Eating out with friends and family can be such a treat. Not having to clean the kitchen, grocery shop, and prepare a meal can be a blessing. Let’s be honest, eating out can be nice. I know I enjoy it.
When you have committed to a diet, or to eating well and being healthy, eating out at restaurants and get togethers can throw you off track. What should you order? Can you order anything you like? Should you splurge and just have another slice of that delicious wood-fired pizza? The truth is, just because you want to live a healthy balanced lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to coop yourself up and hide.
Here are a few tips to eating healthy while dining out.
Read the menu in advance
In today’s world, you can find most menus online before you even arrive. The bigger restaurant chains often have calorie counts listed for your convenience. Take a look at what a restaurant has to order so you can make a more educated decision and not order based upon current hunger levels, peer pressure, or impulse. Ordering first can also be beneficial as other people’s choices are less likely to influence your decision. You won’t have a chance to get jealous of that double bacon cheeseburger with garlic fries, or that delicious cheese stuffed ravioli.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask How Food is Prepared
Don’t be shy about asking your server how the food is prepared, how large the portions are, what oils are used, and what side dishes come with an item. Look for foods that are raw, grilled, roasted, or steamed. Typically foods described as fried, crispy, sautéed, and crunchy contain more oil or fat, and therefore more calories. For example, when ordering pasta, is there a tomato-based option over a heavy sauce laden with butter, cream and cheese? If so, the former tends to be healthier.
Substitute When Needed
There may be something delicious on the menu you want to eat, but do you really need all the extra calories that come with everything else on the plate? If you order a steak, don’t be afraid to forgo the loaded baked potato. Ask for grilled vegetables as an alternative. Instead of hash browns with your eggs, substitute with fruit, sliced tomatoes, or avocado. Instead of beans and rice with Mexican food, look to a side salad. Vegetables are your friends! They help you feel full and are low in calories. Plus, the health benefits of consuming vegetables are endless. It might not seem to be an intuitive or traditional menu substitution for you at first, but in no time it will become second nature. So keep it up.
Ask for Modifications
Don’t see anything healthy on the menu? Ask for no cheese, or to only use a tiny amount of olive oil when preparing your dish. Try ordering ala carte (I’ll take a side of avocado and a side of grilled chicken.) See if you can get that fish grilled instead of battered and deep fried. Feel free to ask your server for the salad dressing and sauces on the side. Many sauces are highly caloric. Americans tend to smother their greens in sauces. Get used to the flavor of fresh vegetables! For most of us, it will be an acquired taste, but so much healthier for you. Just two tablespoons of most dressings contain over 120 calories! Yeah, you heard me right. Dressings and sauces are loaded in calories! Keeping them separate, or keeping them out of your mouth completely will make it easier for you to consume less.
I know I have said it a thousand times but water is your friend! Not only can it help you feel more satiated, it’s a great alternative to sugary drinks and other calorie loaded options. It helps keep the cost of your bill down as well.
Say No to the Free Bonus Food
Does the restaurant bring you free chips and salsa? How about that bread basket? If you are anything like me, you find that food to be delicious and almost irresistible. If you don’t trust yourself, just say no or make sure to ask them not to bring it to your table. What you can’t see and grab easily, can’t tempt you. After all, you wouldn’t dare take it from your neighbors table would you? Most of these freebies are just empty calories with little nutrition. Most often, the restaurant tries to fill you up on these cheap and easy foods before your main meal.
Instead of a main dish, order an appetizer or two. Most entrée portions in American restaurants are huge, and way larger than we need for one sitting. Also, consider sharing a meal with a friend. You can even ask your server in advance to box up half of your dish to take home. It’s a simple way to cut back on calories and avoid over eating.
Ultimately the key is being balanced. You don’t have to crawl and hide in a cave to stay healthy. Make informed decisions and work to do your best. Be strong! Bon Appétit!