Dining out is easy, convenient, social and sometimes just the most realistic option. I’m all about eating meals at home, food-prep, and homemade meals, but that isn’t always going to happen. So, how do you eat healthy when eating out? Can you? Is it even possible? Well obviously, yes. But sometimes it can be tricky. Often times trying to guess the nutritional content of restaurant and fast foods can be incredibly difficult, and meals that seem like they would be the healthiest option…are far from it. So here are a few tips for maintaining a healthy diet, while eating out too.
Do Your Research
If you have time, you can often find nutritional information online for many restaurants. You may be surprised by the amount of calories, fat, and sugar in some of your favorite meals. So check before you go. You can use restaurant websites or Apps for your phone to find the nutrition information for restaurant meals. Some of my favorite Apps are: Restaurant Nutrition, Nutrition Menu, HealthyOut, and Restaurants & Nutrition. This way you know exactly what you’re ordering, and what can I say…knowledge is power. Right?
Salad: Yay or Nay?
I think often times we assume salads are the healthiest option. Sometimes they are…sometimes they definitely are not! For example, Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad has 1,430 calories, 96 grams of fat and 18 grams of sugar…a full serving of their Prime Rib Tacos (which you’d probably assume would be much less healthy) have 780 calories, 45 grams of fat and 5 grams of sugar. Confusing right? That’s why you should try to do your research first. A lot of restaurant salads are topped with bacon, cheese, fried chicken and drenched in dressing, resulting in a not-so-healthy meal. You CAN however, usually turn those salads into a healthier option. Ask for the dressing on the side so you can add just a little and save a whole lot of calories. Forgo the cheese, bacon and other toppings that you can live without that may be adding way too many calories and fat.
Don’t’ be Afraid to Be a Little Picky
I know, I know. No one likes that annoying person who asks for a million adjustments to their meal. I’m not saying go crazy but asking for dressing on the side or switching that fries for a side salad and asking for no mayo, cheese, bacon…whatever it is isn’t a huge deal. At least it shouldn’t be, and in my experience restaurants are usually more than happy to comply with my requests, even if I sometimes get a little taunting from my friends. Hey, I’m trying to be healthy here! Okay, so just do it. Just ask.
Ask for a Lunch Size Portion
Some restaurants have an option for a lunch or “smaller” portion. Sometimes they only serve the smaller portions at lunch time, but a lot of places let you order the lunch portion no matter what time it is. So check for that option. That way you can order something that may be a little less healthy, but you’re eating a smaller portion…so you still save on calories. It’s all about portion control! Plus, most the restaurant portions are insanely too large anyway AND the lunch portions are almost always cheaper! Win-win!
Share a Meal
If you’re out eating with someone (which, let’s be real…usually you aren’t eating alone), consider sharing something. Again, this kind of goes with #4, watching your portion size. If you’re both seriously craving the Chicken Alfredo Pasta but you know it’s going to be a huge bowl and not exactly healthy…split it! Then you save money and eat only half. Again win-win situation!
Put Aside Leftovers…Early
This may seem weird and I must admit I’ve never done it myself BUT I’ve heard people say that they ask for a to-go box at the beginning of their meal and when their food comes they put half of it in the box and set it aside. It’s a known fact (at least in my world) that if food is sitting in front of you long enough…you’re probably going to eat it. If you’re out to eat with a friend and sitting there chatting for a long time you’ll probably keep nibbling on your meal, even after you’re full. So if you put it aside early on so it’s not sitting on your plate tempting you, but, instead, it’s “out of sight, out of mind” you’ll be much less likely to over-eat, and you’ll have leftovers for the next day. And hello, leftovers are the best!
Choose You Restaurants Wisely and Check out the “Lighter” Menu
There are plenty of healthy restaurants to choose from, and a lot of restaurants have “lighter” menus. For example The Cheesecake Factory isn’t exactly the first restaurant that comes to mind when you’re thinking “healthy dining”, but did you know they have a “Skinnylicious” Menu? And it’s awesome! They’re not the only ones. With more people becoming health-conscious many restaurants have added lighter fares to their menus. So look for them! Also, like I mentioned, there are a lot of healthy restaurant choices…Panera, Jason’s Deli, Noodles & Company…just to name a few. So choose a healthy place…or find a healthy option wherever you end up going. There are almost always at least a few healthy options.
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself too. You should try to choose healthy options and eat right so that your providing your body with healthy fuel, but life is meant to be enjoyed! So let yourself indulge every once in a while and order the cheesy pizza and decadent desert, sometimes…just not every time. Happy dining!