Dining Out on a Low-FODMAP Diet


Hands-down, eating at home is the safest way to ensure compliance on any sort of restricted diet. But it’s not always the most fun, and sometimes you just plain want to go out and have someone else do the work.

Is that even possible on a Low-FODMAP diet? Absolutely.

Steak Toscano and Grilled Vegetables from Olive Garden

Steak Toscano and Grilled Vegetables from Olive Garden

Once you’ve finished the elimination and challenge phases (the diagnostic portion) of the diet, the only limitations are your personal trigger-foods, and everyone is going to be a little different in that respect, and there’s nothing that says you cannot have something that might cause you some upset, if you’re willing to accept the intestinal consequences. The more numerous your intolerances, the tougher it might be to find suitable items on the menu, but it’s far from impossible.

Plan Ahead Whenever Possible

If you know you’re meeting up with friends for a celebratory dinner on Friday night, check out the restaurants menu online (if possible), or give them a call a day or two ahead of time (in the late afternoon, before the dinner crowd comes in) and ask about any substitutions that might be available. There are plenty of websites and apps that keep track of allergy-friendly restaurants with star-ratings, reviews, and sometimes links to their menus. Some of the apps will even use the gps-locator to find restaurants in your vicinity–useful for when you’re travelling.

If reservations are required, that’s also a good time to bring up a restricted diet situation.

Chain Restaurants are Your Friend

As much as we love to support local, independent restaurants, we’ve found that the chains are usually better equipped to handle special-diet requests, as the corporate office is able to figure out and disseminate the needed information and ingredients. For instance, Panera has a “Hidden Menu” of gluten-free entrees (salads and egg bowls) that you can find on their website and request to order from at any store nationwide.  Olive Garden has gluten-free pastas available as well as items from their grill that are suitable for a low-FODMAP client. And Five Guys Hamburgers and Fries has a bunless ordering option that turns your choice of burger and toppings into a sort of patty salad that, frankly, is more tasty than it sounds!

A bunless Bacon Cheeseburger from Five Guys

A bunless Bacon Cheeseburger from Five Guys

That’s not to say that you won’t find local establishments willing to serve your needs, but when it doubt the chains can help you out.

Beware of Soups and Sauces

This is probably one of the tougher things to work around in a restaurant setting as soups and sauces are going to be pre-made in large batches (for the most part) and will likely have onion and garlic–common trigger-foods for people sensitive to fructans (also the family of FODMAPs that contain wheat). So while you might be able to get gluten-free pasta at an Italian restaurant, the sauce options might still prove problematic.

Dine at Non-Peak Times

Regardless of where you choose to eat, if you go during the dinner rush it’s going to be harder for the restaurant to accommodate your needs. Eating early or late, when the rush has died down and there’s more room to breathe in the kitchen, might make the chef more inclined to whip up something special for you. It can also help to become recognized regulars at one or two places–in the interest of keeping your steady business the staff will often go the extra mile.

Keep It Simple

As always, the less complex a dish the easier it will be to spot problematic ingredients. While it may not be the most exciting menu item, a simply grilled cut of salmon or steak will provide a satisfying supper with little chance of triggering an IBS episode (just watch out for marinades), especially when paired with a side of steamed vegetable and rice or a baked potato.

Unless you’re someplace like Applebee’s who doesn’t serve baked potatoes in the “morning times” (which, apparently, extends to at least 4pm as that was when we were ordering on Saturday).

The infamous House Salad from Olive Garden, sans onions, with oil and vinegar dressing.

The infamous House Salad from Olive Garden, sans onions, with oil and vinegar dressing.

And, when in doubt, almost every place has a house salad on the menu that can be topped with some sort of grilled protein. With oil and vinegar for a dressing you can eat least eat healthily if nothing else.

So the next time a group of friends is going out, do some homework and see if there’s a workable solution before you decline. Just because you’re on a restricted diet, doesn’t mean you have to live a restricted life.

Strategies for Public Grazing on a Low-FODMAP Diet


Last night was the 2013 Chef’s Sampler fundraiser for the local Children’s Home Society. We’ve enjoyed the offerings in previous years (over-enjoyed, to be truthful) but this was the first such event after adopting the Low-FODMAP diet as a preventative for IBS. I was really curious how much there would be for me to try considering my restrictions included fresh dairy, onions, garlic, wheat, corn, beans, and several other things.

Dave Stewart and the Vibe were this year's entertainment.

Dave Stewart and the Vibe were this year’s entertainment.

While I didn’t feel incredibly deprived after we made our rounds, I certainly didn’t leave feeling stuffed full to the gills like usual (Todd more than made up for me, however, judging by him post-Sampler tummy ache).  While at least 3 of the 42 listed restaurants were no-shows (or at least so late we missed them entirely) the only one I truly missed was Barnacle Bills–their margaritas and oysters on the half-shell have been a mainstay for ages.

