Being the Australians that we are, Brett and I are suckers for a good brunch. But as we changed our approach to eating, so did our cafe and menu choices. When eating out, we prefer to keep our food gluten, dairy and refined sugar free 90% of the time. Over time, we’ve developed a few simple steps that will ensure that we’re not those people that friends can’t be bothered inviting to brunch!
STEP 1: Research ahead
Every Saturday, we head out for our regular coffee and we are so grateful for the number of cafes that now promote healthy, clean eating. Almost every cafe these days will now have food options catered to the more health-conscious, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case. If you are able to, get in early and suggest a cafe that best suits you and propose this as the brunch location. Your friends will appreciate you taking the hard work out of making a decision, without even realising your sneaky ulterior motive!
If you’re not sure about what cafes you should be recommending, thankfully the internet makes it so easy to find places that cater to your specific requirements. Next time you’re searching for somewhere new, try putting ‘organic cafe’, ‘boutique coffee’ or ‘gluten-free’ into google maps. This strategy has been unbelievably helpful in discovering our go-to’s here in Singapore.
Once you do find your perfect cafe, try striking up a conversation with the staff. You’ll usually find that these guys are happy to offer their recommendations for other cafes that have similar menus, and they may even divulge their favourite spot if you’re lucky enough! If you keep repeating this line at each new cafe, you’ll eventually have a fantastic network of places to choose from.
For our local readers, try to avoid hawker-style and kopi cafes, as processed sugar, processed dairy products, MSG, gluten, and other inflammatory ingredients are almost impossible to avoid.
STEP 2: Re-write the menu
If you’re someone who constantly finds themselves saying “but...there’s nothing on the menu I can eat!!”, then this is the step for you. If step 1 isn’t an option, rather than skip out on a good brunch with friends or leave starving, try this tactic at any cafe.
Most cafes will have an ‘Add Extras’ section of their brunch menu. If you treat this as a ‘Design Your Own’ instead, you can pick and choose the perfect brunch without being a hassle. We often use this section to create our own wholesome plate of eggs, bacon, avocado and spinach, and spice it up with any other extras that the specific cafe may offer.
The chefs may even be willing to diverge from the items listed on the extras menu. Take a look and see if any of the ingredients from the rest of the menu tickles your fancy. Be brave, ask for other garnishes or ingredients - just keep in mind that polite requests go further!
(PS: Don’t forget to agree on the price of any off-menu extras beforehand. An extra plate of smashed avo can become quite costly!)
STEP 3: Swap it like it’s hot!
If your friends have insisted on a place that you know isn’t going to give you many food options, here are some easy wins to clean up that brunch order:
Most cafes offer a wide range of milk options now. If you’re desperate for a cappuccino, try a milk alternative such as almond, oat or cashew milk.
House-made nut milk varieties are even better, as they often require the nuts to be activated and don't include hidden nasties such as synthetic oils, stabilisers or sugars. These are usually only available in more health focused cafe’s, so keep an eye out for this option!
Just be wary, not all milk alternatives are created equal. Try to avoid soy and low-fat milk due to the negative effects it can have on hormone regulation in both men and women. We’ll be working on an article that gives a more in-depth explanation on why we choose to avoid these. Keep an eye out for it!
If in doubt, the simplest option is a black coffee. A good long black will have you satisfied for hours without the afternoon sugar/carbs crash. Cold-brew and cold-drip coffee is gaining popularity for its smooth flavour and high caffeine content.
Regardless of whether you go for milk or black, try to grab a single origin bean, and avoid instant coffee at all costs!
One of the biggest changes we’ve made to our diet, is cutting out bread and wheat. This was probably the most challenging ingredient for us to avoid when we do brunch, but have since become accustomed to asking for simple alterations.
Try asking for no bread with your meal, or if the cafe has a ‘strictly no menu alterations’ policy, ask for the toast to be served on the side. You can also see if they are willing to substitute the bread for an item of the “Design Your Own” menu.
If you’re really ‘kneading’ some bread, we’d suggest indulging in a rye or spelt sourdough. These particular grains and the sourdough fermentation process make it much easier to digest.
Tell us in the comments below if you want to know more about why we cut out bread, and why you might consider it too!
Pastries and cakes
This one is tricky, especially when you have to walk past the display counter to get to your seat. It’s even worse when you’re surrounded by all of your friends chowing down on instagram worthy desserts!
Some cafes have started to stock amazing wheat/dairy/sugar-free options, but many do not. The best option here is to forgo the sweets entirely. Try to hold out for something that can truly satisfy that sweet tooth without doing the damage that refined sugar will. Coffee with no cake will provide a nice metabolic kick and prevent further sugar cravings later that day.
Every single cafe will provide salt, pepper and sugar as a bare minimum, but these usually aren’t the best quality. For those with the sweet tooth, steer well clear of the sugar syrups and packets you’ll find at your table. Opt for the packets of stevia which most cafes stock these days. When you find them, stock up on a few packets and keep them in your bag.
If you’re committed to the cleanest brunch experience possible, you may want to consider bringing your own salt and sweetener. A small stash of pink himalayan sea salt can really boost any meal experience. Other natural sweeteners are becoming readily available such as stevia, coconut sugar, pure maple syrup, non-refined honey, rice malt syrup, agave, monk fruit sweetener and xylitol.
If you go for this option, just remember to ask for the chefs to remove whatever it is that you’ll be adding back in!
STEP 4: Rephrase your requirements
Between the two of us, we have worked in a number of restaurants and cafes, and have seen just about every kind of food sensitivity and dietary request. Cafes are far more meticulous about what they serve you when it comes to allergies.
If you feel like your preferences may not be taken seriously, try rephrasing your gluten-free request, as “I have an allergy to gluten. Can you please make sure that this is gluten-free?”. We have personally found this request transcends any ambiguity when it comes to your food order.
STEP 5: Eat it with love
We don’t always get what we want, so if you find yourself in a situation where none of the strategies above will work, don’t stress! Instead, relax and eat every bite with love and appreciation. This will let your body digest your meal more easily, and you’ll be less likely to tank your brunch experience by being stressed out. Unless you’ve got a genuine food allergy, a meal here or there that goes outside of your normal eating patterns isn’t the end of the world.
And that's it! Try out some of these 5 simple steps at your next brunch experience and let us you know how it goes in the comments below!