Here’s how to order — and exactly what to order if you’re on the popular low-carb diet.
Sticking to a very-low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet (like keto) when you’re out at a restaurant can pose some unique challenges beyond resisting your favorite plate of fries.
First, the portions are skewed — and not in your favor. “Protein portions tend to be too large, and vegetable portions too small, leading to an unbalanced meal,” says Alicia Romano, RD, clinical registered dietitian at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
Then there are the hidden ingredients that find their way in. “Added sauces or gravies can sneak in sources of carbohydrates from added sugars or flours that you were not intending to eat,” she says.
The reasons that you’re on the ketogenic diet — weight loss or perhaps a doctor-advised diet for a medical problem such as type 2 diabetes — also matters when choosing the best order for you. “The ketogenic diet can lead to successful weight loss, however it’s typically not necessary for most people,” says Jillian Kubala, RD, co-owner of Hamptons Clinical Nutrition in Southampton, New York. Although she says she finds the keto diet extremely restrictive (and therefore doesn’t recommend it), “the reality is that most people who are [on] keto are simply following a low-carb, high-protein diet,” Kubala says.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is what’s referred to as a “modified Atkins diet,” a less restrictive form of keto that counts carbohydrates but doesn’t restrict proteins, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. (Scientists originally developed a medical ketogenic diet as a treatment for children with epilepsy.) “If you’re following a ketogenic diet that falls in line with the modified Atkins diet approach, there’s much more flexibility with food choices, thus making eating out more reasonable,” says Romano.
Understanding Macronutrient Ratios in Meals
There are several types of the keto diet and they all depend on strict macronutrient (carbs, fat, protein) calculations. Generally speaking, the medical keto diet used to treat epilepsy prescribes 3 to 4 grams (g) of fat for every 1 g of carbohydrate and protein, which means you’re getting 90 percent of your calories from fat, 6 percent from protein, and 4 percent from carbs, according to the Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies. A modified Atkins diet has no protein restriction, and ends up being comprised of about 65 percent fat, 30 percent protein, and 5 percent carbohydrates. When it comes to keto for weight loss, you might eat 70 to 80 percent of calories from fat, 10 to 20 percent from protein, and 5 to 10 percent from fat, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Calculating Net Carbs and Ketones
Many people on keto use net carbs when measuring their carb intake. According to Atkins, you can calculate net carbs by taking total carbohydrates minus grams of fiber and sugar alcohols. The idea behind that, the company says, is that net carbs are what affect your blood sugar level and can compromise weight loss, so they, rather than total carbs, are worth counting. But you should know that neither the federal government nor the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognizes this term, nor is calculating them an exact science, registered dietitians agree.
Also know that if you’re on a classic keto diet, you may need to connect with a registered dietitian to come up with a personalized plan for hitting more specific macronutrient targets, says Romano. Some people on this version of keto might measure ketones, which are a substance your body produces when it burns fat instead of carbs for fuel.
General Tips for Dining Out on a Keto Diet
That all may sound daunting, but the good news is that because keto is becoming more mainstream, restaurants understand when customers need to modify their meals. In fact, some chains have even come out with menu options specifically catered to keto dieters. But you still may need to do some legwork. “Like all healthy-eating patterns, a well-rounded ketogenic diet should mainly consist of whole, nutritious foods,” says Kubala. Plenty of nonstarchy veggies should also be a staple, Kubala adds, and some fruits here and there is also encouraged on the keto diet.
You may need to finesse some of the meals to fit your desired macronutrient ratios as well. Romano recommends starting with a base of a simply prepared protein (such as poultry, fish, or meat grilled and without sauce, for instance) combined with a nonstarchy vegetable (like zucchini, broccoli, or leafy greens such as kale or collard greens). Then add healthy fats (ask for extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar, sliced avocado, olives, slivered nuts or seeds, and cheese) to “optimize fat intake while maintaining low carbohydrate intake,” she says.
In general, smart picks include a bunless burger over a bed of greens with lemon and olive oil or avocado; steak tips; grilled fish; or a bunless sandwich all served with — you guessed it — salad or a side of broccoli or vegetable-based “rice,” like from cauliflower, Romano says. “You can find this order, or a version of it, at many restaurants,” she explains.
