During my time on the Mediterranean Diet, I actually ended up eating out several times. My husband and I make a point to have date day once a week, and then a couple of other family outings and lunch meetings worked their way in as well. It gave me lots of opportunities to see how eating out at different types of restaurants worked with the general Mediterranean diet guidelines.
General tips for eating out on a Mediterranean Diet
- Base your choices around your overall diet – how big a piece of your life is restaurant eating? If you go out once or twice a month, don’t stress too much about your choices. If you eat out a few times a week, you might want to be more intentional about your choices because they make up a much greater percentage of your overall diet.
- Choose a vegetarian entree – this is certainly not your only option, but will often put you smack in the middle of Mediterranean Diet recommendations. Vegetarian entrees will usually have a plant-based source of protein, a grain or starch, and plenty of veggies. That checks most of the Mediterranean boxes!
- If you’re planning to get alcohol, wine is a great way to go – other alcohols aren’t too prominent on the Mediterranean Diet, and wine in moderation (4 oz. or less per day for a woman, 8 oz.or less for a man) contains some heart protective antioxidant benefits.
- At most restaurants, plan to eat half the plate – take the rest home or share with a friend. Eating the entire amount of a meat served at a restaurant is almost always going to be more than one serving. I found that if I ate primarily plant-based or seafood-based proteins at home, then I could choose whichever protein I wanted when eating out and still eat the leftovers the next day.
- Let the oil go – one of the components of the Mediterranean Diet is incorporating primarily olive oil as your fat source. When you’re eating out, you rarely know what cooking oil is being used. You can ask, but most likely the answer is not olive. Either try to avoid dishes made with lots of oil (go for grilled, baked, or roasted) or just accept that you’re unlikely to be getting olive oil in this particular meal.
Mexican food can actually be a really great cuisine to choose foods within Mediterranean guidelines. Plant-based proteins like beans are used widely in Mexican cuisine. Pair those with some brown rice or a corn tortilla, lettuce, fajita vegetables,and salsa and you’re good to go! Add fish if desired. Of course, feel free to go for white meat or red meat if you are eating those sparingly overall.
One day after church hubby had a hankering for the taco truck. The taco truck serves monstrous portions and their typical burritos are very heavy on rice, beans, and meat and very light on veggies. I opted for the bowl-rito (all the stuffins’ without the tortilla) which contained chicken, rice, beans, fajita vegetables, salsa, and avocado. I ate half and saved the rest for another day.
A week or so later I met a friend for lunch at Chipotle – she needed gluten-free, I needed veggies! I opted for basically the same meal as I got at the taco truck: chicken, brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, corn salsa, pico de gallo, and lettuce. I ate half and brought the rest home.
This seemed like a bit of a no-brainer…one of my favorite restaurants is The Bocatta in Centralia, WA which boasts delicious Mediterranean cuisine. Hubby and I were in the area at lunchtime and it was an obvious choice! Interestingly enough, most of the sandwich meats offered were processed, so I opted for the vegetarian eggplant marinara sandwich with a side of balsamic marinated mushrooms. It was DEE-LICIOUS. No leftovers this time.
I chose one of my favorite breakfasts at the local McMenamin’s Spar Cafe – huevos rancheros! The dish includes corn tortillas, eggs, black beans, pico de gallo, cheese, avocado, and hash browns. I ate half and took the other home!
On a date lunch my husband and I decided to go to Red Robin. I figured I would choose the veggie version of the burger I normally get – the Bleu Ribbon. Delicious blue cheese and fried onion straws (not exactly sure how those factor in to the Mediterranean Diet…probably not particularly included. Didn’t stop me.) However, Red Robin is now carrying the Impossible Burger. I had not tried this item yet but it is a plant-based burger patty that supposedly famous chefs are raving about as the most meat-like non-meat burger they’ve ever cooked or eaten. I definitely wanted to try it, more to review it than anything. Paired the burger with sweet potato fries – again, I ate half and took the rest home for later. Stay tuned for the Impossible Burger review coming up! The non-Mediterrean downside of this meal was the low vegetable content – a handful of shredded iceberg on the burger does not a vegetable serving make.
When we went to Indian food, I had already eaten a bit of chicken for the week (which is what I usually get when we go there), so I chose the vegetarian lunch option which contained chana masala (spiced chickpeas and vegetables), palaak paneer (spinach and goat cheese), salad, lentil dahl soup, naan bread, and a sweet rice pudding called kheer. This meal is HUGE and I always take leftovers home and usually get one or two more meals out of them.
Overall, it wasn’t too hard to eat out and meet the Mediterranean Diet recommendations. I will say, as is always the case with strict portion “limits” as found on the Mediterranean Diet pyramid, it did at times leave me feeling a bit disappointed when ordering, because I didn’t always order the food I really wanted. That being said, everything I ate was delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed it so I didn’t end up feeling restricted overall. If you are someone who really gets your kicks out of meat-based entrees or you aren’t a big fan of plant-based proteins, this could be tougher for you. A better approach might be to limit eating out overall or to really make a point to keep your animal protein portion reasonable and take the rest home for later.