Judith Boice, N.D., L.Ac.
- Choose cuisines naturally suited for your diet
- Collect menus
- Steamed, baked, broiled: the golden words
- Avoid sauces and dressings
- “Can you make this without ____________?”
- Get to know the chef
When most people read their food intolerance results, they are certain they never will be able to eat at a restaurant again.
“How can I?” asked one patient. “The only thing I could eat would be the carpet!”
With preparation and experience, you will find restaurants and dishes that suit your particular needs.
Choose cuisines naturally suited to your diet
Review your non-reactive food list and consider all of the foods you can eat. Imagine all the cuisines that naturally include those foods.
If rice is a non-reactive food, for example, and wheat is a severe intolerance, an Asian restaurant would be a great choice for you. An Italian restaurant, however, would be a nightmare, with many of the primary foods, such as pasta, bread and pizza crusts, made from wheat.
Some people travel frequently or work long hours and rarely have time to cook. Others have not visited their kitchen for months.
If you rely on restaurants for many of your meals, collect menus. You can study the dishes ahead of time so you are prepared with questions or substitutions before you arrive. You won’t need to spend 15 or 20 minutes studying the menu, possibly with other people waiting. You will already know what will work for you.
Salad and hot food bars in large health food stores offer many choices for quick meals. Most of these food bars have cards posted above the offerings with a complete listing of ingredients. Usually you will be able to find single food items, e.g. grated carrots, brown rice, or garbanzo beans. If you shop regularly in a store with a food bar, you will get a sense of daily and seasonal offerings.
Salad bars in most conventional grocery stores generally have more mixed salads rather than fresh, individual ingredients. Often the fresh ingredients are sprayed with nitrites, to reduce oxidation (to prevent brown, wilting vegetables). Sometimes the mixed salads will have a sign posted with a listing of ingredients. Ask someone who works with the salad bar for information, e.g. whether or not they spray with nitrites, what kind of mayonnaise they use, etc.
Seafood and fish are staples in most restaurants. You may be able to ask the chef to prepare them simply, without any sauces or seasonings. Baking or broiling the fish will exposure the food to least number of additives.
You can request steamed vegetables, without butter or margarine. Sometimes you will be able to order raw vegetables, e.g. shredded cabbage or carrots, without mayonnaise. Make sure the waiter understands you want just raw or steamed vegetables, and nothing else.
“Can you tell me what comes with _________?” will help you know what sauces or condiments the chef serves with a food. Many Mexican restaurants, for example, will add a dollop of guacamole, a small pile of iceberg lettuce and/or shredded cheese (the cheese may be on top of just about anything!). Many restaurants add cheese or sour cream without noting these additions on the menu. Of course, you do not have to eat these side offerings. If the cheese is sprinkled over everything, however, you may have a difficult time removing all of it.
Very few restaurants understand “non-dairy,” “vegan,” or “gluten-free.” Make sure you spell out all of the major foods, e.g. “Does this contain milk, cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese or yoghurt?” This may seem obvious to you; this may be foreign territory for the waiter.
Look at the menu and consider what might work if you removed the sauce. Ordering in a wonderful Italian restaurant in Palo Alto, for example, I spotted a seafood and pasta dish made with a cream sauce. I knew if the chef substituted olive oil and garlic for the cream sauce, the dish would be perfect for my food needs. When the waiter arrived with the plate of pasta, seafood and sautéed vegetables, he told me the chef was considering adding the dish to the menu.
Many Asian restaurants (Chinese and Thai, for example) are happy to make substitutions. If you are intolerant of soy, for example, you might order something with a “white sauce.” You can request Mu Shu, fried rice, and noodle dishes without egg. For those with wheat or gluten intolerances, many Asian restaurants have rice as well as wheat noodles.
If you have pork or beef intolerances, ask the Mexican restaurant how they prepare fried beans. Many use lard; some use vegetable oil. In one local Mexican restaurant I order “plain beans,” before they are refried, to avoid the lard.
If chicken and/or beef are on your intolerance list, ask about soup stocks. Many restaurants prepare “vegetable soup” with a meat-based stock. Asian restaurants, particularly Thai restaurants, may use fish as well. Some restaurants are willing to make fresh, meat- and fish-free soup; others have a prepared pot of soup and offer no alternatives.
Get to know the chef
If you are a regular customer, make an effort to get to know the chef. Let him or her know you really enjoyed a dish. Ask to meet and personally thank
the chef. Most cooks want to please their clientele and are willing to meet special needs. If you have a personal relationship and are a frequent customer, the chef will likely go out of his or her way to make suggestions and create special offerings.
Action steps you can take:
- Choose cuisines that suit your dietary needs
- Collect and study menus. Over time you will discover dishes that are prepared the same way, e.g. Singapore noodles in most Chinese restaurants consists of thin rice noodles, curry, vegetables, and a meat or fish of your choice. “Buddhist Delight” is vegetables with or without tofu.
- Request foods with as few sauces or added ingredients as possible.
- The magic words:
- Ask, “What comes with __________?” to learn the full list of ingredients.
- Specify all of the foods you want to avoid, e.g. name all the gluten-containing grains, not just “wheat.”
- “Can you make this with (or without) ______________?”
- Thank the chef when he or she creates a special meal for you.