And remember: Healthy restaurant eating while on keto is possible. “A well-planned ketogenic diet has the potential to still be nutritious if you crowd the diet with healthful fats and protein choices, including when eating out,” says Romano. Here are 27 ways to do just that:
The simplest choices are the best here. Steak plus a green veggie is one perfect keto combo.
Keto Choice Classic Sirloin With Side of Steamed Broccoli
Choose the smaller, 6-ounce (oz) portion (versus the 10-oz serving) to keep protein in check. This is a great opportunity to add a source of digestion-friendly fiber with the broccoli (4 g of fiber). To bring this up to keto-friendly status, add a drizzle (about 1 tablespoon) of olive oil.
Nutrition per Serving 220 calories, 17 g fat, 0 g net carbs, 15 g protein
Prepared sandwiches and salads are tough to customize, but there are a couple of protein- and fat-heavy options to turn to.
Keto Choice Creminelli Sopressata Monterey Jack Snack Tray
If you’re looking for a zero-carb bite, this mini salami-cheese tray is it. Unfortunately, there’s no produce on this plate, so make sure to get in veggies elsewhere during the day. The classic snack combo will help keep you pleasantly full, and the moderate amount of protein won’t ruin your macros for the day.
Nutrition per Serving 220 calories, 17 g fat, 0 g net carbs, 15 g protein
For a healthy, keto-friendly meal, go for grilled lean meat and veggies.
Keto Choice Grilled Chicken Breast With a Side of Fire-Grilled Veggies
You’d be surprised that other chicken dishes load up on carbohydrates (some contain upwards of 50 g). You can go for the steamed broccoli here, but if you want to switch it up, the fire-grilled veggies add a respectable 6 g of net carbs. To add fat (to make the meal fall exactly into keto range), order a side of guacamole to top your chicken.
Nutrition per Serving 300 calories, 15.5 g fat, 6 g net carbs, 41 g protein
4. Blaze Pizza
Most places you’d have to skip the crust to eat a keto-friendly pizza, but this fast-casual pizza chain recently announced its keto pizza crust, so no one has to miss out on a Pizza Friday.
Keto Choice Keto Pizza
This crust is made from a base of cauliflower, mozzarella cheese, flaxseed, and eggs. Then it’s topped with their spicy red sauce, more mozzarella, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, and more veggies, but you can switch up the toppings as you please. Ordered as is, you won’t get enough calories from fat to reach keto status, so be sure to order extra cheese and bacon, as well as olive oil and a drizzle of pesto. Those additions will bring this plate up to 63 percent of your calories from fat. Bonus: Each slice offers 2 g of fiber — not bad!
Nutrition per Slice 230 calories, 16 g fat, 3 g net carbs, 17 g protein
5. Olive Garden
Don’t think you have to be boxed into ordering pasta at Olive Garden (and eating a couple of breadsticks on the side).
Keto Choice Herb-Grilled Salmon
The restaurant offers a grilled salmon fillet, served with a drippy tab of garlic herb butter on top. Parmesan-garlic broccoli rounds out the meal. You’ll be offered a choice of soup or side salad, and in this case, the salad is your best bet. Watch portions, though, as a serving of salad with Italian dressing adds another 11 g of net carbs.
Nutrition per Serving 460 calories, 29 g fat, 4 g net carbs, 45 g protein
Ignore the sea of pancakes and crepes, and get on board with a DIY creation.
Keto Choice Build-Your-Own Omelette With Avocado and Spinach
Adding avocado and spinach packs in nutrients like heart-healthy monounsaturated fat (from the ‘cado) and vitamin K, which plays a role in bone health, per the National Institutes of Health. You’ll have to skip the side that this dish comes with (pancakes, toast, fruit) because it’ll likely put you over in carbs, but request the fruit anyway and give it to one of your tablemates.
Nutrition per Serving 535 calories, 40 g fat, 9 g net carbs, 31 g protein
7. Outback Steakhouse
A steakhouse is a rather easy place to find a keto-compliant meal. You’re better off choosing the smaller steak or fish meal to keep protein in check, and pairing with a nonstarchy veggie side.
