – just don’t eat the beans,
Don’t forget drinks. I usually just drink water, but if you like coffee you can usually switch to have coconut or unsweetened almond milk.
I have to admit that when we’re shopping and need to just drop in somewhere for a quick bite to eat, I usually just let N eat and I’ll have a water while I wait. Then eat later. Or I stop at the supermarket and get a side salad and some cooked chicken, or boiled eggs. It’s sometimes easier than trying to find something to eat.
Where is your typical place to eat out if you’re restricting carbs?