A lot of you are making an effort to eat clean throughout the week, but tend to get derailed when you go out to eat. Eating healthy while dining out doesn’t need to set you back. Whether you eat out for lunch regularly or are headed out on the weekend, you can apply these 15 tips and still maintain your figure.
- Look up the menu beforehand
If you know ahead of time where you’ll be dining out, check out the menu online before stepping anywhere near the restaurant. Healthy casual restaurants usually make nutritional information available, making it easier to pre-select a healthy option, and nearly every restaurant posts their menu online.
- Call ahead with questions
If you can find a menu but not nutritional information online, call the restaurant ahead of time with questions or to make special requests.
Restaurants today are a lot more familiar with food allergies and dietary requests, and providing them with advance notice or knowing what they can accommodate will make the dining experience a lot more pleasant. It will also take the pressure off you when you’re ordering, and makes things easier for staff, who might feel flustered with a flurry of questions at the time they take your order.
- Choose restaurants that are likely healthier
Restaurants that advertise local ingredients, farm-to-table dishes and organic food likelier use better-quality ingredients and will be more accommodating to special requests.
- Snack before you go
If you’re starving when you sit down at a restaurant, it’s a lot easier to reach for the bread basket. Instead, have a filling snack about an hour before heading out, like a hard-boiled egg, hummus and vegetables or an apple with nut butter. Having some food in your belly means you won’t be tempted to overeat when you get to the restaurant.
- Go Paleo when eating out
Adopting a Paleo diet when dining out can help you eliminate a lot of problematic ingredients, like refined carbohydrates in the form of pasta and rice, as well as cheese and sugary ingredients. It means you’ll focus on tasty veggies, lean meats, fish, eggs, healthy fats and whole grains.
- Be aware of how Food is prepared.
Certain cooking methods are a better option than others. Look for meals that are baked, braised, broiled, grilled, poached, sautéed, smoked or steamed. “ Just say no” to items on the menu that say the meal is crispy, deep-fried, battered, breaded (hello, flour, deep frying and canola oil) or smothered.
- Get friendly with your server
Because you hopefully checked out the menu beforehand, you’ll know what sort of sides and swaps are available but, when in doubt, ask. Most servers are happy to make sure that your requests (within reason, of course!) are accommodated. And be sure to tip well for the extra assistance.
- Say no to the bread basket
The bread basket is one of the most evil things a restaurant can do. It’s a terrific way to fill up on empty calories before your meal has even arrived. Whenever possible, take a pass on the bread basket. (Remember that snack you ate before you left for the restaurant. That will help you with your will power)
- Fill up with salad
Starting your meal with a salad as an appetizer is a smart way to enjoy healthy ingredients — if you choose right, that is. Opt for salads with lots of greens, raw veggies and raw nuts or seeds. When choosing a dressing,opt for an oil and vinegar dressing, and ask for the dressing on the side so you can control the amount you are consuming. .
Where people run into trouble is by choosing salads that are filled with deli-style sliced meats, crispy chicken or other meats, salted or roasted nuts and seeds (which are often cooked with unhealthy oils), croutons, bacon and dressings that are high in sugar, mayonnaise and calories. I love a kale salad with a light lemony vinaigrette.
- Start with a broth- based soup
If you like to start with an appetizer, choosing a broth based soup is a good choice. Avoid cream based soups.
- Make healthy swaps
The best way to stick with a healthy diet is to replace bad foods with healthier alternatives. For example, when eating steak, choose a filet and get it with a sweet potato instead of mashed potatoes. When eating asian, ask for brown rice instead of white rice or skip the rice altogether and order your dish over vegetables. If you’re out for Mexican, skip the tortillas and chips, and focus on the meats, salsas and guacamole instead. Ask for a fajita served with extra veggies and fresh avocado and skip the rice.
Having a burger? Swap the French fries for a side of grilled veggies or salad instead.
- Order veggies with that
Most of us aren’t getting enough vegetables on a daily basis. So when you’re out to eat, bulk up your meal with more fiber rich veggies! Asking for extra vegetables is an easy way to fill up on nutritious ingredients that will prevent you from eating too much of the main course.
