It’s easy to fall into old, unhealthy eating habits when you are away from home. Whether you’re simply out and about with friends, or traveling cross-country with the family, finding healthy paleo meals while on the go can be problematic. However, eating out paleo style is certainly doable and may be much easier than you think.
In this post, you’ll find 5 good options for paleo meals you can order at popular fast food joints. I’ll also share with you my family’s strategy for eating out paleo and our 5 go-to paleo travel meals.
My wife and I recently returned from a mini road trip we took with our oldest son (age 11). We managed to stay paleo about 98% of the time despite being away from home for 3 days. The only time we were not paleo is when we voluntarily chose not to be. (we grabbed a gluten & dairy free Whoopie Pie from Whole Foods. #YUM #YOLO) Before we dive into specific meal options, I’d like to share some tips and advice to help make this whole “eating out paleo thing” easier and less stressful.
My Advice on Eating Out Paleo
5 Tips for Staying Paleo while On-The-Go
1) Don’t Stress.
When eating away from home, it’s best to shoot for perfection and be okay with less than perfect. Many paleo vets will recommend that you aim for 80% paleo while traveling. That’s fine advice, but I say, do the best you can. Usually, you can do much better than 80% paleo. Shoot for 100% but if you fall short, don’t stress it. Stress will do far more harm to your body than your diet ever could. It’s okay not to be perfect while eating out paleo, but don’t use stress as justification for ordering that Big Mac.
2) Plan Ahead
The best thing to do before heading out, even if it’s just for the day, is to plan ahead. Look up the restaurants along your route, or find out where the nicest grocery stores are near your destination. (Nicer grocers typically have salad bars where you can usually find decent options) That way you can know exactly where you want to eat before you even leave the house. On our recent road trip, we knew there was a Whole Foods minutes from our hotel, and we also knew there were fast food options fairly close as well.
3) Find Me Gluten Free App
Download the Find Me Gluten Free app to your phone. That way if you didn’t get a chance to pre-plan the trip or had a change in plans, you have a good tool to find decent dining options. While you should not stress if you’re not perfectly eating out paleo, you should at least commit to being perfectly gluten free. This app will show you restaurants near your location that offer gluten free options. If a venue has a GF menu, then chances are they will have paleo options as well.
4) Pack Plenty of Snacks
Be prepared with plenty of paleo snacks. That way you’re prepared when hunger strikes or your energy dips. Also remember, there’s nothing wrong with combining healthy paleo snacks and turning that into a meal instead of dining in somewhere. For example, beef jerky with a pack of guacamole makes for a pretty filling & tasty meal. Check out this post I wrote on packaged paleo snacks to get plenty of ideas for good snacks to bring along. For our 5-hour drive, we packed tons of snacks, and then we stocked up on good snacks once we got to the Whole Foods near our hotel. There’s no question this was key for us staying paleo throughout the trip.
5) Embrace It
My last piece of advice is to enjoy your time. Whether you’re just running errands, having lunch with friends, or at a character breakfast in Disney World, have a great time. Do the best you can when eating out paleo. If you decide to have a non-paleo (yet gluten free) treat, then embrace it. Savor that GF Whoopie Pie or that Gluten Free Mickey Pancake. (Yes, they will make you a gluten free Mickey Mouse pancake in Disney World)
5 Fast Food Options when Eating Out Paleo
If you are out and about looking for decent paleo options, here are 5 places to choose from. Keep in mind, that these are not true paleo options. The Paleo Diet emphasizes whole foods and quality ingredients. With few exceptions, you will not be able to find good non-factory farmed meat at any fast food restaurant. Additionally, the condiments & sauces will likely have preservatives, flavorings, and sugar added to them. I’d prefer to avoid the high fructose corn syrup that is in the Heinz ketchup that 99% of restaurants carry. We try to bring our own ketchup. Just make sure your wife brings the big purse to avoid awkward looks as you walk in with a big bottle of Annie’s Organic ketchup 🙂 But again, you’re away from home, so don’t stress too much. Do the best you can, and just make sure these options are not part of your regular diet.
Chipotle is by far the best fast food place to eat when trying to stay healthy and paleo. They emphasize quality ingredients and are GMO free. For a completely paleo meal, opt for a carnitas burrito bowl with no rice & no beans. Carnitas is the only meat that is 100% paleo. The others are about 98% because they are cooked or marinated in rice bran oil, which is not paleo. Personally, I like to get the barbacoa with double meat, plenty of veggies, guac, and salsa. Num Num Num
2) Five Guys
Five Guys probably has the best tasting burger of any fast food joint. Even without the bun, it is delicious. They will wrap it in a lettuce wrap or assemble it in a box for you to enjoy with a fork. Personally, I like mine in a box with bacon, grilled onions, pickles and mustard. The bacon will have nitrates, and the pickles will have artificial preservatives and colors. Five Guys is a treat to me, so I embrace the bacon and enjoy! Five Guys fries their potatoes in peanut oil. Potatoes are not paleo, nor are peanuts, but if you choose to enjoy the French fries at least you’re avoiding unhealthy vegetable & seed oils.