Keto Choice 5-oz Grilled Lobster Tail With Roasted Butter Garlic Topping and Sautéed ’Shrooms
This dish is total special-occasion indulgence, but most of the net carbs come from the addition of mushrooms. To up your fat, don’t forget to add the roasted garlic butter topping, which adds an additional 18 g.
Nutrition per Serving 720 calories, 57 g fat, 8 g net carbs, 34 g protein
8. The Cheesecake Factory
First, let’s get this out of the way: Cheesecakes may be high in fat, but they’re also loaded with sugar (carbs), so ending the meal with a slice is out on the keto diet. You also have to be very careful with this menu, as some choices approach 200 g of total carbs. Breakfast is a bit easier, as omelettes and eggs are both options.
Keto Choice Pan-Seared Branzino With Lemon Butter
This tasty white fish gets amped up in the fat department with a rich butter sauce. If the calorie count and macros — including net carbs — are higher than you’re aiming for, simply eat half and take home the rest.
Nutrition per Serving 1130 calories, 93 g fat, 17 g net carbs, 50 g protein
9. TGI Fridays
The restaurant may be perfectly suited for happy hour apps, but you’re best served avoiding these. A “green style” cheeseburger will only run you 7 g net carbs (add avocado on top for 0 g net carbs and a dose of healthy fat), but this might be a great time to get in more veggies when you can.
Keto Choice Million Dollar Cobb Salad With Grilled Chicken
Go for the lunch portion — full-size salads here easily top 1,000 calories. Ranch dressing is a good choice, carb-wise, with only 2 g of net carbs. (The nutrition info below reflects the salad topped with ranch.) Other keto-friendly options are blue cheese and Caesar. Just avoid the balsamic vinaigrette, which has 11 g of net carbs.
Nutrition per Serving 520 calories, 37 g fat, 8 g net carbs, 34 g protein
10. Smoothie King
If you’re looking for a light, refreshing meal, a smoothie may be your go-to. Problem is, most smoothies made with milk, yogurt, juice, and fruit contain far too many carbs for a keto diet. Smoothie King just launched two keto-friendly smoothies, the Keto Champ Coffee and Keto Champ Berry. The coffee version has the fewer carbs of the two.
Keto Choice Keto Champ Coffee
Made with almond milk, coffee, almond butter, cocoa, and a keto protein blend, you’ll take in just 1 g of added sugar, 7 g of fiber, and only 7 g of net carbs.
Nutrition per Serving (20 oz) 420 calories, 31 g fat, 7 g net carbs, 24 g protein
11. Buffalo Wild Wings
You don’t have to shy away from the wings here. An order contains no carbs until you add sauce. (For the best sauce, stick with the simple classics: hot, medium, or mild.) A bunless burger or grilled chicken breast, plus cheese and mustard, is another great pick.
Keto Choice Traditional Wings and Celery Sticks
Each plate packs a wallop of protein, so opt for the snack-size portion. (Nutritional info includes medium sauce.) Pair them with refreshing celery and blue cheese.
Nutrition per Serving 685 calories, 52 g fat, 4 g net carbs, 47 g protein
12. Red Lobster
With a little planning, you can eat well at the classic seafood restaurant. Namely, take advantage of their interactive menu online, which allows you to sort each category from least to most carbohydrate content. Fresh seafood (unbreaded shrimp, lobster, crab) and grilled fish are all low-carb choices — and dipping or slathering it in butter adds fat.
Keto Choice Wild-Caught Snow Crab Legs With Asparagus
Focusing on crab legs — dipped in butter, no less — you’re keeping carbs at the bare minimum. With your choice of side, go for fresh asparagus, which has the fewest net carbs, and some added fat.
Nutrition per Serving 640 calories, 43 g fat, 4 g net carbs, 59 g protein
RELATED: The 5 Best and Worst Drinks to Sip on the Keto Diet
13. Carrabba’s Italian Grill
Pass over Italian apps like bruschetta in favor of grilled asparagus with prosciutto for a total of 4 g net carbs. As for your entrée, chicken, steaks, or fish is your best bet, but watch out for sauces and sides that jack up carbs. A green veggie side will round out the meal, and a drizzle of olive oil will get your fat portion up to where it needs to be.
Keto Choice Chicken Marsala
Grilled chicken is smothered in a mushroom-wine sauce. Steamed asparagus will bulk up the meal for few carbs.
