It’s one thing to stay on track when you’re cooking at home but what about when you go out to eat? Whether you’re out for lunch with coworkers, eating in an airport during a layover or out for a date night, how do you maintain your healthy eating habits? Restaurants tend to serve huge portions and the meals are usually higher in calories, sodium and unhealthy fats compared to meals prepared at home. But with a little planning and initiative, eating out can be enjoyable, delicious and healthy. Here are my tried and true tips for eating out without sabotaging your health goals.
Before You Get To The Restaurant
- Scope out the restaurant menu online. More and more restaurants offer complete nutritional information on their websites.
- If you know you’ll be going out to dinner don’t skip a meal, but eat a lighter breakfast and lunch.
- Don’t wait until you’re starving to find a place to eat.
- Plan ahead; make reservations for an appropriate time and have a healthy snack beforehand if needed.
- Choose restaurants wisely. Avoid places that lure you in with multi-course meal specials, supersize deals, and all-you-can-eat buffets.
- Skip the fast food restaurants. Look for places that offer healthy choices and allow you to choose how your meal is prepared.
Once You Are At The Restaurant
- If you haven’t had a chance to look at the menu online in advance, then start by looking over the whole menu. Get a feel for what’s available and ask the server about specials or healthy options.
- Order water instead of soda or other sugary drinks.
- Enlist the help of your server. If you see something on the menu that interests you, ask the server how the dish is prepared. Ask if you can request healthy substitutions such as a side salad instead of fries or extra vegetables instead of white rice. Ask politely but unapologetically; remember, restaurants are in the service business. Most are more than willing to accommodate your request.
- You can’t have what you don’t ask for. Many restaurants will honour requests for low-salt or low calorie versions of certain dishes.
- Consider a la carte. Order a soup or salad and an appetizer, or a couple of side dishes, instead of an overly large entree.
- Be the first to order; that way you won’t be tempted to go along when the rest of the gang orders unhealthy options.
- Pass on the breadbasket. If the sight of warm buns is too much for you, simply ask the server not to bring any bread to your table.
- Limit appetizers, bread and butter, and other fillers. If you want an appetizer, order a salad with the dressing on the side, or perhaps a light broth based soup.
- Ask for the dressing on the side so you can control how much to use.
- Dip the tip of your fork into the dressing, then take a bite of food, so you’ll get a little taste in every bite, but not flood the salad with dressing and lots of extra calories.
- Choose steamed, poached, broiled, baked, grilled, or roasted foods over deep-fried.
- In general, try to steer clear of dishes described with these terms: au gratin, basted, braised, buttered, buttery, casserole, creamed, scalloped, fried, in cheese, butter or cream sauce, in gravy, pan-fried or pan-roasted or sautéed.
- Eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to send a message to your brain that you’re full.
- Fully chew your food, and take breaks to converse with your dinner mates. If you find that you’re eating too fast, try putting your utensils down on the table after every bite of food.
- Eat the same portion as you would at home. If the serving size is larger, share some with your dining partner, or take the extra food home for lunch the next day.
- Despite what you may have been told as a kid, you don’t have to clean your plate. When you are 80% full (satisfied), put your napkin on your plate, and ask to take the rest home. If you’re traveling and you can’t take leftovers, do what one friend of mine does and sprinkle a crazy amount of salt on it so that you stop eating.
- Choose desserts carefully. Fresh fruit or sherbet are good alternatives to some of the heavier options.
- Love dessert? Request extra forks and share.
- Enjoy a peppermint tea rather than dessert.