3) In & Out Burger
Some people swear by In & Out Burger. Personally, I think they’re burgers are pretty bland. The fries are subpar at best probably because they’re fried in yucky vegetable oil full of cottonseed, soy, and/or corn oils. Having said that, you can order an In & Out burger “protein-style”. This is what they call a lettuce wrapped burger, but get it without their sauce. If you’re a fan or there’s no Five Guys around, you can pop in & out and grab a cheap burger. I’d skip the fries though. They’re just not worth it.
4) Subway or Jimmy Johns
If you’re in the mood for a something a little less greasy, you can head to Subway or Jimmy Johns. Jimmy John’s is a bit cleaner in terms of additives, and much closer to true paleo. They both have their share of artificial ingredients, but Subway appears to have more and they also cook their meats in soy, canola, and peanut oils. Subway also adds sugar to their meats even the chicken. You can compare ingredients using the links at the end of this post.
When you’re away from home, this may be the only choice you have. In that event, grab a wrap, or an “Unwhich” as Jimmy John’s calls it. You could also turn any sandwich into a salad. Use caution with the sauces and condiments as they have sugar, corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial flavors & colors. For a true paleo option, simply load up on fresh veggies.
5) McDonalds (if you’re really in a pinch)
Surprised to see McD on the list? Well, if you’re really in a bind, with no other options, chances are there’s a McDonalds fairly close. You can get a paleo meal from McDonalds, so long as you simply get a hamburger patty with fresh veggies (tomato, onion, lettuce). You could also order a salad without the dressing, but that sounds awfully bland to me. While not paleo, the grilled chicken breast isn’t the worst thing you could eat, but it does still have canola oil, rice starch, and a preservative.
You may be tempted to grab some McDonalds fries thinking they’re only potatoes. Steer clear! They are not simply potatoes. They’re fried in very bad oil, and they also contain gluten and milk derivatives in addition to a host of preservatives and flavorings. (They actually contain 19 different ingredients) The French fries are not even close to paleo, so definitely skip them.
If you find yourself in a bind and are very, very hungry and they are no other options, grab a meat patty from McD and keep moving.
My Strategy for Eating Out Paleo
Whenever we are traveling, our family always looks for a local grocery store. We stock up on easy to make meals that do not need to be cooked. We make sure we have a refrigerator in our hotel room as well. That way we can pickup packs of Applegate lunchmeat and salad mixes from the store. This way we’re not eating out every meal. Below you’ll find 5 of our go-to paleo travel meals.
5 On-the-Go Paleo Meals from the Grocery Store
1) Salad Bar
Nicer stores like Whole Foods have tons of paleo options on their food bars. When we dined at Whole Foods this last time, I made a big chicken salad and used my homemade mayo I brought from home. I also grabbed a piece of BBQ beef. There was sugar in the sauce, but the BBQ was just calling my name, so I went for it. My wife grabbed a variety of paleo sides like sweet potatoes and the broccoli salad she loves. Check with the local grocery store and see if they have salad bar.
2) Bag o’Salad
After we dined at the salad bar we shopped for items to bring back to the hotel. I grabbed a bag of precut salad mix and a pack of Applegate roast beef. The next day we combined the two and used guacamole for the dressing. It’s simple. It’s fast, and it’s pretty tasty too.
3) Turkey Rollups
Making “rollups’ is an easy lunch or snack when on the road. Simply grab your favorite lunchmeat, spread some mustard or paleo mayo, and place a pickle or pepper in the middle, and then roll it up. (check your labels for preservatives, bad oils, and sugar)
4) Hot Dogs
Applegate makes 100% grass-fed beef hotdogs that make a great paleo meal option. You can prepare it similarly to the turkey rollups above. Slice it halfway through and add your favorite condiments, and then the hot dog becomes it’s own bun. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of hot dogs, but my wife & kids enjoy them. They’re fairly cheap too.
5) Canned Salmon, Tuna, or Sardines
If you’re a big fan of seafood, you may enjoy these straight up. Personally, I have to prepare them a bit first. This is one of my favorite paleo lunches to have at home though. I make a ‘salmon salad” with paleo mayo, hot sauce, and then I chop up my fermented spicy daikon radishes. When away from home, I just omit the fermented daikon although some pickled jalapenos (which you can find in the store) would make a delicious addition. Add this to a strip of romaine lettuce, and you have very healthy paleo wrap.
This is how our family handles eating paleo on the road. We get as much as we can from the local grocery store and then we typically stick to Chipotle when eating out. We have 3 kids and one with autism on a very restricted diet. This is the simplest way we handle eating out. It keeps things easy, cheaper, and keeps stress levels low for everyone. Don’t forget we also stock up on plenty of paleo snacks and treats which really helps and is the key for making the most of our travel without cheating too much.
In general, order a hamburger no bun, stick to fresh veggies, and avoid anything fried. The local grocery store is your best friend. Keep it simple. Strive for 100% paleo, but it’s okay to fall a little short when traveling or away from home.
Do You Have Any Other Ideas for Fast Food Paleo Meals?
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Ingredient lists for the restaurants mentioned.
GIF above made via GIPHY