- Skip sugary drinks and load up on water
Why drink your calories when you can eat them? Skip the soda and fruit juices and drink water with lemon or lime throughout the meal instead. It’ll help you feel full and slow down your eating, making sure your brain gets the message that you’re full.
- Choose alcohol wisely
If you’re drinking alcohol, choose a red wine or dark beer, since these alcohols can have some heart healthy benefits. If you are choosing a cocktail, opt for light-colored alcohols with mixers like soda water and fresh lime. Say no to sugary mixers and cocktails, as those can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and contribute to that hangover feeling the next day.
Of course, no matter which alcohol you choose, remember to drink in moderation. Just a few glasses can quickly add up to a full meal’s worth of calories before eating a thing.
- Share a main dish or dessert
Portion sizes at restaurants can be massive, and if it’s in front of you, you’re likelier to eat the whole thing. Instead, save some cash AND cut calories by sharing a dish with a friend/spouse. My husband and I often start with a salad and then share a steak with roasted veggies or some sort of broiled fish.
If you’re not the food-sharing type, consider ordering two healthy appetizers like broiled shrimp or scallops, heirloom tomatoes, a beet salad etc.
Instead of dessert, finish your meal with an espresso or sugar free cappuccino. However, if you are celebrating a special occasion and must have something sweet, SHARE and only enjoy a few bites.
So What Should You Order?
Like I said before, you can find healthy options at most places. Here’s what I order when I go out to eat.
What to Order at Burger Joints:
- Bison or grass fed beef. Add flavor with jalapenos, avocado, tomato, onion, egg etc.
- Big salad with grilled beef, chicken, fish. Look for toppings like berries, nuts, seeds or lots of fresh veggies with oil and vinegar
- Grilled fish with fresh vegetables
- A bun-less burger or a burger with lettuce “bread.”
What to Skip at Burger Joints:
- Most condiments. I WILL add flavor with hot sauce
- Soda: go for water instead!
- French fries (get roasted veggies or a side salad instead)
- Deep-fried food
What to Order at Asian Restaurants:
If there’s no MSG in the food, Asian restaurants can be reasonably healthy.
- Brown rice or brown rice noodles
- Steamed chicken
- Sautéed veggies with brown rice or brown rice noodles ( I like a good hibachi)
- Stir-fried chicken or fish with veggies
- Curry Dishes
- Poke Bowls
What to Skip at Asian Restaurants:
- All of the deep-fried foods, including spring rolls, egg rolls
- White rice
- Stir-fries in sweet and sour sauces, which are packed with sugar
- Fortune Cookies
What to Order at Mexican Restaurants:
Luckily, Mexican dishes have plenty of healthy options.
- Pinto or black beans, which are filling and full of fiber
- Grilled chicken, fish or beef
- Sautéed veggies
- Guacamole and avocado slices
- Brown rice
- Chicken and Avocado Soup
- Corn tortillas
What to Skip at Mexican Restaurants:
- White flour tortillas, tostadas and chips
- White rice
- Dishes smothered in cheese
- Meat-based gravies and sauces
What to Order at Italian Restaurants
- Broiled fish, veal, seafood or chicken
- Roasted vegetables
- Big Salad
- Clear soups
What to Skip at Italian Restaurants
- Breaded Meats
- Spaghetti Sauce (most of them will have a lot of added sugar)
Some of my Favorite Chain Restaurants
- Zoe’s Kitchen
- Marlowe’s Tavern
- Chic-Fil-A if you need fast food
- First Watch for Brunch
At the end of the day, dining out should be an enjoyable experience where you can enjoy good food and great company. If you rarely eat out, the occasional splurge isn’t going to kill you. However, if you eat out weekly, practicing these tips will keep you on track, so you can maintain your healthy lifestyle forever. Just be mindful of your portion sizes, eat lots of veggies and follow these guidelines to love your body but enjoy your food, too.
So, let’s recap:
- Research restaurants, menus and healthier options before arriving for your meal.
- Enjoy a healthy snack before you leave, so you can skip bread baskets and other food “freebies”; fill up on healthy salads and broth-based soups instead.
- Ask for extra veggies with everything!
- Don’t drink calories. If you’re going to have alcohol, choose red wine, dark beers and clear liquor; skip sugary mixers and cocktails.
- Consider sharing a meal with a friend