Publix brought out these tasty buckwheat blinis topped with limoncello-marinated salmon, pickled onions and cream fraiche--I skipped the blini and onions but the salmon was divine!

Publix brought out these tasty buckwheat blinis topped with limoncello-marinated salmon, pickled onions and cream fraiche–I skipped the blini and onions but the salmon was divine!

At any rate, we enjoyed what we could and were finished with our circuit after only an hour and a half.


Bruster's Strawberry Sorbet is apparently made fresh on the premises and was some of the best sorbet I've ever had.

Bruster’s Strawberry Sorbet is apparently made fresh on the premises and was some of the best sorbet I’ve ever had.

Standouts from my point of view included Bruster’s Strawberry Sorbet, the Brisket Parfait from Piggy’s BBQ (shredded brisket, mashed potatoes, cheese, and bacon–I opted to skip the red sauce, just in case), and the Tahitian Tuna Tartini from 101.

101's Tahitian Tuna Tartini came in a cute little martini glass and featured a seaweed salad on the bottom. I really want more of it--soon!

101’s Tahitian Tuna Tartini came in a cute little martini glass and featured a seaweed salad on the bottom. I really want more of it–soon!

Since I was on the lookout for labels and ingredient lists, I was only a little surprised that many things weren’t labeled and that only 1 station, New Leaf Market, had clearly posted ingredient lists. Because of this I knew their green smoothie of coconut water, kale, and pineapple was safe for me to try and I was super-shocked that I like it! Not quite enough to splurge on a VitaMix any time soon, but enough to wonder if the Cuisinart could handle the job!

New Leaf Market's spread with clearly-marked ingredient lists.

New Leaf Market’s spread with clearly-marked ingredient lists.

This leads me to the tip-portion of this post. If you’re faced with a public grazing situation such as a cocktail hour, wedding reception, or food festival, here’s what I’d do to prevent too much disappointment or stomach upset:

  1. Assume that every sauce or soup is going to include at least one High-FODMAP ingredient and proceed accordingly. I opted to take a chance on a chicken and seafood cream sauce over grit cakes from Angelette’s but left most of the sauce on the plate. I also tried a smidgen of hummus (containing garlic) on a cucumber round from The Grain and a tiny taste of a rice bowl from Qdoba (the chicken likely included a bit of garlic and the guacamole included onions). Which takes us to…
  2. Portion control is your friend. I may have tempted fate with a few ill-advised options, but with true tasting portions involved, I didn’t have to worry about too much fallout from these flavorful dalliances. Granted, if you go whole-hog and try everything in tiny portions it will all add up and you may experience some symptoms after all.
  3. Stay away from the obvious ones. Anything breaded I just didn’t both with, the same with all the sandwiches and wraps out there. Tasty Eats did have a summer roll available that was clearly in a rice paper wrapper and was a nice way to start off the event with something I knew was going to be safe.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. True, many of the volunteers may not be knowledgeable about what they’re doling out, but someone behind the table will have the answer. Be polite, not pushy, and cheerfully say a “no thank you, then” if the ingredients would cause you issue. I had to forgo the crab cakes from Cabo’s and all of the cupcakes and cookies, but the catfish from Other Seineyard was breaded just on corn meal, something I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t ask.
  5. Eat ahead, if you’re really worried about not having enough options. This way you won’t have to tell a white lie when you say ‘no thanks, I’m not hungry’ but you can still hang out and have a good time without resentment or a rumbling tummy from hunger.

The fact that I could carefully make my way through an event like the Chef’s Sampler without feeling left out or hungry was a real coup in this switch to low-FODMAP living. While not all events will have enough variety to suffice, it was nice to eat out without worrying too much about being stuck with salad as the last resort. This is also good news for being about to taste my way around the Food & Wine Festival at EPCOT on our honeymoon this November. As long as I’m careful I should be able to keep the inconvenience to a minimum.

Take a Bite Of: BJ’s Grill


Earlier this month Todd and I found ourselves in small-town Mississippi, Louisville to be exact, for a one-day comics show and we were looking for someplace nice and local for supper Friday night. We thought we’d found a likely candidate, searching online, in the Red Onion Restaurant and headed that way only to find out it was only open on Saturdays and Sundays–oops!

Figuring food couldn’t be that hard to find on a Friday night, we headed back towards our hotel via Church Street and happened upon BJ’s Grill which had two things going for it from the get-go: it was open, and there were a number of cars parked around it. Let’s go!

BJ’s specializes in American cuisine and has a small, down-home feel with plenty of country-kitsch tchotchkes on the walls and a simple, 4-page laminated menu.

