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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Getting Started on the Low FODMAP Diet

Don’t know where to start? I know that feeling all too well. I was very overwhelmed by the low FODMAP diet and where to start. It was scary knowing that most of the foods I was eating were doing the damage to my system. So how do you completely change your thinking about food?

How to Get Started on the Low FODMAP Diet

First, get rid of anything that is high in FODMAPs. Check every product in your house and know if it’s a safe food or not. Once you have identified the high FODMAP foods, donate them, throw them out, whatever you need to do, because if you know its available, its easy to eat. I spent an evening cleaning out the pantry, reading every label and what I couldn’t eat, I put on my husband’s shelf (which is out of my normal reach and view). Anything that he didn’t want, we gave to our neighbors who have kids. By far, this was the toughest part because some of my favorite go-to foods ended up on my husband’s shelf.

Next, stock up on some low FODMAP basics. Print out the low FODMAP food list and the high FODMAP food list and spend a long evening at the grocery store inspecting the labels on products. You can get a peek at my favorite low FODMAP items to see what my grocery list looks like. I can save you a lot of time and heart-ache and tell you just to pass on the following products: salad dressings, marinara sauces, marinades, and sauces (like BBQ and steak sauce). I have inspected numerous ingredient labels and almost all of these products contain garlic, onion, honey, high fructose corn syrup or molasses. Here’s a great list of low FODMAP garlic and onion replacements so you can still get great flavor into your food.

Take a look at my low FODMAP recipes that includes some basics like salad dressing, marinara sauce, salsa and mashed potatoes. I am not the best cook in the world, so please don’t be intimidated if you aren’t either. Ensure you pick up some of those ingredients while you’re at the store. Also, as a go-to and a good transition into the diet, pick up some of the low FODMAP brand name packaged foods that I have compiled. Some are winners and some aren’t, but it’s a good base to have some foods you can eat right out of the package.

I have compiled a list of low FODMAP sample meals so you can visualize a my meal plan for yourself. Ensure you have a good base of the ingredients that go into those meals available.

Once you have all your basics in house, an important step is to discuss your new diet with your entire household. Ensure that they understand why you’re eating differently and to please allow you to eat your safe foods (since chances are they’re a little more expensive) while they can enjoy other, less expensive foods. My husband has been very good to incorporate my eating habits into most of our meals, and if he’s eating something I can’t have (that he knows I miss), he will eat in another room. He made the mistake on day 1 of my new diet to comment on how delicious his meal (of all my discarded food) was. I broke down in tears and had a little melt-down because of the limitations I was now faced with. I  explained to him how his comment hurt me because it’s difficult to know all the things I am missing out on. He has been much more sensitive since that incident… especially now with how much happier I am.

Next, find your routine. I do a lot of my big cooking once a week and plan my schedule based on what I have. I utilize the freezer a lot to have food on hand in a pinch. I eat a lot of salads and with my quick low FODMAP balsamic dressing, it’s a quick, low calorie meal.

Also, I tend to eat much smaller meals more frequently throughout the day. Because the low FODMAP diet is it not only what you eat, but in what quantities. I can always tell when I ate too much, even with all safe foods. My system just can’t take a large quantity of food, so I eat 200-300 calorie meals about 6 times a day. Even if I dine out, I usually save half and take it home. For example, if I take a sandwich, a banana and baby carrots for lunch, I will eat the banana around 10:30am, have the sandwich at 12:30pm and then snack on the carrots around 3:00pm.

For me, it took about 2 weeks to fully immerse myself in the diet as I got more comfortable with preparing some of the foods that I used to buy out of the package. Just assume that convenience foods are out and you have to be prepared for each upcoming meal or snack. When laziness strikes, that’s what you have tortilla chips on hand!

I’m not going to sugar coat it… it’s a tough transition. I felt it was maybe a little easier for me since I was already happily gluten free. Also the hope is that you don’t have to eat this way forever. You should eat FODMAP free for about 6-8 weeks and then reintroduce FODMAPs back into your diet. For me, I can handle galactans at almost all quantities (welcome back hummus!), and a little bit of lactose, fructose and polyols later in the day. Unfortunately, fructans and I do not get along.

If you’re starting on the diet, I am happy to help in any way possible. I’ve been there and you shouldn’t have to do this alone. Please feel free to reach out to me with questions or comments at livinghappywithibs@gmail.com, on Twitter at @LivingHappywIBS or on Pinterest.

Getting Started on the Low FODMAP Diet

Low FODMAP Sample Meals

Overwhelmed by the restriction of the diet? I’ve been there. I searched everywhere for examples of meals that I could eat on the low FODMAP diet. Even simple meals, like a salad were scary due to the limitations of store-bought salad dressings.

There’s really a variety of meals you can have with the diet… even pizza! Of course most of your meals will require a little extra prep and you can probably hide the take-out menus for now. I actually made this list for myself and hung it on the refrigerator to see what all my option were for each meal. It’s a good confidence booster to see what you can eat rather than what you can’t.

Low FODMAP Sample Meals

Low FODMAP Breakfast Suggestions:

Low FODMAP Lunch Suggestions:

Low FODMAP Dinner Suggestions:

Low FODMAP Snack Suggestions:

Personally, I eat a lot of salads, which allows me to tailor it to what I want that day. I also tend to snack a lot, which is why it was essential for me to know my go-to packaged foods when in a bind. I also tend to stick to smaller meals, since it’s not only what you eat, but how much. You can also get some insight to what my shopping list looks like with my favorite low FODMAP items.

Overwhelmed? You’re not alone. Here are some tips on getting started with the low FODMAP diet.

Do you have a meal or snack that you love? Let me know and I will add it to the list!