Everyone enjoys going out to eat. Whether celebrating a birthday, catching up with an old friend, watching a sports game, or just trying out the latest hot spot in town there’s always a reason to go out to eat. Eating out can be fun and relaxing, but also convenient. There’s certainly not a shortage of places to eat from fast food to fine dining, food is everywhere.
How does it fit into a healthy lifestyle? How can you not give up your social life and still stick to your eating plan? While every now and then it’s alright to order that dessert or maybe indulge a bit more on an entree, there still needs to be a bit of caution when it comes to restaurants.
Research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (JAAND) found that 92% of meals from large chain and local restaurants had more calories than recommended for the average eater. While I am not a fan of counting calories, most of these dishes are loaded with added calories comes more fat, sugar, sodium, etc. We’re not talking kale salad here.
This leads us back to the question of how can I eat out and not completely blow my diet? Here are 6 tips to help you to help you eat healthier at a restaurant.
1. Restaurant Selection
It all starts with where are you eating. In the mood for Italian, Chinese, or American? All flavors of food can be and should be enjoyed, but there’s always those dishes to wary of. When deciding on where to go, opt for cuisines centered around veggies, healthy fats,protein, and whole grains (like you would eat if cooking it yourself). Mediterranean, Greek, Indian, and Japanese foods are traditionally built around this style. Also check out local restaurants that rotate seasonal menus. These places change the menu around produce that is in season. If a restaurant does not offer many options that include produce or foods that you normally consume, look for a better option.
Do your research ahead of time. Look at the menu and have an idea of what your order will be. Even just narrowing it down to 2 or 3 options will take away some of the work. Do not be afraid to order off menu, ask questions, and always ask for salad dressings to be on the side.
Did you know that how you order is just as important as what you order? Portion sizes have grown by as much as 138% since the 1970’s. So if going to your favorite Italian restaurant and you really are feeling that ravioli and meat sauce order it. When ordering it know ahead of time that you are taking leftovers home. That portion is huge, you can enjoy that ravioli without feeling like you have to unbutton your pants. It can help to ask for a box when the food is delivered that way it is boxed, off the plate, and out of sight. If nothing else when taking leftovers home think about the money. That one dish at the restaurant is actually feeding you more than once.
3. Get off the phone
How many times in the past week have you eaten with distraction? Do you even know? Distracted eating equals overeating. We have all been there. Whether it’s the watching a game on TV, checking Instagram one more time, or talking on the phone it’s become a badge of honor almost to be so busy that eating is just squeezed into the day somewhere. When out to eat make a no phone rule. If you want to snap a pic of your food fine, but edit it later. Put the phone away when it’s time to eat. Enjoy your food. Enjoy the company of loved ones. Have a real conversation. Also slow down the eating. It’s OK to put down your fork between bites. It’s best to thoroughly chew your food. I know it may taste so good that you can’t wait for the next bite, but I promise that the food will not run off your plate. When eating slower and not being distracted, the body will tell you when you are done even if there’s food left on your plate.
4. Eat all day
Eat, eat, eat. Yes that’s my advice for surviving a restaurant. Do NOT starve yourself all day in order to save up for dinner. Saving up calories or leaving room in your stomach for whatever you will eat that night can actually backfire. If you know that you will be eating a bit richer, then yes plan ahead. Planning ahead is different than skipping lunch. Think about it. When you are feeling starved what happens, you order more food, you eat whatever is in front of you (hello bread basket), you eat faster, and you end up eating a lot more than you need. Planning ahead means eating normally through out the day. Planning ahead means staying hydrated throughout the day. Planning ahead means eating a snack or drinking a glass of water to cut the hunger a bit. Planning ahead means that you are in control of your body, your choices, and your food.
5. Dine in smaller groups
It may be news to you, but eating in larger groups can change the way you eat at a restaurant. Large groups tend to order things like some appetizers or bottles of wine for the table. It can be intimidating to order a grilled dish when everyone else orders a fried dish. This may be a tough one because it’s fun to go out in a group or it may be a work function. If this is the case do not give in to peer pressure, order and eat for you and only you. If eating with one other person it may be easier to split an entree as well as the check.
6. Wait on that drink
If choosing to have a cocktail or some wine order it either as you order your entree or when the entree arrives. Most of the time we order drinks before food. Having that drink early can mess with hunger levels. That bread might be more tempting. the extra rich entree sounds more appealing. Not to mention that when dinner arrives and if that drink is running low, a refill will be that much more tempting. If having one drink and being able to stick to it is not an issue for you then order it when you will enjoy it the most. However skipping that first round will help save not only your waistline, but also the bill.