Chapter 6 - How to Eat at Restaurants on the FODMAP Diet
In a perfect world, you’d prep all your meals from fresh ingredients and cutting out FODMAPs would be a breeze.
Even if you had the energy to make everything from scratch, the reality is that social meals are part of our lives. Whether it’s lunch with co-workers or date night with your significant other, you’ll likely want to (or need to!) eat out on the FODMAP Diet.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as ordering the plainest thing on the menu.
High-FODMAP ingredients like onion and garlic are regularly used in seasonings, marinades, and sauces. And they’re not usually listed in the menu description.
I know you don’t always want to ask the server a million questions, and the stress of making the wrong choice is enough to ruin your meal before it even starts. I’m here to tell you there is a way through this--you don’t need to eat every meal alone in your house on this diet!
To help you navigate eating out on FODMAP, I’m going to give you tips and strategies you can use anywhere in the world. You’ll learn:
3 Things to consider when choosing a restaurant
Best-bet chain restaurant options
What to say if you call ahead
The best menu picks at American, Mexican, and Chinese restaurants
What Restaurants Are FODMAP-Friendly?
There are three key things to look for when choosing where to eat out on FODMAP:
Does the restaurant use a lot of simple, fresh ingredients?
Are most meals made to order?
Is the restaurant staff trained to help customers with food intolerances and allergies?
Simple Fresh Ingredients
Number 1 is pretty straight-forward. For example, McDonald’s (and similar fast food restaurants) serves a lot of food that’s pre-seasoned or pre-assembled and can’t be modified. But a restaurant that has build-your-own options (think Subway, Chipotle, salad bars) allows for more customization.
A word on fast food: It’s difficult to find truly low-FODMAP options at these restaurants. But don’t go hungry. Check out the ingredients online and make the best choice you can. Don’t beat yourself up and remember that one imperfect meal doesn’t ruin anything.
And since everyone asks me about Chipotle, here’s what to order: The Pork Carnitas are low-FODMAP. Have them with corn tortillas or rice (also low-FODMAP!). Top with cheese, lettuce, and sour cream (up to 2 tbsp).
Food Cooked to Order
Number 2 covers a big range of restaurants. For example, even though most Thai or Chinese stir fry dishes include onion, they’re often cooked to order so you can leave out certain ingredients. Ask for a FODMAP-friendly sauce on the side (more on that below), and you’re all set.
Steakhouses are another perfect example because they'll give you a great piece of meat and cook it exactly the way you want it. They often have simple side dishes too. The same goes for "seafood grill"-type restaurants.
When it comes to Number 3, how do you know the staff is trained to help with special food needs?
One rule of thumb is to choose chain restaurants. Not fast food, but rather mid-range to high-end chains where policies and procedures are in place to assist customers with food allergies and intolerances.
Think of it this way: No company wants the bad publicity of unhappy customers getting sick at their restaurant. To avoid this, the staff is likely to be educated on food allergies and sees it as part of the job to take care of guests with health needs.
Here are some examples of chain restaurants to try:
Maggiano’s Little Italy
When I asked the Calm Belly Kitchen community where they’ve had the best experiences eating out, these are the places that got mentioned most. But these aren’t your only options! Any restaurant, from casual to high-end, is just as likely to give you a great experience.
While checking out the menu online is a good idea, the best way to know is to call ahead.
Say you have food intolerances and that you’d like to speak with a manager about your options. If they’re quick to help, offer suggestions, and ask questions about your needs, you’re in for a great experience.
Calling ahead is definitely an extra step, and it can feel a little uncomfortable. But this way, the decision of what to order will be made ahead of time so you can relax and enjoy your meal.
Best Menu Options on the FODMAP Diet
The previous section will help you eat out anywhere in the world. But I know you also want specific menu ideas and best bets.
Luckily I’ve got those too! :)
I’ve created three in-depth guides for different cuisines:
Learn your best bets on a typical Chinese restaurant menu. Plus, what’s really in those classic Chinese sauces?
You don’t have to live without Mexican food on FODMAP! Let’s dissect a typical menu together so you can enjoy your next fiesta.
Using the menu at the Cheesecake Factory as our example, we’re covering the categories you’ll find on American restaurant menus!
You don’t have to give up social meals, lunches, or date nights. With a little planning ahead, you can navigate eating out on the FODMAP Diet and enjoy yourself while you’re at it.
Like we’ve discussed previously in this Ultimate Guide, keep in mind that stress can have a big impact on your digestion.
If you focus on enjoying the experience, the company, and the fact that you won’t have a sink full of dishes to clean, you’re more likely to feel great and avoid digestive symptoms.
By following the tips in this guide, you’ll be prepared, not stressed. Now, sit back and enjoy!
In the next chapter, we’re putting it all together. I’ve created a 3-day meal plan so you can see what life really looks like on this diet. (Hint: It’s pretty delicious.)
Click the image to continue to our 3-day meal plan with recipes!