Eating out can be hard for clean eaters, unless you follow these ways to eat healthy when dining out! Restaurant portion sizes are getting bigger and bigger - not to mention all of the unhealthy ingredients used to cook the food! I used to squirm at the very though of eating out because I knew that there was just no way to do it healthfully. Until I learned following ways to eat healthy when dining out, a restaurant meal really derailed my healthy eating goals! Now, while I still limit the times per week that I dine out, I can feel a little bit more at ease when a work dinner, family function or date night comes up!
1. Look at the Menu Ahead of Time
As a dietitian and true foodie at heart, looking at the menu ahead of time is one of the best ways to eat healthy when dining out successfully. Looking at the menu prior to arriving ensures that you have enough time to think about what you are going to order. Not only that, but if you have a strong opinion or preference about a particular type of food, if you look at the menu in advance, this still allows you enough time to request a different restaurant choice if need be. As a mostly vegan myself, unless I am joining others and the plans have already been set, I like to make sure there is something that I will actually order on the menu. People are usually flexible with their dinner plans!
2. Start Your Meal with a Salad
You've probably heard this one before, but it really is a great tip when it comes to eating healthy while dining out. By starting your meal with a salad, this allows your body to have enough time to fill up and digest on leafy greens, preventing you from overeating on the bread, main course or dessert! Even better, request that your salad be prepared with little or no cheese, a vinegar based dressing on the side and no fried onions or croutons on top!
3. Choose One or the Other
This rule is by no means backed by science but simply one that works for me! When I dine out, I choose one or the other when it comes to wine, bread or dessert and never indulge on all three. I usually choose a glass of red wine along with a salad as mentioned above and skip on the bread and dessert. I noticed that I was only eating the bread because it was sitting in front of me and if I just started with a salad, I would fill up on greens instead of bread! You can also request that your server not even bring out the bread basket if it tempts you that much - or even place it at the other end of the table if you are dining with a large group. If you just have to have more than one, just keep the portions small. All you really need to feel satisfied by the bread basket or dessert is a couple of bites!
As I mentioned above, restaurant portions are huge these days! Often, I can eat from my one meal for not only that dinner but lunch and dinner the next day too! If you are not a fan of leftovers, split a meal with someone you are dining with. Since my mom and I have very similar eating preferences and taste buds, I like to start my meal with a salad and then split an entree with her! This fills us both up, while keeping calories down!
5. Ask for Sauces and Condiments on the Side and Choose Vinegar Based Sauces
I'm sure you've seen those salads before that are actually a less healthy option than the double cheeseburger on the menu. This comes mostly down to the dressings, sauces and condiments poured on top. Unless vinegar based, many of these items are usually loaded with fat, sugar, salt and excessive calories. By requesting sauces on the side, you can add however much that you want, creating a much healthier meal. Ethnic places, like Chinese and Japanese restaurants, tend to really overload the sauce too; even though soy sauce might not be high in calories, it is incredibly high in salt - leaving you feeling bloated and weighed down shortly after your meal. If your item is cooked in butter, request that it be cooked in light butter or oil or even better, request it be steamed!
6. Ask Questions
I am the queen of asking one hundred questions while dining out, but really that's the only way you can know what's in and on your food. After being served a fried black-bean burger once, I realized that no question is a dumb one. Ask about sauces, request substitutions, ask about a word if you don't know what it means and never forget to ask how your food is prepared; usually servers are great in helping you choose the meal that is right for you!
7. Don't Be Afraid
When it comes to ordering what you want, don't be afraid to ask for and order dishes exactly how you want them - and if it comes out wrong, send it back. Years ago when I still ate fish, I ordered a piece of white fish thinking I was making a healthy choice. When the fish came out, a large plate of fried fish sat in front of me. Since there was no mention of fried fish on the menu, I simply told my server that I wanted it steamed or grilled instead of fried and he was very kind in taking it back. I could have just eaten the fried fish but then I would have been paying for an unhealthy, expensive meal that I didn't even like anyway. This lesson taught me to be specific and unafraid when it comes to ordering in a restaurant.
When it comes to dining out, a restaurant meal doesn't have to wreck your healthy eating goals. Dining out can be a part of a healthy lifestyle if done so strategically! How do you eat healthy in a restaurant? Have you ever tried any of these tips?