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How to Eat Dairy-Free at a Restaurant

Tips to Having a Dairy-Free Meal When Dining Out

Whether you're avoiding dairy for health or ethics, you can still enjoy dining out at your favorite restaurant. Keep these tips in mind so you don't end up accidentally eating dairy while out or if you're new to a dairy-free lifestyle and want to know what options are available to you.

Breakfast

Pancakes, waffles, and french toast are almost always made using milk, buttermilk, or butter, so avoid these items unless the menu specifically says that they're dairy-free. You may have to skip omelets and other egg dishes since they're often made with milk, have added cheese, or are cooked in butter, but ask your server if the chef can whip them up without dairy. If your meal comes with toast, make sure you specify that you'd like it dry. Home fries tend to be safe, but check with your server to ensure they're cooked in oil instead of butter. Fresh fruit with granola is always an option, and these days, many places offer soy milk in place of cow's milk. Call ahead to find out if that's an option, and if not, ask if you can bring a small container of your own dairy-free beverage.

Appetizers

When ordering soup avoid bisques, chowders, and cream-based flavors such as potato leek, opt for broth-based bowls of miso or vegetable (or meat) stock instead. If you enjoy salad before your main course, ask for vinaigrette or bottles of oil and vinegar. If your server places a bread basket on the table accompanied with the usual butter, ask for a small dish of olive oil. Skip the artichoke dip and choose hummus. If an item has a melted cheese topping such as flat bread pizza or potato skins, just as the server to hold it.

Continue reading for tips concerning lunch, dinner, and dessert.

Lunch and Dinner

On sandwiches and burgers, make sure there's no sauce or condiment spread that might contain a milk ingredient — you can always ask to hold the pesto (if it contains cheese) or sour cream. When ordering pizza, load up on the toppings and ask your waiter or waitress to skip the mozzarella and goat cheese. If you have a craving for fish or chicken, ask that it be grilled rather than pan fried or baked since chefs tend to load on the butter. When it comes to cooked veggies, specifically request that they not be cooked with butter or topped with a sprinkle of grated parm to look pretty. Pasta with marinara or roasted veggies seem to be a safe option, just be sure there's no butter involved. You might have the best luck at Asian restaurants since Italian, Indian, and Mexican food can be heavy on the dairy.

Dessert

Unfortunately most homemade treats contain milk, cream, buttermilk, or butter, so you'll have to avoid the cookies, cakes, and pies. Ask the server if they serve dairy-free sorbet and pair it with a side of fresh fruit.

Always

The most important thing is to tell your server from the get-go that you can't have dairy, so they can help you order a meal that accommodates your diet. Try to choose items that most likely will be free of dairy products, but don't be shy about asking questions, especially if the description on the menu is unclear. When your plate is served and there's melted butter on the toast you specifically ordered dry, or there's an unexpected sprinkling of cheese on your salad, don't hesitate to send it back. Don't worry about annoying the waitperson or chef with concerns or requests. They want to ensure that you have a good meal, and if they give you an attitude about your dietary concerns, then they don't deserve your business.

Image Source: Thinkstock
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Jenny-Sugar Jenny-Sugar 4 years
True, eating at home is often easier when it comes to avoiding certain foods, and it's definitely cheaper too! But sometimes I just crave a dinner out, so I head to one of the handful of restaurants in my area I know I can eat at.
amber512 amber512 4 years
I find it so much easier to make my own food than to try and figure out how to order gluten- soy- and dairy-free. Also finding out if things contain onions, almonds, xanthan gum, etc. oh the list of my intolerances is far too long.
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