Contest Results: Foraging in a Fast Food Nation

Mark’s Daily Apple readers show that with a little ingenuity and, perhaps, a dose of compromise (remember the 80/20) it’s entirely possible to successfully navigate restaurants and even (gasp!) the odd fast food stop. Ideal? In some cases, maybe not. Realistic? Absolutely. Because business lunches, birthday parties and travel does happen, it pays to know how to forage in the modern world.

Many thanks to everyone that submitted a picture as part of the “Foraging in a Fast Food Nation” contest. And the winner is…

Mark’s Daily Apple reader Adam. His is the fifth picture in the slideshow, the Chopped Chicken Cobb Salad with an apple instead of bread from Panera.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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72 thoughts on “Contest Results: Foraging in a Fast Food Nation”

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  1. Those all look really good! I didn’t get my picture up because we were out of town and not near a computer, but I had a farm omelet at Bob Evans and had them cook it in butter instead of oil and served with a salad instead of hash browns.

  2. Terrific ideas! Going to grill some meat before I get too hungry…

    Funny, once I saw the original post, I ran to my husband in the kitchen and said it was a great time to go try the grilled double down from KFC! Glad to see someone submitted it. Needless to say we didn’t go 🙂 and I don’t think I will.

    I will definitely remember some of these ideas for our frequent drives from Chicago to the East Coast.

    1. My husband and I had a similar conversation about a grilled double down and finally decided that we’d put it on the list of last resort foods if we’re, say, trapped in an airport or a mall with absolutely no other options.

  3. All I can say is I wish we had a Chipotle nearby. So many yummy, primal options!

      1. That’s disappointing. Not exactly surprising, but still. Chipotle has been a favorite quick-lunch option for us for awhile now due to the ability to cobble a tasty, fairly primal plate. Probably going to keep it on the menu due to convenience, but maybe I’ll stick to the braised pork instead of chicken?

        1. EVERYTHING that is cooked, is cooked in soybean oil–it doesn’t matter which meat it is. (I’ve written to them about the ingredients in their foods do to my son’s allergy issues.)

          Even so, I do go there for part of my 20%. I LOVE their guac, and getting a salad w/ chicken, salsa, and guac is about as primal as I’ve found eating out, even w/ the chicken being cooked in veg. oil.

  4. Obviously I’m disappointed I didn’t win this contest but getting lots of new suggestions and ideas of how to order a good meal at some chain restaurants kind of makes up for it. Now I don’t have to feel like I always have to turn down an offer to go out to eat.

  5. I don’t know theses places so I assume they are in America. Good ideas with the substitutions, though!

  6. Working in an office with no cafeteria and frequent business lunches, these pictures and descriptions will help inspire me to make cleaner lunch choices from now on; well done everyone!

    1. It’s good for you when you at least have a cafeteria, we don’t have it and the nearby good places are miles away. If you could put a post of lunch boxes would be nice!

  7. I think at least one purpose of this post was to show us that handing over control of a meal to a stranger is basically rolling the dice with our health; not that we should NEVER indulge, just acknowledge that the easiest way to make sure your food is healthy is to grow, raise, buy and cook it yourself.

  8. This was a really useful post for me, and one that I’m going to bookmark and refer back to often. Many of us will use eating out as an excuse to go “off plan”, rationalizing that it’s too difficult to eat primal in a “regular” restaurant or fast food joint. But here’s some pretty compelling proof that with a little bit of work and creativity, you can find something primal to eat just about anywhere.

  9. This was an interesting contest. I sometimes find it hard when I go out to eat with friends and family to find something that will fit into the Primal way of eating. I’d say 90% of the time i’m able to keep true to the way but sometimes they may have some secret sauce or something that your not aware of until it’s too late!

    Some people look at me wacky when I tell the waiter/waitress to hold something like “The Bread” 🙂

    1. They look at you even wackier if, when it arrives, you immediately peel off the offending slab of gluten and throw it on the floor! Well… maybe I’m being a bit too dramatic. But they do give you a heckofa look when you immediately remove it and place it politely on your napkin…

      1. LOL–or when you take a napkin, remove the offending bread, then wipe off your plate and any food that may have been touching bread.

  10. I loved this contest because I do it all the time! I think the key to foraging in the fast food world is to be “that guy,” like Mark said. You kind of feel like a jerk with all the requests and the length of time it takes to make a simple order. Just remember that it’s worth it! With a little effort (and self control!) you can make most meals at restaurants at least mostly primal!

