Restaurant Tips & Options on the Low FODMAP Diet

How often have you heard “Let’s go out and celebrate?” Probably very frequently. We celebrate many occasions by going out to eat at restaurants, such as birthdays, anniversaries and accomplishments. Plus, dining out is a great way to learn about someone on a date, connect with friends and spend time with family.

Eating out at restaurants is a social norm and it’s tough to be excluded from all those activities. Choosing the appropriate foods at restaurants while on the low FODMAP diet is not easy and requires some due diligence. By far, the safest options are available at home, but who wants to hibernate in their home all the time? Being social and not limiting my normal activities is a big part of my happiness, so I was determined to find available options in any restaurant.

As a former server, prior to my IBS issues, I tried to accommodate any special requests. However, with the digital age, the message gets a little distorted by the time it gets to the people cooking your meal. And cross contamination is a common occurrence. So be prepared. How you you be prepared? Read on.

Tips to prepare you for dining out at restaurants on the low FODMAP diet:

  • Know where hidden FODMAP ingredients are. Almost all sauces and soups will not be an option in restaurants due to milk, flour, garlic and/or onions. Even soy sauce contains wheat. Many hamburgers patties include bread crumbs and onions. Even non-breaded fried food has a risk of cross contamination in the fryer. Once you’ve done some serious low FODMAP grocery shopping, you should understand where issues can pop up, and the same goes for almost all restaurants.
  • Know the menu. Look up the menu online prior to going to the restaurant. This will prepare you for what to order, so you don’t spend an hour reviewing the menu for acceptable items. It also allows you to bring any additional items to accompany your meal. I am a big fan of toting my homemade balsamic dressing to go with a salad, bringing a spice blend for a plain grilled steak and having gluten free soy sauce on hand. If nothing on the menu is doable (i.e. Italian restaurants are tough), suggest another restaurant to your party. If that’s not an option, you can always eat prior and let other know that you already ate. I struggle to do this since its hard to sit and watch others eat, but it is something you can do to not exclude yourself from social gatherings.
  • Dine at non-peak times. This will allow the restaurant staff the time to incorporate your special needs. If you eat at the dinner rush, a server or chef may not take the time to punch in all your special requests.
  • Prepare your body. I take Konsyl Natural FiberKonsyl Natural Fiber twice a day, so I ensure I do this prior to eating out. As extra assurance, I also take a Heather’s Tummy Tamers Peppermint Oil CapsuleHeather's Tummy Tamers Peppermint Oil Capsules about an hour prior to eating. This prepares me for any slip-ups that the might occur. In extreme cases, especially if it’s an unfriendly menu, I will take an Imodium A-D .
  • Know how to talk to your server. Like it or not, you have to be THAT person with numerous special requests. Approach it in a very friendly manner and you don’t have to be too specific. My line usually goes something like this. “I am so sorry, but I have a number of food allergies, so my order is going to unique.” I may fib a little in that I don’t actually have allergies, but everyone can easily understand this. I learned this when I was gluten free and I told servers that I had a wheat allergy. It was much easier for them to understand this than trying to explain what gluten was.
  • Never assume anything. Be sure to ask for things without [blank], even if it doesn’t state that ingredient in the menu. For example, salads often come with bread and/or croutons when they are not listed that way in the menu. I’ve had grilled chicken come breaded. I’ve had a steak come with grilled onions because the chef thought it “looked too plain.” Be sure to include details that may be overlooked.
  • Talk to your fellow diners. If your party doesn’t know about your IBS and why you’re ordering such a unique menu item, they may have questions. I usually don’t bring it up unless they ask, and it determines on the person which answer I give. If its someone I know well, I will briefly tell them about my IBS without going into too much detail (since it’s not great dinner conversation). For example, I will say “I was diagnosed with IBS and I am managing my symptoms through a strict diet.” Usually they follow up with some questions on items you avoid, and I am happy to oblige. More often then not, they ask because they themselves have digestive issues or know someone who does. I have found this to be the case many times and have found that some great friends are dealing with the same issues. If it’s a casual acquaintance, I keep it light and just say that I have multiple food allergies.
  • Be prepared to say no. Or just have self control. Many of the freebies, such as bread, chips, crackers, etc. that sit on your table won’t be good options. I usually ask them to not bring it out or to remove it from my table. Out of sight, out of mind. In sight, it’s just an ugly reminder of your health issues.
  • Don’t be afraid to send food back. It’s not worth getting sick over… literally. Again, approach this in a a very kind manner, such as “I am so sorry, but I asked for no onions. Can this be remade?” Usually there is no issues and they will make you a new meal. However, be wary of them just taking it back to the kitchen and removing the items. This has happened to me and I usually ask again for it to be remade.
  • Stay calm. If the server has issues with you or gives you an attitude at any point, I ask to speak with the Manager in a calm, collected manner and explain what I need. Again, no extra detail is needed and getting angry will never solve anything. From there, it is usually handled and I make it a point to not head back to that restaurant again.
  • Take food home. Large meals can trigger IBS symptoms, so it’s a good idea to take part of your meal home with you.