Nutrition per Serving 585 calories, 340 g fat, 6 g net carbs, 56 g protein
14. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
Sausage and biscuits, gravy, pancake plates, and grits are all traditional offerings at Cracker Barrel that you’ll have to skip right over. The good news here is that it’s easy to mix and match your plate with an entrée and sides to choose low-carb options and get the right mix of macros you need.
Keto Choice Lemon Pepper Grilled Rainbow Trout With Steamed Broccoli and Turnip Greens
Trout is a higher-in-fat option than catfish (another keto choice), and the addition of a green side means you’re getting a nonstarchy veggie on your plate. Adding butter to this meal adds 4 g fat per tab.
Nutrition per Serving 470 calories, 18 g fat, 10 g net carbs, 57 g protein
15. California Pizza Kitchen
Salads are your best bet at CPK, because unfortunately even a slice of gluten-free pizza can eat up most of your carb allotment for the day.
Keto Choice Asparagus and Arugula Salad, With Extra Olive Oil
This is a great chance to get a variety of greens (asparagus and arugula), plus healthy fats from the toasted almonds. Though this comes dressed in a lemon vinaigrette, add more fat and calories by ordering a side of their herb-infused olive oil.
Nutrition per Serving 300 calories, 30 g fat, 5 g net carbs, 4 g protein
16. Bonefish Grill
A fish and seafood restaurant is a prime place to find a great keto meal. Generally, avoid anything fried or breaded in favor of grilled. Rather than sauces (which can be a surprising source of carbs), add butter or olive oil on your own.
Keto Choice Grilled Atlantic Salmon With Green Beans
Salmon is a naturally fatty fish, packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. If 50 g of protein is too high, eat half. Ordering lemon butter as a topping adds 6 g of fat. Make green beans your side to get in veggies for minimal carbs.
Nutrition per Serving 480 calories, 28.5 g fat, 1 g net carbs, 52 g protein
17. Boston Market
The classic chicken place serves you well when you choose basic chicken and veggies. Skip the bread and sauce; they can easily put you over your carb allotment.
Keto Choice Rotisserie Chicken and Caesar Salad
Go for the three-piece dark meat meal (dark meat contains more fat than white breast meat). You could also choose steamed veggies, cucumber salad, or creamed spinach, but the Caesar salad, no croutons, is the best option for boosting fat.
Nutrition per Serving 550 calories, 39 g fat, 5 g net carbs, 45 g protein
18. Maggiano’s Little Italy
Pasta places are rife with craveworthy high-carb dishes. If you can get past those (and the bread basket), you have good options.
Keto Choice Grilled Salmon Lemon and Herbs
The grilled fillet is bathed in a white wine butter sauce and served alongside spinach. At 800 calories, though, you could easily save half for tomorrow’s lunch.
Nutrition per Serving 800 calories, 66 g fat, 6 g net carbs, 47 g protein
19. Au Bon Pain
You can belly up to the hot or cold lunch bar for options like adobo chicken or beef and broccoli, but if you need something to-go, opt for their all-day breakfast options made keto-friendly.
Keto Choice 2 Eggs, Cheddar, and Sausage
This option comes on a bagel — ask them to skip the bread entirely, and grab a fork when you feast. Remember to choose whole eggs to keep the fat content higher, as egg whites are fat-free.
Nutrition per Serving 360 calories, 28 g fat, 2 g net carbs, 23 g protein
Head to the “Nudies” menu of this popular hotdog chain. There, you’ll find chicken, sausage, burger patties, and fish that you can top with a source of fat and side at your discretion.
Keto Choice “Nudie” Grilled Tuna
Brats and sausage contain more fat — but also saturated fat. Grilled yellow-fin tuna, on the other hand, offers some healthy omega-3s. Consider eating half of the tuna steak to keep protein in check. To bump up the fat content of this meal, head over to the salad section and order a side of olives or get a side salad and douse with olive oil and vinegar.
Nutrition per Serving 190 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g net carbs, 27 g protein
21. Shake Shack
You can request your order your way. Asking for your regular burger on a lettuce wrap saves 24 g of total carbs from the potato roll bun. Plus, the lettuce wrap has 0 g of net carbs.
