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How to Avoid Processed Foods When Eating Out


While it would be nice to always have ultimate control of every food we eat, life intervenes sometimes, and we will attend the occasional restaurant or party in the name of being social, meaning we will have to let go of some of the perceived control we have over every bit of food available to us. But this doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon all of your efforts, especially while living in a time and place that is slowly awakening to the importance of clean and plant-based eating. In particular, when you eat out in a restaurant, you may think you have the minimal amount of control over the foods you eat. On the contrary, this is the time where you can voice your concerns and possibly be heard, thus influencing future trips to the restaurant for yourself and for others with similar concerns. You can become a clean-eating hero!

When eating out, you have every right to inquire about the foods being prepared for you. Some see this as a social taboo of sorts, not wanting to appear too picky or needy while out with friends. But a Green Monster does not have to give up health for the sake of saving face. Besides, real friends will understand that clean eating is just that important to you and not mind at all.

First of all, do your research ahead of time. If possible, call the restaurant you will be attending and ask to speak to a manager (not a server, who may or may not know much about the ingredient selection process) or the head chef. First and foremost is to ask. Ask where produce is obtained (is it local? organic? none of the above?) and what items on the menu come from fresh ingredients (read: not from a can or box, ideally). If they brush you off, press on. You are a customer for them, potentially, and, just like a product from the store must show its ingredients on the label, any good restaurant should disclose this material too. It’s okay if they don’t want to give you a full run-down of every secret ingredient in every dish (some chefs are understandably protective), but any good restaurant should willingly disclose whether or not certain ingredients come from canned, boxed, or fresh sources. If the restaurant is super awesome, they will happily share at least this, and some chefs may even invite you to come tour the kitchen.

If pre-eating-out research proves impossible, or you’re attending an impromptu get-together, make things simple for yourself and order foods that are most likely to be fresh and unprocessed, like raw plates (think a salad; but hold the dried fruit, which could have additives and such, and hold the dressing, unless you know it’s made at the restaurant – stick with fresh oil or vinegar instead). Or, if you’re okay with it, just ask while you’re there. Ask to know which foods are freshly prepared and where ingredients are sourced from. And if you have trouble getting answers, again, opt for the raw dishes.

If all else fails, and you can’t get clear answers about which foods are fresh and which may be processed to all get out, you can think about what to avoid. Steer clear from dessert cakes (yes, even though they’re so pretty, these most often come from boxes straight from a freezer), stuffed pastas (unless you know it’s fresh, it can come from canned sources), breads (yes, I know, this is a favorite for so many, but can often come from places not made on site, meaning it’s probably heavily processed), dressings (this most often comes right from a package at restaurants), and, of course, fried foods (which if you’re eating clean, you should probably be avoiding anyway, right?).

With these tips, you may be able to gain a bit more control over the foods you eat while dining out. If the chef offers no fresh options, you will have at least shown that at least one potential customer wants more by the way of fresh, unprocessed foods. And that’s one small step in the right direction for all of us.

Image source: Kitz000/Wikimedia Commons

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9 comments on “How to Avoid Processed Foods When Eating Out”

Click to add comment
Pam Klotovich
4 Years Ago

Easy don't eat out!

Delora Lani Dalton
4 Years Ago

As a pastry chef, I take offense to the image used on the initial cover

Lena Mallanie
4 Years Ago

Here's a thought. ..dont eat out if youre that concerned!

Jacquie Flanagan
4 Years Ago

Being health conscious and a server, I'm offended by this. I know the food my restaurant carries - inside and out. My manager does NOT. In fact, management frequently fields questions to servers since we are the ones discussing the menu with the customer. Being pro-organic and no-GMO, I can help steer my patrons in a healthier direction. How assumptive and offensive.

Brian Inge
4 Years Ago

Avoid chain restaurants.

Diana LovesPlexus Eddy
4 Years Ago

Thanks I'm reading it now :)

Terri Miller
4 Years Ago

Diana LovesPlexus Eddy you'll like this

Julie Melvin
4 Years Ago

Carol Herron

Zell Osornio
4 Years Ago


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