3 Tips for Dining Out With Crohn’s Disease

by Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. Health Writer

Having Crohn’s disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), doesn’t mean you need to give up your social life. The following tips can help you feel your best and enjoy a meal out with your family and friends.

1. Advanced planning is key.

If possible, help plan the outing. This will allow you to choose a restaurant where you have eaten before or where you know there will be something on the menu you can safely eat. Because the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation recommends eating smaller meals at more frequent intervals, you may also want to steer away from buffets and places where eating big quantities of food is encouraged. Tapas, anyone?

Use technology to your advantage. Most restaurants have their menus available online for you to look at in advance. This way, you can make your food choices at home in a more thoughtful environment. If you are going out to a game or concert where you may be eating, check out sites like VeggieHappy. It’s an online tool that partners with food service companies that serve ballparks and large venues. The site highlights healthier choices that might be available. Many stadiums and ballparks now let you bring your own food into the venue, making it easier for you to pack and plan a healthy meal. Check online first to see.

Calling the restaurant ahead of time to talk about available menu choices is also perfectly acceptable. Ask if you can speak with the chef. Most of today’s chefs have extensive training in special dietary needs. They are usually happy to accommodate and put into place what they have learned. If possible, call in the earlier part of the day during their meal preparation time.

2. Choose safely from the menu.

Everyone’s diet is individualized, but there are some foods that all people living with Crohn’s may want to avoid, like greasy, spicy, and fried foods. When ordering, you can simply ask how something is prepared and then request that it be baked instead of fried with the seasoning or sauce served on the side.

Sugary foods should also be reduced. If you find yourself at a place that specializes in sweet foods such as a pancake house, choose an option like oatmeal with fruit or boiled eggs with whole grain toast instead of chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream.

It can also be tempting when you eat out to choose foods that are high in fat and low in nutrients. However, choosing foods that are nutritious will help you feel your best, not only during that meal but for the days following as well. Picking out foods with a high-water content can also help you feel better by combating dehydration. Fruits and vegetables are usually good choices because they are nutrient-packed and have a relatively high water content.

If your dietary needs are complex and you want to skip long discussions with the wait staff, consider bringing a chef card that outlines the foods you wish to avoid. You can have several cards made that are laminated and fit in your wallet that explain to the chef what foods or types of preparations you would like to be left out of your meal. You can then give the card to the manager or hand it in with your food order.

3. Be thoughtful if the meal time is extended.

One of the dangers of eating out is that you end up eating more than you would at home. This happens not only with the portion sizes, but also if the meal time is extended for social reasons.

The portions served in restaurants are often huge, so once you have eaten what you want, ask for a to-go box and put the rest of your meal aside to take home.

Lingering at the table can also be a time to consume more coffee or alcohol. Because excess coffee and alcohol should be avoided if you have Crohn’s disease, it can be helpful to order an herbal tea, or bring a few tea bags with you from home. This way you can just ask for hot water, sip your tea, and chill with everyone else.

The bottom line

While eating at a restaurant or other event with family and friends can be more challenging if you are living with Crohn’s, it’s totally doable if you follow these tips. A little extra preparation can go a long way in ensuring you have a great time, no matter what dining destination you choose.

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D.

Davenport is the founder of Tracyshealthyliving.com. Using the latest scientific research, she helps people live their healthiest lives via one-on-one coaching, corporate talks, and sharing the more than 1,000 health-related articles she's authored.