    1. Your post reminds me of a meal last week. Staying at a bed and breakfast, the owner announced the breakfast as a “stuffed french toast”, which was apparently french toast literally stuffed w cream cheese and jelly. I asked if it was possible to just have eggs, which they happily obliged. Other guests ate these gigantic stuffed carbs happily, but then complained about how full they were.

      As I was leaving, the owners were eating their breakfast: eggs and sausage like me! They said they didn’t know how people could eat those stuffed things, but people seem to want to indulge when travelling! I had to laugh! Indulging for me is eating well and feeling good:)

  11. I eat alot less often than I used to, but these contest entries give me good ideas of what to order when I do.

  12. Eating out and being Primal is very easy. I found it was much harder being on a “diet” and going out to eat. We went to Perkins this weekend and I got the farmers omelet made with butter with an extra side of bacon and fruit rather than the hasbrowns and toast or pancakes…Kept me full all day.

    I really like the cheeseburger salad…looks sooo yummy might have to make one for dinner!!

    I also wish we had a Chipotle by me too 🙁 There is some good food there and I heard they are going to start looking into expanding into breakfast too!!

    1. I agree it is a million times easier than when I was vegetarian or on a traditional diet.

  13. I found this contest to be hard. I am really challenged when I go out to eat. I need to get better at it and these pictures sure helped.

  14. Judging from these submissions, it seems Chipotle is pretty popular for the primal eating crowd. I love the restaurant, but there isn’t a location that’s convenient for us to stop at very often.

    My husband and son just smile when I start in with “no croutons, no cheese, no bread…”

  15. Really great ideas here. Love that this came up because it gives me some great ideas for living on the road. Thanks for this!

  16. I enjoyed this contest, very functional as 20% happens a lot on the road :). Other peoples ideas have greatly expanded my road foraging possibilities.

  17. As someone who travels fairly often for work and is on the road a lot, this was by far one of the best ideas/contests I could have hoped for. So many fantastic ideas to help keep me on track while I’m on the road!!!!

  18. i like seeing all the substitutions, knowing i’m not the only one making life harder for waiters and waitresses.

    1. I work as a cook & server. Ain’t no thang! If you feel like a pain, just play the gluten “intolerant” card. They would much rather avoid a “reaction”. Personally, I am more bothered by people asking for ketchup for their mid-well filet 😉

  19. I travel pretty much every week for business. It’s now a no-brainer for me to eat paleo on the road. My guideline: always make the healthy choice. Basically, I’d rather not eat than eat poorly. Often I’m in seriously rural places. Walmart is my new secret! Before y’all hate on Walmart, know that you can eat fast and well there. Bananas, tins of sardines, beef jerky, and oranges can be found, yes, at Walmart. Stop the rental car there and you’re set.

    Also, in a starvation moment, McDonalds does have fresh fruit. And coffee.

  20. I’ve never really found it too difficult “foraging”. I live in a small town & I never eat at the 4 “chain” places anyway. I work in a restaurant that is Very primal friendly & I have the advantage of being one of the cooks 🙂 On my rare trips to the “big city” when I have eaten there, I’ve just ordered stuff “hold the bread & potatoes, add lettuce” or whatever.
    when all else fails: IF

  21. Narrowly Avoiding Poison: an MDA Guide to eating out.

    I’ll send some friends this to hopefully help them make slightly better choices… Me I’ll just IF 😉

  22. This is awesome! After the initial learning curve when I first went Primal, I have had no problem eating just about anywhere! I actually get my jollies when the server gives me “the look.” C’mon, if you’ve ever special ordered a sandwich or pizza without the bready bits, you know “the look.” It’s especially fun when they are completely dumbfounded by the weird recipes I request 🙂

  23. Yeah, as others have mentioned, there are LOTS of Chipotle submissions. I used to think it was the bee’s knee’s until I just found out (this last weekend) that everything is cooked in the PUFA train-wreck known as soybean oil.


    Very nice submissions, everyone! I especially like the Brazilian Barbecue. YUM!!!