Now that you’re prepared to eat out… what can you order? Surprisingly, there’s some great options that will allow you to be happy and healthy. And remember that salt and pepper will become your best friends!

Sample Low FODMAP Restaurant Items to Enjoy:

  • Eggs, cooked any way. Ensure to ask them to not include any additives, such as flour, milk or spices.
  • Omelet with Low FODMAP Ingredients. Ensure to ask them to not include any additives, such as flour, milk or spices.
  • Bacon.
  • Salads with Oil & Vinegar or Lemon Wedges for Dressing. I usually take my own homemade dressing, which works too. Be sure they don’t include onions, avocados, mushrooms, chickpeas, apples, dried fruit, cashews, croutons or bread. If the salad has any meat or seafood, ensure to ask them to grill it without spices.
  • Plain Grilled Chicken. Cheese can be added. No spices or sauces.
  • Plain Grilled Steak. No spices or sauces.
  • Plain Grilled Fish or Seafood. No spices or sauces.
  • Gluten Free Pasta with Parmesan Cheese and a hint of Butter.
  • Grilled, Steamed or Stir-Fried Low FODMAP Vegetables. No spices or sauces.
  • Baked Potato with Chives, Bacon and Cheese. No sour cream. Butter can be OK in small quantities.
  • French Fries or Potato Wedges (if made without wheat and fried in a dedicated fryer). No spices or sauces, including ketchup.
  • Tortilla Chips (if made without wheat). Unfortunately, most of the dipping sauces are out, so this is a very boring option.
  • Plain Brown or White Rice. No spices or sauces.
  • Low FODMAP Fruit.
  • Cheese Plate with Prosciutto. Stick to hard cheeses.

Got other options? I’d love to hear them!

Low FODMAP Restaurant Options

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5 thoughts on “Restaurant Tips & Options on the Low FODMAP Diet

  1. Great article! I appreciate how you state the obvious truth that it is going to be difficult. Sometimes just acknowledging the circumstances can be helpful. I will look into the restaurants you provided at the end

  2. Pingback: Low FODMAPs Diet Round-Up - Mindful Meals

  3. HI Heather,
    Really helpful post – thanks!

    I’m Canadian but do all my travelling on Amtrak for carbon reasons (BTW taken The Empire Builder to Chicago twice – my favourite city for great architecture).

    How to cope on the train now I’m on the FODMAPs elimination diet? Got any ideas? I’m vegan, but will eat eggs if there’s no alternative and I can handle limited dairy products by taking antihistimines beforehand. I have two 46 hour trips to S California and home coming up (too late to cancel) and the ‘vegetarian option’ is always bean burger in a bun for lunch or cheese pasta with a sauce (containing onions and/or flour) for dinner. I can make do with just some scrambled egg on its own at breakfast.

    Of course you can’t take most fruit/veg across the border, so I usually cope by having almonds (not allowed on diet) and dried fruit (ditto) with me to eat. Can you suggest alternatives? The chefs on Amtrak won’t do variations on anything – it’s all reheated food from plastic pouches unless you eat meat/fish…..

    Also, can you recommend any US food chains that I should aim for, now I have such a restricted diet? Subway and Chipotle used to be favourites :(

    • Hi Penny,

      I never leave home without my homemade gluten free zucchini bread. It’s my breakfast and snack while I’m on the road. Here’s another good list of packaged snacks: http://livinghappywithibs.com/category/low-fodmap-diet/low-fodmap-packaged-foods/ which can be helpful while traveling.

      As for restaurants, Subway can still be a great option, but opt for a salad instead. Since you get to pick your own toppings, it’s an ideal fit. However, dressing may be an issue, but you can opt for lemon, oil and/or vinegar. I’m a big fan of Wendy’s baked potatoes, and any place that serves salads, like Panera Bread. For sit-down places, I usually try to find a place that has a gluten free menu and then go from there.

      Good luck!

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