Dining Out on a Low-FODMAP Diet

Hands-down, eating at home is the safest way to ensure compliance on any sort of restricted diet. But it’s not always the most fun, and sometimes you just plain want to go out and have someone else do the work.

Is that even possible on a Low-FODMAP diet? Absolutely.

Steak Toscano and Grilled Vegetables from Olive Garden
Steak Toscano and Grilled Vegetables from Olive Garden

Once you’ve finished the elimination and challenge phases (the diagnostic portion) of the diet, the only limitations are your personal trigger-foods, and everyone is going to be a little different in that respect, and there’s nothing that says you cannot have something that might cause you some upset, if you’re willing to accept the intestinal consequences. The more numerous your intolerances, the tougher it might be to find suitable items on the menu, but it’s far from impossible.

Plan Ahead Whenever Possible

If you know you’re meeting up with friends for a celebratory dinner on Friday night, check out the restaurants menu online (if possible), or give them a call a day or two ahead of time (in the late afternoon, before the dinner crowd comes in) and ask about any substitutions that might be available. There are plenty of websites and apps that keep track of allergy-friendly restaurants with star-ratings, reviews, and sometimes links to their menus. Some of the apps will even use the gps-locator to find restaurants in your vicinity–useful for when you’re travelling.

If reservations are required, that’s also a good time to bring up a restricted diet situation.

Chain Restaurants are Your Friend

As much as we love to support local, independent restaurants, we’ve found that the chains are usually better equipped to handle special-diet requests, as the corporate office is able to figure out and disseminate the needed information and ingredients. For instance, Panera has a “Hidden Menu” of gluten-free entrees (salads and egg bowls) that you can find on their website and request to order from at any store nationwide.  Olive Garden has gluten-free pastas available as well as items from their grill that are suitable for a low-FODMAP client. And Five Guys Hamburgers and Fries has a bunless ordering option that turns your choice of burger and toppings into a sort of patty salad that, frankly, is more tasty than it sounds!

A bunless Bacon Cheeseburger from Five Guys
A bunless Bacon Cheeseburger from Five Guys

That’s not to say that you won’t find local establishments willing to serve your needs, but when it doubt the chains can help you out.

Beware of Soups and Sauces

This is probably one of the tougher things to work around in a restaurant setting as soups and sauces are going to be pre-made in large batches (for the most part) and will likely have onion and garlic–common trigger-foods for people sensitive to fructans (also the family of FODMAPs that contain wheat). So while you might be able to get gluten-free pasta at an Italian restaurant, the sauce options might still prove problematic.

Dine at Non-Peak Times

Regardless of where you choose to eat, if you go during the dinner rush it’s going to be harder for the restaurant to accommodate your needs. Eating early or late, when the rush has died down and there’s more room to breathe in the kitchen, might make the chef more inclined to whip up something special for you. It can also help to become recognized regulars at one or two places–in the interest of keeping your steady business the staff will often go the extra mile.

Keep It Simple

As always, the less complex a dish the easier it will be to spot problematic ingredients. While it may not be the most exciting menu item, a simply grilled cut of salmon or steak will provide a satisfying supper with little chance of triggering an IBS episode (just watch out for marinades), especially when paired with a side of steamed vegetable and rice or a baked potato.

Unless you’re someplace like Applebee’s who doesn’t serve baked potatoes in the “morning times” (which, apparently, extends to at least 4pm as that was when we were ordering on Saturday).

The infamous House Salad from Olive Garden, sans onions, with oil and vinegar dressing.
The infamous House Salad from Olive Garden, sans onions, with oil and vinegar dressing.

And, when in doubt, almost every place has a house salad on the menu that can be topped with some sort of grilled protein. With oil and vinegar for a dressing you can eat least eat healthily if nothing else.

So the next time a group of friends is going out, do some homework and see if there’s a workable solution before you decline. Just because you’re on a restricted diet, doesn’t mean you have to live a restricted life.

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