15 Tips to Eating Healthy While Dining Out
When you eat at home, you are generally good. You load up on green leafy vegetables, a good source of protein, and choose a healthy and nutritious starch, such as quinoa. You snack on veggies and hummus and get in a good smoothie or protein shake throughout your day to get your dose of vitamins and minerals.
When you go out to eat, chances are that your healthy food choices take a turn for the worse. Even the seemingly “healthy” foods are riddled with extras to boost the flavor and your calorie count. Studies have shown that when you eat out, the food is nutritionally inferior than that which you can make at home. But have no fear! You can eat healthier when you go out to eat if you know what to look for and what to avoid.
Here are 15 tips to making healthier choices when you dine out:
1. Map Your Day
If you know that you are going for Italian tonight and you are going to eat a few slices of pizza or a thick piece of lasagna, eat smaller meals earlier in your day. You will have more room to enjoy your meal later, and then you won’t feel guilty about ordering what you really want off of the menu.
2. Do Your Homework
If you know where you are going out to eat, you can check out the restaurant’s menu online. Some eateries even list calories, or at least cooking methods – all online – so you can decide what you will eat before you step foot in the restaurant. If nothing catches your eye, or if you feel as if going to that restaurant would compromise your healthy eating choices, find another venue and try something new. Thai anyone?
3. Stay Thirsty My Friends
Drink water or a cup of hot tea before your meal to assist with digestion. It will cause you to eat less overall as the liquid will tell your brain that you are full sooner, before you have bloated belly regrets.
4. Bottoms Up
If you must imbibe, avoid any fancy “girly” drinks that have exotic or tropical names and are full of colorful juices with wasted calories and sugar. Instead, keep it simple. Have a glass of wine, beer, sake, vodka and tonic or a straight-up, no-frills martini.
5. Order First
While you might have good intentions and want to choose a healthy dish when you first get to the restaurant, if you order in the middle of the crowd or toward the end, you are more likely to order something less healthy. When you order first, your healthy choice may just convince your fellow diners to go for the the grilled salmon instead of the bacon cheeseburger supreme.
6. Salad First
For many at home dinners, a meal doesn’t begin without a salad. Why would you change that when you go out to eat? Ask for a salad as your appetizer, before you order anything else on the menu. Avoid cream-based dressings and fatty toppings on your salad, which can rack up the calories and fat without you even realizing it. Better yet, get your dressing of choice on the side and then you can control how much or little you want on your greens. Once you are done, you will feel fuller after your fibrous first course.
7. Take Your Time
When your meal comes and you are ready to dig in, stop yourself from eating too much too soon. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to get the message that you are full, so if you eat too fast, your brain won’t realize it until it is too late. Take your time. Enjoy your dish and savor the flavors, and you will eat less without even trying.
8. To-Go Please
Portions at restaurants are typically two, three or even four times larger than a dish you would prepare for yourself at home. A smart option is to ask for a to-go container at the start of your meal, and put aside a portion of your meal right from the start. By doing so, you will eat less throughout your meal and you will be less likely to continue eating far after you are full.
9. Portions Matter
Understand real portion sizes now before you enter your favorite dining establishment. A typical portion size for protein is the palm of your hand and look for a fist-sized portion for starches, such as pasta or potatoes. Any larger and you are more than likely overeating.
10. Skip the Bread and Dip
Italian bread and olive oil or chips and salsa are staples for many restaurant tables. And when it is in front of you, you are more likely to mindlessly dip. Before the server places the basket down, kindly say that you’d prefer to skip it this time. This will save you hundreds of calories and will allow you more room in your belly to enjoy your main course. Out of sight, out of mind!
11. Crunchy, Creamy, Slathered, Stuffed, Buttery and Loaded
If you see any of these words, step away from your dinner fork! These are terms that are essentially telling you that the dish is unhealthy. Other words to avoid are scalloped, pan-fried, sauteed, au gratin and cheesy. I know, they sound delicious, but the temporary flavor is so not worth it! Just imagine how many sun salutations you will have to go through to burn off those cheese fries!
12. Be Picky
If you don’t like your chicken fried, or want a lighter option, ask for it grilled, steamed or boiled instead. You can always substitute French fries for a side salad or veggies. Just think about what you would normally eat at home, and follow your gut. Even if a menu says no substitutions, it’s your dime, so make sure that you get what you will enjoy. This way, you won’t have regrets later when your pants fit a little tighter.
13. Order Light
Many menus have lighter options, and many of these dishes are not salads. These plates are typically smaller portions or have lower calories and fat, so they are probably safe, for the most part. Just be weary of low carb options which typically skimp on the carb, but are loaded with calories and fat in disguise. Read all of the ingredients carefully in these dishes too, and if it doesn’t sound good or if it’s an ingredient that you won’t enjoy, ask for your dish without it.
14. Apps Please
Just like at a wedding, most of the best food comes in the form of the h’or d’oeuvres or appetizers, so why even bother sampling the main course? Eat a sensible appetizer, such as ceviche and a salad, and avoid the larger entree portions altogether.
15. Order Dessert
You made smart choices throughout your meal. You didn’t pick on the crunchy bread. You ate a sensible entree. Now, it’s your reward – dessert. No, don’t go for the molten lava cake or double decker banana split with extra everything. But having a fruit cup or a tiny serving of something a bit more sensible will satiate your sweet tooth and reward you for your hard work at staying healthy.
When you dine out, you are going to have to make some concessions from your typical eating standards. Accept this before you sit down to your dinner, and be prepared to have willpower and stick to your principles. Don’t succumb to peer pressure and split the mozzarella sticks and chicken wings. Instead, set the tone for the entire meal and order what feels good for your body and your health goals. Who knows, maybe you will influence those around you to order healthy dining options too!