  24. This was a great challenge to show people that you really can go primal at just about any restaurant. Even if it’s as simple as removing the bun/wrapper, to custom ordering your entree – it IS possible! Next challenge: go primal at a vegetarian restaurant! 😉

  25. Great submissions. I was hoping to win with my steak salad from Chipotle, but it’s hard to compete with some of those meals. It’s good to see a variety like that, knowing that it’s getting safer and safer to eat out.

  26. With all the submissions from chipotle it reminded me. I tend to gravitate toward more traditionally ethnic restaurants. The less Americanized they are the easier it is for me to eat primally. Mexican, Eastern or western African, chinese etc. Seems the traditional dishes are all veggie and meat heavy without sugar and easily removed grains until they get changed for an american palate.

  27. I have a pretty easy time creating the special order at a restaurant. My favorite primal fast food? Carls Jr’s $6 burger. They already have a low carb option. I remove the cheese (has trans fats) and sauce, then add bacon. Mmmmm, Tasty! After that would be a protein style hamburger with both kinds of onions and pickle at In N out.
    I like to see that there’s hope at even a bread shop for primal eaters. I tend to turn my nose at most places’ obvious options. I’m glad to see what most people order. Oh, and when I go out for Mexican, I like to get fajitas sans tortillas. Those are awesome!

  28. Love it, love it, love it! Thanks.

    (Please remove the apostrophe from “Egg McMuffin’s”. Thanks.)

    1. Yes! Thank you! Another primal editor on the prowl! (And too many exclamation marks in one post!)

  29. Glad I ate lunch before going through this slide show! My fav is Red Robins lettuce wrap bacon cheese burgers without sauce. Yummmmm…

  30. Thank you all for these submissions and the organization. Great for helping to place meals on the go.

  31. wow! Great to see so many good options at restaurants, even some decent fast food! Definitely will bookmark this one to remind me I have no excuses for eating junk when I forget to bring my lunch to work!

  32. foraging in a fast food world can prove difficult. I had to do this when Atkins and gluten free were unknown. People would just stare at what you were eating and say you don’t eat bread? I would die without bread, not knowing that I would die if I kept eating it. Thank goodness for the change of times and attitudes that are more accepting of differences.

  33. Cool beans! I’m happy to see some great ideas for eating out. We don’t go out much, but I’ve been worried about what to do. Today, though, for lunch we had lunch out while visiting other schools. I had salmon, green beans and carrots. But the carrots were cooked to taste just like sweet potatoes! I don’t know what they did, not sweet, but not like orangey carrots. So, it wasn’t as hard as this newbie thought. 🙂

  34. I’m getting really good at ordering creatively (and non-fussily) when out, and it’s nice to see others displaying the knack as well! Even picked up a few ideas looking through these pictures. It really isn’t that hard to find something you can eat most places, and without being super-picky at the same time. Though, inevitably, you will become known as the “picky eater” in your group, despite the fact that you’re probably the only one there who would suck down marrow and order organ meat…

  35. I must confess that I was a bit disappointed, yet also relieved, to see that this contest was not quite what my imagination ran away with after reading the title. I had visions of dumpster diving off the I-5, limp burger patty clutched triumphantly in hand, knee-deep in soggy buns, vegetable oil and “secret sauce”. Instead I get great ideas for being Primal in a pinch? Yeah, that’s much better 😉

  36. I liked this contest because of its practicality. I get stuck at a fast food restaurant from time to time, and I have to pick the most primal thing on the menu.

  37. Chipotle Burrito Bowls without the rice is my go to meal if nothing else Primal is available!!! MmMMMMM

    Grok On!!!

  38. Wow I must say that these photos have shown me that being socially awkward shouldn’t be a concern for us! We can eat smart almost anywhere if we really use our noggins.

  39. I travel a lot so I’ve had practice eating primally at restaurants. I generally don’t order anything special – it just draws more attention to my ‘odd’ eating choices, particularly when I’m with customers. I prefer to order straight off the menu, then leave the grains and sugars behind.

    Even trying to be subtle, though, I’ve had a couple people I travel with regularly ask me about how I eat, and we’ve had some excellent conversations. I like to think I’ve managed a convert or two to primal living.

  40. Just goes to show you that you can enjoy regular ‘life’ out with friends and family and still make great choices! Just remember to treat your server nicely, ask with a smile, and she or he will make things happen for you! Tonight we are going out to my sons favorite place, a locally owned small mom and pop joint that makes burgers with ANYTHING on them. We will have double buffalo patties, bacon, egg fried in the bacon grease, and avacado, japeleno and onion. I would much rather give them $40 to support their family as they help me feed my primal family of 4 than give Burger King $20 for carbs! Is it grass fed? no, but I will consider that my 20% and enjoy my family time just the same!

