Keto Away From Home

     I commonly hear questions regarding how to stay with the keto way of eating while away from home - either while travelling or eating at a friend’s house.  This can be especially vital for those with a lymphatic disorder as we tend to swell more when we are sitting for a long drive or plane flight.  (See National Lymphedema Network's position paper on Air Travel)  It's not necessary to take a vacation from your eating plan while on vacation!

    On a keto Facebook group I moderate, people ask what they should eat in all sorts of situations.  My go-to answer for many of these cases is, “Eat something at home before you go.” That way, you won’t be as hungry and likely to eat something not keto friendly.  I call this defensive eating. Just eat beforehand and you can avoid temptation with ease.

Restaurant Eating

     Eating at restaurants can be a bit tricky, as some restaurants’ menus are replete with either bread or pasta.  When you’re out with a group of friends or coworkers, it’s common to choose a sandwich place for lunch. Most places will cheerfully serve any sandwich as a lettuce wrap.  If you order a salad, remember to remove the croutons. Members of our "Meat Up" keto dining out group politely ask for no croutons in the salads, no bread on the table, and extra vegetables instead of pasta.  

     Most restaurants have their menu posted online.  Check them out ahead of time and make your keto-friendly selection.  Once you are at the restaurant, you already know what you want and aren't distracted by bad choices.  

     It is not unusual that the menu doesn’t really give enough information about the meal.  Don't be afraid to ask questions of the waitstaff, or have them ask the cook.

  • Is the fish, chicken, or other protein dipped in flour before cooking?  This is a common practice to give the meat a crunchy or seared coating.
  • Is the sauce made with a starchy thickener (flour, cornstarch, etc). Even sauces that are called “cream” sauces are often made with flour as a thickener. 
  • Just because it is called "gluten-free" or "low carb" doesn't mean it is keto.  Restaurants these days commonly get “gluten free” requests, and keto is becoming more known, so they usually know, or can easily find out, if there is wheat or other starches in any of their dishes. 

     I have frequently carried a small bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil to stand in as a condiment for everything.  I like to make my own dressing with the olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and some salt. Servers will always bring you some lemon slices. If I haven't brought my own,  I ask for butter and I’m glad when they bring those little pre-wrapped pats of butter.  Then I know that it’s real butter. If you get something they dipped out of a bin, it could be butter mixed with just about anything, even sugar or honey, or worse, it could be margarine. Yuck.

    At this stage in the keto food revolution, it is still a challenge to find restaurants that cater to our needs.  But as more people let them know what they want, more restaurants will figure out a way to cater to us.

On the Road

     Proper nutrition is just as important as proper compression while on the road.  (See National Lymphedema Network's position paper on Risk Reduction Practices)  Interestingly, it really isn’t too hard to eat at fast food restaurants while travelling.  Most chains will make a burger as a lettuce wrap.  (I find that messy, so I like to just eat my burger patty with a fork and knife).  Avoid the sugar-laden ketchup, though. 

     If you are travelling with an ice chest, you can take lots of great stuff, including cream, cooked meats, coconut milk, nuts, avocados, berries, cheese or whatever else you like to eat.  I generally cook up a large amount of bacon and a batch of hard-boiled eggs.  Ask for a refrigerator in your hotel room. This allows you to bring some pre-cooked meals that you’ve frozen that can be reheated in your hotel room's microwave.  Pack or pick up plates and utensils. 

     Most hotels have just about everything you need to have a good meal, if you plan ahead.  Quite a few hotels offer breakfast, but if it says “continental breakfast” don’t even bother to go down to the lobby.  That means it’s just pastry and juice and other drinks. (Nothing to see here, move along!) If it says "free hot breakfast," there might be some good things to eat, such as bacon, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, and some individually wrapped pats of butter.  Beware, though, if they offer scrambled eggs. Sometimes the eggs have pancake batter whipped in to make the scrambled eggs lighter and cheaper for the hotel. Yep - flour in scrambled eggs.  Even some sausages have flour or other starchy fillers. I just don’t eat any food that I’m not certain about.      

     Check to see if there is a grocery store nearby.  Many stores offer tables and chairs where you can sit and eat right there.  It’s usually much less expensive than eating at a restaurant. Think outside the box here.

     Again, remember, on the keto way of eating:  Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.  Who gets to decide what type and how much food you will eat?  Not the restaurant, your friends, or Aunt Bess. You get to decide how much and what to put on your plate.  If you’re not hungry because you’re eating plenty of fat, it is easier to refuse something that looks delicious but isn’t really good for you.  Try these strategies of eating beforehand, packing good foods for the road, and don’t be afraid to skip a meal if you’re not hungry.

Books by Leslyn Keith, OT

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