Their claim to fame, as far as we could tell, seems to be their potatoes: plate-sized baked potatoes, quartered lengthwise and smothered in your choice of meat with various other toppings available. I ordered the Philly Cheesesteak Potato while Todd went with the Country Fried Steak. We both opted out of the salad bar, but I gave into temptation and ordered some of their Fried Pickles, too.

The pickles had a nice, light breading on them and were not overly greasy–something you do have to watch out for. They also had a great flavor. The potato was interesting: the topping of minute steak, onions, peppers, and cheese was tasty (though the bell peppers were still very crisp), but the potato itself was way under-seasoned and, therefore, had no flavor of its own. A liberal addition of salt helped that, though.

Todd’s country-fried steak was tasty, he said, but we were both surprised that the gravy that came on it was brown, not the usual white pepper or sawmill gravy. The baked beans he selected as his side were very good, though. As for the onion rings he orders, these were more like onion petals, but they were–like the pickles–fried nice and light and with a very nice flavor.

I was pretty full but Todd has saved room for dessert and the dessert of the day was Caramel Cobbler a la mode.

A very loose cobbler–as you might expect with the main ingredient being caramel and not something heartier–it was super-sweet but the vanilla ice cream served to cut it a bit. I only had a couple of small tastes, but if you had a serious sweet-tooth attack, this would definitely cure it.

The service at BJs Grill was solicitous without hovering, the owners seemed to know their regulars and were chatty with us outsiders, too. If you find yourself in Louisville, MS, and in the mood for a good, solid meal at a decent price (our bill came to $27 and change), BJs would be worth a stop. Bring cash, though, as they do not accept credit cards of any kind.


Grazing Through the Greek Food Festival


As the weather turns cooler (at least in theory) it seems like Tallahassee cranks up the social calendar to full force. On the docket this weekend was the Greek Food Festival at the Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church.

This is an event we look forward to each year for the delicious food and little else. It’s generally crowded and noisy, and we’ve often gone long enough to pick up one of the plated dinners ($15 a piece) and a tray of desserts and fled to the car (which has been parked a block away, at least). I know, that doesn’t sound incredibly festive, does it?

Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church

Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church

Well, this year we tried things a little differently. We slowed down, enjoyed the evening and admired the church by the light of the full moon.


Gyro... pardon the half-eaten quality, I kept forgetting to take the photos until after a few bites

Because of Todd’s current job and it’s habit of having him work a bit late, we didn’t make it to the Festival until after dark, around 7:30. It was no less crowded or noisy (thanks to the band, but to call it noise probably isn’t acurate–the music was great but there was an added din from the crowd) but we decided to take our time.

First up, a gyro. Even though there’s a Greek restaurant across the street from my office I often forget about it. Thus, it’s probably been a year or my since my last gyro. Why I’ve gone so long without it’s delectable goodness is beyond me, but the one we got was well worth the wait in line and the $6 a piece they cost.

Foregoing the dinner plates meant that in order to enjoy a full meal we’d be waiting in a few more lines before the night was done. It turns out that this is a perfect way to graze through an evening meal. You get your first course and eat it while deciding which line to stand in next.

In our case we went for the A La Carte booth that carried various and sundry side dishes: moussaka, kota riganati, patates, Greek-style cole slaw and, our selections of the evening, spanikopita and tiropita ($3 each). We each has a spinach pastry of our own but split the cheese one. That turned out to be a very good idea as the tiropita was incredibly rich, half of one was more than plenty.

Spanikopita and Tiropita

The crowds around the three jewelry and souvenir booths were still pretty thick and it was getting late so we went ahead and got in line for the pastry room. Oh, my, this is what dreams are made of. Yes, I’m perfectly capable of making my own baklava and sundry other pastries but it’s just not the same. The line is long to get in but moves fairly quickly and, once inside, the pastries are all laid out with plenty of help to serve you whatever you like.

Greek Pastries

We start with the Express Box ($15 for finikia, kataife, kourambiedes, walnut swirl, pecan swirl, almond cookie and a baklava triangle) and then add a few favorites to our tray on the way to checking out ($2-$3 a piece). The kataife look like shredded wheat biscuits but are soaked in honey and filled with nuts, they are my absolute favorites. Second runner-up is the galatoboureko (glazed filo rolls filled with custard) and Todd loves the almond cookies and kourambiedes (wedding cookies covered in powdered sugar).

A new find, this year, was rice pudding ($4) that was not overly sweet with grains of rice that still held their texture–it was divine and we almost missed it because they were only on the right-hand side of the room and we’d taken the left side. Thankfully I spied it between groups passing by and snagged a cup.

