Whether you are sitting down to a Sunday brunch or a four-course dinner, navigating a restaurant menu can be challenging, especially if you are trying to eat healthily. Fortunately, dining out doesn’t need to sabotage your diet all you need are some simple strategies and tips for healthy eating out.
Eating out is part of life, whether it is a birthday party, a work function, or a weekend catch-up with friends food always seems to be involved. Not only is eating with others a great way to celebrate, but it can help you enjoy your meal more by nourishing your body and your soul. Although these meals should most certainly be enjoyed, you don’t need to throw all caution to the wind just because you are eating outside of the four walls of your own home! The good news is that you can eat out without throwing a calorie bomb into your diet plan, you just need to do a little damage control, so here are 8 tips for healthy eating out no matter where you go.
Tips for Healthy Eating Out
Here are some simple tips for making healthy choices when eating at a restaurant.
1. Pick the Restaurant
Whenever possible, try to be the one that picks the restaurant location. If you are able to pick the restaurant location yourself you can ensure there are options that meet your dietary needs and feel good about your meal choice. I suggest avoiding chain restaurants as much as possible and looking for local independently-owned restaurants, as you are more likely to get better food options. While traveling, websites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and OpenTable can help you find great restaurants with great food.
2. Look up the Menu Before
Regardless of whether you pick the restaurant or not, looking up the menu online beforehand is a great way to ensure you make a better meal choice. Most restaurants share their menus on their website or you can often find them on travel websites as well. You are far more likely to make a healthy meal choice when you are not distracted by the sights and smells of the restaurant and you can walk in confidently knowing you already have a game plan.
3. Focus on Whole Foods
This guideline applies whether you are eating at home or dining out, but it becomes especially important in restaurants. When looking at the menu, look for whole food foods in their whole format and minimize processed food items as much as possible. This means looking for vegetables, proteins, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, fruits, and healthy fats, and avoiding processed grain products (noodles, bread, wraps), deep-fried items, refined oils, and added sugars. For example, you are much better off choosing the chicken with baked potato and tomato salad over chicken fingers, fries, and ketchup. Same foods, different formats.
4. Consider Calories but Don’t Stress Over It
Calories are now available on many restaurant menus, and although it can be helpful to look at them, it can also be incredibly confusing if you are not considering the full picture. Because not all calories are created, even some of the healthiest options can be high in calories when compared to their deep-fried counterparts. For instance, a salad loaded with fresh vegetables and chicken can increase from 400 calories to 800 calories when you add avocado, cheese and dressing because fat, even the whole food forms, is rich in calories. However, this does not mean the 800 calories blooming onion is equally as healthy. It is always important to consider the quality of the ingredients and their cooking method, over the number of calories a dish contains. The more whole foods you can get on your plate, the better it will be for you.
5. Ask for Substitutions
In this day and age, restaurants are becoming more and more accommodating to consumer requests, so there is no need to be shy about asking for menu substitutions. I am not suggesting that you alter your entire order, but simple requests like asking for double vegetables instead of fries, baked potatoes instead of mashed, salads instead of coleslaw, or fruit instead of toast can often be easily accommodated. Remember, you are paying for your meal, so as long as you ask nicely, you should get it the way you want it.
6. Order Before Everyone Else
When the server comes around to take your table’s order, be the first one to place it. When eating with others it is easy to get influenced by people’s food choices; before you know it you are saying the dangerous line “Ohh, that sounds good, I’ll have what she is having.” If you look up the menu before you go, decide what you are going to have, and place your order before everyone else, you will be more likely to stick to your game plan.
7. Forgo the Freebies
Although restaurant freebies like bread baskets, chips, or nuts can be tasty, for the most part, they are completely unnecessary. It is so easy to tell yourself “I’ll just have one piece”, and before you know it you’re on your second loaf of bread and half-full before your starter even hits the table. If you don’t think you can resist the temptation of the bread, chips, or nuts sitting on the table, simply ask the server to remove it or ask them not to bring it in the first place.
8. Chill Out
These tips for healthy eating out can be incredibly useful, but it is important to not put too much pressure on yourself every time you are at a restaurant. It is important to control the components that you can control, and not overthink the process too much. If you are eating out every night of the week, I certainly think it is more important to be mindful of your food choices so you don’t overdo it every time, but if you are eating out once a week as a special treat, enjoy the treat. Make the best choice you can with the options that are presented, and if you indulge more than you had planned know that it is not the end of the world. Your food choices don’t define you and there is no need to sweat the small stuff.