  41. I consider my self the biggest winner: I didn’t participate. If the contest was longer I might have, but I wasn’t about to go to any chain restaurant just to enter a contest. I’ll wait until I have no choice in the matter – which means the contest would have to be a year long or more.

    I travel a lot. However parks have grills, and you can buy small bags of charcoal. True primal meals were cooked in the way, so I figure if I can’t cook it in a park it isn’t primal enough to eat anyway.

  42. I found this contest really inspiring! A database should be made of all the ways to “eat Primal” in a “fast food fix”!

  43. For dinner tonight, we had grass-fed burgers on lettuce and tomato, topped with cheddar, red onion, and organic ketchup. Carrot sticks on the side. My son wanted to go to Sonic, because his school pushes fast food for various fundraisers, and it’s a fundraiser night. Since the burgers were thawed and ready in the fridge, it took less time to cook them than it would have to get in the car and order. I like the Sonic southwest salad, though.

  44. Mark, can you post the meal details more slowly? I want to read them but they type out fast and then poof, they are gone.

    1. I thought so too but you can stop the slideshow and then go slowly through the pictures. I am heading to Chipotle the next time I am out. Now only to decide what to get.

  45. I haven’t eaten out in about a month, but when I do it’s simple. I don’t eat meat at restaurants, except kosher ones, so I don’t even look at the menu anymore. I ask them what fish they have that isn’t breaded and order it with butter on top and double veggies. Yum 🙂

  46. Chipotle has always been my preferred post-hike meal. It just hits the spot. Also, if I’m traveling in California, I always love In’n’Out’s protein style hamburger with mustard instead of the sauce. I found they do a good job of separating gluten containing items (buns) from the lettuce, tomato, etc. If I’m starving I’ll get two 4 patty burgers like this with no problems for my stomach that hates non-primal food.

  47. In some places you don’t get so lucky. one time I ordered an entree in a Mexican restaurant. I asked them to keep the rice and beans (~45% of the volume of the meal)and give me more sauteed vegetables. They did, but they insisted on charging extra for the veggies. I guess that shows you just how cheap those calories are.

  48. My mouth is watering as I type this… BUT all those fruits, veggies, and meats I see are most likely NON-organic, conventional, grain-fed, pesticide-ridden, and treated with absolutely no regard to its value as a living thing. It’s nice to see primal foods displayed, but they TRULY cannot be given that title.

  49. I didn’t participate because I don’t eat out much either. But the primalized sandwiches were probably the most challenging for people, so kudos.

    I’d love to see a Primal post on the average restaurant meal (non-fast-food) — how much low-quality fat, salt, and corn syrup the average obvious primal options contain (stir fry dishes, sauces for meats, dressings), and where a survey sample of restaurant meat is sourced from (prob. CAFO’s).

    While it’s a step in the right direction to eat out less, I think it’s important to paint a realistic picture about just how scary even the primalized alternatives to menu items are due to their prep (low-qual oils, sugars), sourcing (meats, veggies).

  50. Back when I was doing just plain low-carbing, I used to order lettuce-wrapped burgers at Carl’s Jr. and some of the other fast food burger places. Now, I won’t get anything containing ground beef unless I’m pretty sure they grind it on-site. The slide show above has given me some good ideas. I’m going to have to get back to Chipotle, soon!

  51. Whoever ordered the Egg McMuffins with no buns and no cheese: it’s much cheaper to order it as “2 round eggs and 2 canadian bacon.” Also, throw in an apple dippers ($1, it’s just peeled cut up apple) and toss the caramel sauce.

    The winning meal? I eat that every time I go to Panera! I have celiac, so bread is not ever an option.

  52. Last time I ate at Panera Bread I enjoyed the cobb salad with an apple instead of bread. Too bad I didn’t enter the cotnest!

  53. Is there a link or other list of winners? We eat at Panera all the time and the Cobb Salad and apple will be our first choice from now on. It’d be good to have a list for when we’re at other restaurants.

  54. We don’t have Chipotle where I live, but we do have a close substitute.. Moe’s Southwest Grill. I love their stuff and it’s just as easy to “Primalize” it as Chipotle.