Greek Fries

Greek Fries

Those were for later, though. First we headed over to the Taverna for a glass of sweet Greek wine($4 a glass) then browsed the vendor booths, the crowds around which were thinning out, and had a baby raccoon run right behind us. I figure he was either looking for leftovers or trying to tell us to pack it in for the night.

But we had one more stop to make. The wine was nearly gone and we needed something salty to balance the sweet so over to the Souvlaki tent where the Greek Fries ($3) were hiding. At this point in the evening (9 pm) the lines were practically non-existent and the crowds had thinned enough where you didn’t have to hurt your neck trying to see the band and the dancers on stage.

The fries are awesome. To duplicate them at home season your favorite fries with oregano, garlic powder, salt, paprika and parmesan cheese. You know the only thing that would have made them better? Some garlic aioli to dip them in.

We figured, at the end of the night, we’d spent pretty much the same amount on food as we did in previous years when it was glorified take-out and had a lot more fun in the process. We grabbed a couple of our refillable water bottles out of the fridge before leaving the house so, even with the wine, we spent $32 dollars on dinner and $34 in the pastry hall (but those will last us for several days, still), which is a great deal considering our usual night outs are at least another $30 and don’t provide us excellent desserts for the following week.

Have you checked out your local food festivals, lately?

Dear Mr. Knowlton…


In the September 2010 issue of Bon Appetit, Andrew Knowlton (as the BA Foodist) responds to a reader’s question about the best way for a large party to split a check.

Dear Cecilia,

Unless you’re with only one other person (okay, maybe two–I’m feeling generous) or you’re 17 years old and out with a group of friends at a local chain, splitting a check is lame…

He then whinges on for a few more inches about how tough it was being a Brooklyn waiter and how you should just (wo)man up and put the entire thing on your own credit card and hope your friends pay you back.

But, really… the best word he could come up with is lame?

First of all, mingling money with friends is the fast track to ending a friendship. I speak from experience having been the point person on a bulk buy of fabric several years ago and one of the girls stiffed me for her portion. It took certified letters and untold stress to get the money from her and it was during a time just after my divorce when I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in my monthly budget (this was after I’d dug myself out of credit card debt and canceled all of the cards I’d previously owned so we’re talking real dollars here, not credit). It wasn’t that she was a bad person or a bad friend in general, it just underlines the point that you should never lend money to friends unless you don’t want it back.

I cannot advocate anyone picking up the tab for a group of 6 or 8 friends when there’s the possibility that it will add to their credit debt. “Thoughtful and considerate” are gestures best left free of interest charges. It’s far easier, in contrast, to pick up the tab for one or two friends in a ladies-who-lunch situation with the express understanding that the next check will be picked up by someone else, that to do so for a large group.

Second, might I remind Mr. Knowlton and those like him the industry they are (were) in. It’s called the service industry for a reason, more specifically the hospitality industry. While I know, firsthand, just how difficult some customers can be and that “the customer is always right” is not always correct, your customers are paying a premium for food that comes with service and, yes, it should be with a smile or at least some civility.

If a server sees a large party without obvious familial hallmarks and doesn‘t ask, beforehand, if this will be on one check or separated then he deserves the check-splitting headache that’s to come.

Finally, if you are going out in a group with the plan to split the check, here are some ways to make the process easier:

  • Call ahead. Whether reservations are required or not, it’s always a good to give a restaurant a heads up that you’ll be arriving en masse and, while you’re at it, ask if they are able to split checks for large groups. Most will tell you it’s no problem but some will say no. If you run into one of the latter you can make plans to go someplace more group-friendly or advise everyone in your group to bring cash. If the restaurant has a website with their menu online, folks can figure out ahead of time what they’ll need to bring.
  • Tell the server you’ll need separate checks before the first glass of water is ordered. Forewarned is forearmed and it’s up to them how they want to keep track of the divisions.
  • Have patience. Not only do larger orders take longer to prepare, serve and clear, there will be extra time preparing the checks and processing them. If you’re on a time-line (like our ladies nights heading off to see a movie after dinner), make sure you give your server ample time to process 8 credit cards and still have time to get to your show. For that matter, ordering in waves–before everyone arrives–let’s the kitchen get a jump on those first few dishes.
  • Arrange large gatherings on nights other than Friday and Saturday or have an early dinner mid-afternoon on the weekends. A less crowded dining room means less-harried waitstaff and more flexibility for your group.
  • Tip well. Yes, it’s more work to process 6 smaller checks than 1 large one, so show your appreciation for their willingness to work with your situation. Large parties usually get gratuity added on to the bill, but a few dollars more per check adds up and may win you a favored server if you frequent the same establishments.

So go out and have your fun! And if you continue to receive less-than-stellar service from the hospitality industry consider turning those Girls Nights Out into Girls Nights In and keep your dollars where they will be appreciated.