Eating out is one of those things in life that seems to be a win in many categories. The ambiance, delicious new dishes, being with friends and family, and having others serve and clean up afterwards all adds up for an experience that seems tough to top. However, there is a side of eating out that often goes unnoticed - nutrition. Most of us know that when we eat out, the food is not going to serve us in the best way. What we don’t consider, though, is all of the “added stuff,” and how that can impact our progress towards our health related goals. Below are 8 simple tips for staying on track while eating out.
1. Do Your Research
Any restaurant with an ounce of merit nowadays will have their menu listed online. Taking some time - even 5 minutes - before heading to the restaurant to view the menu and make some decisions on what might serve you and won’t will prime you to make a healthy decision once you get there. I typically choose 3-5 options beforehand and once I get there make the final decision.
Another area to educate yourself on is how the foods are made in a particular restaurant. Many people overlook the nutrition and extra energy (calories) that goes into prep. For example, many different oils are used to prepare different dishes. From canola and vegetable oils in fryers, to butter used for roasting veggies or placed on top of a steak, it adds up quickly.
2. Ask for What YOU Want
Know that menu items are simply suggestions, and you as the customer have the power to ask for and receive exactly what you want. If you want some lean protein and vegetables, go ahead and ask for chicken/fish cooked without oil and a side of veggies cooked without butter! Many people feel they are being a nuisance or annoying if they ask for specific items. Take it from someone who worked in hospitality for over 5 years, I would rather have my customers happy and ready to come back than unsatisfied and spiteful toward the establishment. (The photo above is an example of this strategy. I was doing a vegan week and went to a italian restaurant with my girlfriend. I was able to talk to the chef and he made me a vegan dish that was not even on the menu. It was in alignment with my goals and delicious!)
3. Choose Low(er) Calorie Drinks
Cocktail menus may be fun to look at, but they are a graveyard for you gut health. When we consume sugar in liquid form, the pancreas has a panic attack and spikes insulin. When we consume alcohol, the liver must prioritize ridding it from the system before handling anything else because it is a toxin. The combination of sugar and alcohol does a lot of harm in a small amount of time, and also leaves us wanting more… Check out these low calorie options if you want a cocktail with dinner, otherwise, water is always the best thing to consume at any time, any place!
4. Ask for Dressing On the Side
Many people go out to eat and order a salad with the intention of being healthy. However, when it comes out covered in ranch dressing, bacon, and fritos, there is no real way to justify it as a healthy meal. In fact, one of the highest calorie menu items at McDonalds is a salad, due in large part to fried chicken and full fat ranch dressing. One strategy when ordering a salad is; dressing on the side, dip your empty fork into the dressing, then get some salad on the fork with the small amount of dressing. You’ll be shocked by how much of the dressing flavor is still present, and be pleased by the empty calories you save from not eating the entire cup of dressing!
5. Fresh is Always Greater than Fried
To be blunt and honest, fried food is horrible for the human body. Loaded with trans fats and grease, they foods have a sedating effect on the body and brain and have been linked to chronic diseases and shortened life-span. When I am out and order something like a sandwich or burger that comes with a side of fries, I opt for a salad, soup, or vegetables more often than not. It may be a dollar or two extra, but if it is more in line with your vision and goals, it is a dollar or two well spent! (Below are a few of my favorite fresh options. From left to right: Avocado toast, sushi, and seaweed salad)
6. Take Some To Go
Have you ever gone out to eat with the intention of eating half there, and have the other half for later or the next day? Your food comes out and you eat half, but as the meal progresses, the plate sits in front of you, and you keep munching. Before you realize it, you’ve eaten essentially the whole plate, and are left with an over-full belly and nothing for tomorrow. One strategy that works well here is to ask for half of the meal to be boxed right away (which also leans into point 2 - ask for what you truly desire). With your leftovers ready to go in a box, they will be out of sight, out of mind, and you can focus on the food in front of you as well as connecting with those around you and having a good time :)
7. Skip the dessert:
You’ll save major calories (and cash) by opting to skip dessert. Plus, odds are by the time you get home, you’ll feel fully satiated and be happy with your decision to skip the flourless chocolate torte. And, if you’re still feeling that sweet craving, you can make Nice Cream or grab a pint of halo top ice cream on the way home.
8. Practice Being in the Moment
Many times, we find ourselves out to eat on occasions of celebration like birthdays, holidays, parties, and more. We often only see certain people when we are out to eat, so I make a point to focus on catching up first. Focusing on socializing is an effective strategy to keep your mind off the food. This is something I have taken to more as of recent, and I have noticed I leave feeling better about the experience overall.
As always, let me know if any of these strategies resonate with you. I am eager to hear if these tips serve you well, and am curious to hear what other strategies people use to stay on track when eating out. In the meantime, happy eating!