Getting used to dining out on the FODMAP diet can be intimidating—but you’re not without options. That's why I started my "Eating Out on FODMAP" series: To share my top tips and menu picks at different types of restaurants.
Check out the other posts in the Eating Out series:
- FODMAP Diet: Tips for Eating at Restaurants
- What to Order at Mexican Restaurants
- What to Order at Chinese Restaurants
- What to Order at Italian Restaurants
Now: American Restaurants! Burgers and sandwiches, steaks, shakes and fries—how can you make a smart, informed order that works with your FODMAP diet?
In the video below, I walk you through the menu at The Cheesecake Factory, a chain of restaurants in the U.S. known for their huge, eclectic menu of American and Americanized foods.
While we’ll be focusing on one restaurant menu, these general tips will be useful anywhere!
(Fun Fact: I worked at The Cheesecake Factory eighteen years go! So get ready for some exciting insider information!)
In this article (and video), you'll learn:
- The sneaky places that FODMAPS lurk in safe-looking dishes
- A better choice of side dish for your grilled steak
- The questions to ask your server to save you both a headache later
This video was originally a live Calm Belly TV broadcast for the CBK Facebook group—click here to join!
You can watch the video here, or you can read the key points below!
What to Order at American Restaurants on the FODMAP Diet
Overall, any time someone else is going to be preparing your food, you need to have a strategy. One of the best ways to plan to succeed is to know what your options are, before you go.
Depending on the restaurant, you can usually scope out the menu online—especially for larger chain restaurants, but local ones will often make this available too.
Also remember that when you’re there, you can ask for help, and let the server be your ally. You can say ‘I have an allergy to garlic,’ to help convey the seriousness of your request to your server.
A positive attitude, and a friendly touch, will get a server on your side and ready to help. They often can do more than you think, in terms of adjustments and substitutions. Don’t be afraid to ask.
And finally, it helps tremendously to know the facts about what a low-FODMAP diet is, and how that’s different from a no-FODMAP diet. For example, it's okay to eat small portions of moderate to high-FODMAP foods, such as white bread (according to the Monash app, a 1-ounce serving of white bread is low-FODMAP).
If you can learn the basics of how common dishes are prepared, you’ll be ready to make a great choice when the menu is in front of you.
So let’s get started!
Top Ordering Tips:
- House seasoning blends are common, and it goes on pretty much everything that hits the grill. Usually, this contains garlic and onion—but you can always ask for it to be left off.
- Avoid marinated veggies and meat, unless you’re confident they’re safe. Typically, Americanized versions of Asian foods, like teriyaki, can be okay.
- Avoid anything on the menu that’s deep-fried, or described as “crispy” or “crunchy.” Not only is the additional fat likely to be irritating, the breading can be a problem.
Small Plates + Salads
On The Cheesecake Factory menu, the best options for appetizers, small plates, and salads are the Greek salad, minus the onions, and the endive salad. The kale and quinoa salad also looks great.
TIP: Garlic and onion are common in restaurant salad dressings, but you can always ask for just olive oil and vinegar, or olive oil and lemon, which is delicious!
And you can ask to add a protein to any starter salad to make it into a delicious, balanced meal.
Another good choice might be the tuna tataki salad. Be sure to ask about the seasonings used, but overall, you should be good to go.
The rest of salads on the menu? Unfortunately, American restaurants love to pile on the toppings. By the time you ask about the individual ingredients, remove or swap the high-FODMAP ones, you’re probably not going to be left with much.
Plus, sometimes with a salad, and the high quantity of raw vegetables, it’s not the easiest thing for your body to digest. You might be better off with a different choice.
In terms of other small plates and shareables, a lot of restaurants will do flatbread appetizers. These can be a great way to get a bit of that carby goodness (remember a 1-ounce serving of white bread is low-FODMAP--that’s about one slice) without ordering a full-sized meal. Watch out for the portion size, as the appetizer is likely intended to be shared!
Steak + Seafood
This is the section where you’re going to find the really simple stuff, like a grilled steak or piece of fish. These can be great choices, provided you check the seasonings and sauces used.
The Cheesecake Factory’s mashed potatoes are very well-loved. When I worked there, this side was not only a hit with customers, but let me tell you: Within about thirty minutes of bringing the plates of potatoes back in the kitchen, those beautiful, fluffy potatoes would start to solidify thanks to the large quantities butter used. It wasn’t pretty! And, I know (Insider Information!) that they all contain garlic.
So if your dish comes with mashed potatoes, you’re much better off substituting french fries. Don’t eat the whole serving of them; that’s a lot of fat that can definitely irritate your stomach. But unless the restaurant offers a baked potato option, french fries (or a simple steamed vegetable) are the better choice.
(Again, check for french fry seasoning!)
Other side dish options are green beans, which, again, ask about seasoning and consider your portion size. They also have a lot of Asian-inspired dishes, which come with rice. You can always ask if they will substitute rice for a side.
There are a lot of grilled salmon dishes, too! Fresh-grilled, miso, Thai-glazed, those should be a possibility, depending on what works best for your particular sensitivities.
Burgers + Sandwiches
The Cheesecake Factory has a TON of burger options! Like the steak, you’ll want to ask if they season the ground meat, and can they leave it off? But otherwise, you can do a really nice burger, leaving off the bun (or eat half), asking for a side salad or a veggie.
Another great option on The Cheesecake Factory menu would be a turkey club sandwich. Like many of their options, it’s huge, so it might be something to share. But you can eat about an ounce of white bread and still be under the FODMAP threshold.
A not-so-great option would be the tacos, just because the meat in them likely to be pre-seasoned. However, they do have a teriyaki chicken taco, and that’s something that might work. Most of the Asian-themed dishes don’t have the onion and garlic seasoning.
There’s nothing wrong with having desert, in theory, on the FODMAP diet! The important thing is to not over-stuff your body. And, unfortunately, even though it’s right there in the restaurant's name, you’re probably going to have to skip the cheesecake.
One thing The Cheesecake Factory does offer, however, is a bowl of fresh strawberries and whipped cream—a delicious low-FODMAP choice if you follow low-FODMAP serving sizes!
Other restaurant menus will undoubtedly vary. If you’ve saved room for dessert, go ahead and have some, but listen to your body, too.
Eating out is one of the many skills to master when you start FODMAP. If you're struggling to put together all the pieces of this diet, join our FREE 7-Day Calm Belly Challenge!
You'll learn the FODMAP basics and tips and tricks you need so you can feel better fast.