No milk, please: your guide to dining out while dairy-free

November 14, 2014

If you've recently decided to eliminate dairy from your diet, fret not: you can—and should—dine out. Just follow these easy guidelines.

No milk, please: your guide to dining out while dairy-free

Choose your restaurant carefully

Dairy-free dining is all about choice, and the most important choice you can make is which restaurant to patronize. It used to be common wisdom that people looking to avoid dairy had to avoid entire cuisines altogether, but that's not necessarily true.

For example, many Italian restaurants often offer alternatives containing olive oil instead of heavy cream and cheese to cater to dairy-free diners (and often, the authentic Italian recipe calls for dairy-free ingredients instead!). If you're a novice dairy-free diner, however, consider visiting Asian restaurants or those known to be allergy-friendly for a relatively easy dining experience.

Do your research

Thanks to the prevalence of online restaurant listings and menus, it's never been easier to research potential meals before you order. Before your dinner date, take a minute to browse the menu online. Look for dishes that are plausible candidates, then formulate questions or a potential menu before you step foot in the restaurant. This will save time and help your server better take care of your needs. Want to get even more ahead? Call in advance so the restaurant can has adequate time to prepare for your arrival.

Be your own advocate

When you order your food, make sure your server knows you have an allergy or are avoiding dairy. If they don't know, they can't accommodate your needs. Don't be afraid of asking questions about recommended dishes, ingredients, and preparations so you get the exact meal you requested.

Simple is better

The simplest preparations are likely to be the ones that don't contain dairy to begin with. Ask for meat grilled or brushed with oil and sauteed. Consider a salad without the dressing, or a simple side of steamed vegetables. The more ingredients in a dish, the higher the chances it may contain dairy.

Be realistic

Expect special preparations to take extra time, and be prepared for some restaurants to be unable to meet your expectations. When in doubt, don't eat it, but do ask for a dish you know can be prepared without dairy. You can always order a dairy-free drink, chat with your friends, and fill up on food later. No matter what, make sure you have a healthy dairy-free snack on hand in case something goes wrong. Then you can sit back, chat with your friends, and enjoy your dairy-free meal.

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