Other than eating without flavor, the biggest fear associated with a low-sodium diet is eating at home, alone. And most people think that eating out (and eating well) is completely out of the question. But think again. Because going to out to brunch, lunch, or dinner is totally possible. Totally satisfying. And totally doesn’t require opening up your own restaurant.
There are a few really simple steps you can take that make eating beyond the kitchen effortless and tasty.
Get Over It
There are two things that stand in your way of a meal out: fear and embarrassment. So let’s talk about it. First, it’s totally normal to feel nervous about trusting someone else with your food. It is not just your hunger in their hands, but your safety and health. But by taking the reigns with the tips below, you will learn how to work with the kitchen and dine successfully.
Secondly, though, is the feeling of being a nuisance to the chef and wait staff. But seriously, get over it. And think of all the picky eaters out there who have no problem asking for what they want, rather than what they need. So don’t be ashamed. Own your diet. And your body and belly will thank you.
Cook Before You Eat
Next, before you even make a reservation, you need some education. You have to become the expert on what you can and cannot eat. Meaning it’s time to read cookbooks, watch cooking shows, and immerse yourself in the world of food. This will help you recognize salty keywords on menus (like cured, brined, pickled, and marinated); understand how a kitchen operates (like most vegetables are blanched in salted water earlier in the day, during prep); and ask for preparations that will result in both low-sodium meals and big flavor.
If you give a chef time to imagine, plan, and prepare, there’s no limit to the amazing things they can create. Chefs, as a matter of trade, want to please the customer and leave them drooling for more. So it’s always helpful to call a restaurant at least a day ahead to let them know about your reservation and your dietary needs. That way, they can save proteins, grains, and veggies from salty prep. And sometimes, even make special sauces, pastas, and other side dishes just for you.
The most essential part to dining out starts with your mouth (and I’m not talking about chewing). I’m talking about talking. Yes, communicating with the servers and the kitchen and the chef so that they know not only what you cannot eat, but more importantly, what you can eat. The more information you give them, the better. And to make this interaction effortless as well as avoid mistranslations from the waiter to the kitchen to the chef, let me suggest a small laminated card like this one. It is magical. It makes everyone’s life easier. And I cannot tell you how much the people feeding you will appreciate it. Put it in your bag, your car, or your purse. And never leave home without it.
Of course there will be some restaurants where dining seems impossible: the local pizza joint, your old favorite Chinese restaurant, that new taqueria. But remember, creativity plus determination equals unlimited possibilities. If you miss pizza from your local joint, ask to talk with the manager. Explain your situation and your dietary needs. See what kind of deal you can set up. And maybe you’ll even get a pie named after you.
Same goes for restaurants where communication can be difficult. For those situations, find a friend who speaks the same language as the staff. Have them ask questions for you and take over the ordering. Or even translate your dietary card! Meaning no menu or obstacle — from pizza to potstickers — is too big of a challenge or too impossible to overcome.
Pull the Alarm
Sometimes even with all the prep work and communication, you may just get salted. And this can be tough because this is where that shame starts to set in. But remember, if you taste something fishy, I mean salty, put the fork down. Have a friend give it a second look, I mean taste. And then, if the order just doesn’t seem right, send it back. Honestly, it’s better to deal with a disgruntled waiter or waitress than health complications.
Say Thank You
Finally, gratitude goes a long way. Sending your thanks to the kitchen or even writing the restaurant a thank you note makes a big impact. Simply put, the more you create a relationship with those that feed you, the better you will eat.