Keto Choice Single ShackBurger on Lettuce Wrap
Their ShackBurgers come with lettuce, tomato, and ShackSauce, which adds an additional 12 g of fat from their regular burger.
Nutrition per Serving 325 calories, 24 g fat, 2 g net carbs, 23 g protein
You’ll want to make a beeline for the entrees, which you can easily manipulate to meet your needs. Watch the sides — asparagus, cauliflower mash, and green beans should be your go-tos.
Keto Choice Top Sirloin, 5 oz With Cauliflower Mash
Choosing the smaller, 5-oz steak over the larger one (9 oz) helps moderate protein. And the cauliflower mash, which is truly delicious, is a big source of fat (27 g in one serving). If you feel like you need even more fat, request a side of their Parmesan-garlic sauce, which contains an extra 29 g of fat and only 3 g net carbs.
Nutrition per Serving 647 calories, 51 g fat, 5 g net carbs, 37 g protein
23. Baja Fresh
Even if you order corn tacos instead of a burrito, the carb content is still too high. Same with the salads on their menu. Go a la carte and ask to build-your-own bowl and opt for lettuce topped with your choice of protein, plus extras like guacamole that bring the fat.
Keto Choice Lettuce, Chicken, Guacamole, Cheese, Pico de Gallo
This high-flavor meal is easy to customize depending on your cravings for the day. (Take your pick from steak, shrimp, or carnitas.) If you have the carb budget available, add a half-order of veggies for an extra 3.5 g net carbs to the top. (The nutrition info below represents a 3 oz order of guac.)
Nutrition per Serving 570 calories, 37 g fat, 7 g net carbs, 49 g protein
24. Pret A Manger
It can be tough to navigate a menu of sandwiches and wraps. You can certainly choose one like the avocado pine nut wrap, Greek chicken salad, or turkey, herbs, and avocado, and eat the insides, discarding the bread.
Keto Choice Pret’s Chef Salad With Herb Ranch Dressing
Roasted turkey, eggs, avocado, and bacon over the top of greens with crunchy cucumber supply fat and protein for fewer calories. Drizzling on the herb ranch ramps up fat even more.
Nutrition per Serving 520 calories, 41 g fat, 9 g net carbs, 26 g protein
You don’t have to just go for breakfast at this restaurant. (But if you do, opt for scrambled eggs or build your own omelet.)
Keto Choice Grilled Haddock
This new menu item features a grilled wild-caught haddock. You’ll have options for two sides (broccoli and sautéed zucchini and squash are the best choices), but tell them you don’t want the dinner bread. Again, to bring that fat up, opt for a drizzle of olive oil on your fish or veggies.
Nutrition per Serving 515 calories, 34 g fat, 6 g net carbs, 44 g protein
26. Jimmy John’s
It’s almost too easy to order at this sandwich joint: Just choose an “unwich,” which is a lettuce-wrapped sandwich. Deli meats are good low- or no-carb options, but keep in mind that because they’re processed, they’re not exactly the healthiest choices. Not to mention, they’re high in sodium, according to a past report, so limiting them is important for maintaining a healthy blood pressure level.
Keto Choice Tuna Salad and Provolone Cheese Unwich
Made with mayo, tuna salad is a reliable higher-fat choice. One freebie: a pickle side, which rings in at 0 g of net carbs — and adds a big punch of flavor. Nutrition facts below for an original size with regular filling, plus provolone cheese and pickle.
Nutrition per Serving 395 calories, 31 g fat, 5 g net carbs, 21 g protein
27. Red Robin
With a menu designed to satisfy every burger lover’s dreams, you almost have to get a burger at this joint. Luckily, even after removing the bun and skipping the fries, you’re still left with a delicious meal.
Keto Choice Guacamole Bacon Burger
Order it lettuce-wrapped, and you can eat it with your hands instead of a fork-and-knife. (Just keep napkins handy.) Guac on the burger supplies a source of heart-healthy fiber and fat. Get in some extra veggies with a slice of onion and tomato. Order a side of cucumber slices for a refreshing crunch that cuts the heaviness of the loaded burger.
Nutrition per Serving 725 calories, 53.5 g fat, 11 g net carbs, 45 g protein
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