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Tips for Eating Healthy While Eating Out

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tips for eating healthy while eating out

I bet I’m not alone here when I say: I love eating out! When you go to a restaurant, you get to choose whatever food you want, you don’t have to shop for that food, you don’t have to prep or cook that food, and most importantly to me – you don’t have to clean up after cooking that food. All of that fun does come with a downside though. You aren’t able to control where the ingredients in your meal came from or what ingredients were used to make you food. This can derail even the healthiest of eaters if done often.

On average, Americans eat out about five times a week, according to the National Restaurant Association. Since those meals are generally higher in calories, chemicals, additives, preservatives, trans fats, sodium, and artificial flavors and colors than what we make at home, they can create a recipe for weight gain and health problems.

Eating at a restaurant does not have to sabotage your healthy diet. Sure it’s healthier to make your own food, but you can absolutely make some healthier upgrades to eating out when you do find yourself at a restaurant. Whether you’re a conscious healthy eater or you just don’t want to pack on extra pounds when you’re on vacation, eating healthy at a restaurant is as much about common sense as it is about making some healthier swaps here and there.

I’ll cover some of those more common sense techniques you probably already know, but also try to tackle some of the less obvious ways to make a restaurant meal healthier while you’re out on the town.

Start by watching this quick clip from when I was on Charlotte Today. I’ll tackle the #1 self sabotager you probably face when trying to eat healthy when out PLUS give you some mindset shifter tips for how to really stay on track >>

I'm talkin tips for keeping it healthy when eating at restaurants and what to do if you just can't seem to make that healthy choice over something you REALLY want...that might not be super nutritious.

1. CHOOSE YOUR RESTAURANT WISELY

Be prepared. If you go into a restaurant without any thought or research ahead of time, you’ll be more susceptible to diving off the deep end and ordering food that you’ll regret later. As some general guidelines of what to look for or to avoid when figuring out where to eat:

  • Avoid “all-you-can-eat” places. More healthy eating efforts go there to die than any other type of restaurant.
  • Choose a restaurant with a varied menu. It’ll make it easier to find something healthy and to your taste.
  • Use a website to help find healthier restaurants near you, like Eat Well Guide or Happy Cow or even Yelp.

2. SCOPE THE MENU

Know what you’re getting yourself into so you’re not surprised later or forced to choose between two deep-fried evils just takes a few minutes.

  • Go to the restaurant’s website to find their menu and check it out. Do you have food sensitivities or allergies? They might even have a specialty menu available too. Lucky for those like me with gluten sensitivities, a lot of places now either have a dedicated gluten free menu, or label items with a GF on their regular menu.
  • Decide what you want to eat before you leave the house. If possible, choose a specific menu item so you go in knowing this is what you want (or at least want to start from, then modify/tweak!)
  • Make reservations. This cuts down on waiting and hunger time at the restaurant, as well as the number of drinks you have at the bar.

3. WHEN YOU SIT AT YOUR TABLE

This is a critical point that sets the tone for the rest of the evening, it’s when you’re tempted by the free bread or free tortilla chips and mindless munching can happen. 

  • Start by politely sending back those free simple-carb munchies that show up right away. 
  • If you’re totally starving, ask if they have any broth-based soups and order a cup of that.
  • Order a big glass of water. Often times we think we’re hungry when we’re just thirsty/dehydrated.


tips for eating healthy while eating out
4. RETHINK YOUR DRINK

It’s easy to forget about the sugar and empty calories from the drink we order, whether it’s an alcoholic beverage or a simple glass of orange juice. 

  • Stick to plan ‘ol water, whenever possible. Make it more fun by squeezing a lemon or lime in it. 
  • Skip the mixed blended drinks. A frozen margarita can have 550 empty calories and 55 grams of sugar (not to mention artificial flavors, dyes, and other chemicals).
  • Learn more about beer options here.

5. APPETIZERS

While in many cases it might be smarter to skip the whole concept of an appetizer all together, if you find yourself famished and need something faster than your meal, or are eating out with others that want to get apps first, there are some smarter workarounds. 

  • Your appetizer can come from anywhere on the menu, not just the Appetizer section. Look at other parts of the menu (salads, soups, side items, even breakfast items) for healthy starter options.
  • Some great starter options: fruit, hummus or guacamole with sliced vegetables, steamed seafood, smoked salmon, salad with oil/vinegar, broth based soup, skewered meat.
  • The kitchen may be able to put together a small vegetable tray for you upon request.

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6. SOUPS AND SALADS

These can be a great appetizer or side dish to your main entree. It’s much better to fill up on leafy greens at the beginning of your meal than munching on the last dozen of french fries on your plate.

  • Salad bars can be good or evil, depending on what you choose to load your plate up with. I suggest passing over the cheese, creamy dressings, croutons, pasta salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, and anything that looks processed or fried. Instead, load up your plate with lots of raw veggies, some lean protein (like garbanzo beans or grilled chicken), some complex carbs (like quinoa or brown rice or baked sweet potato), and some healthy fats (like oil/vinegar ‘dressing’, nuts or seeds). 
  • Ask for extra vegetables on your house salad, and see if you can have them use something other than iceberg lettuce for a base (spinach, romaine, or arugula are great options – the darker the green the healthier it is). 
  • Avoid creamy soups like chowder or bisque, which can be loaded with the bad fat and calories. Instead, try broth-based soups, like minestrone, wonton, beef barley, gazpacho, tortilla, or the classics like chicken noodle or vegetable.

7. ENTREE

Many people stumble here as they make split-second decisions and rationalize away poor choices. But since you have a plan ahead of time, it should make it easier to stay on course! 

  • Danger buzz words = buttery, breaded, fried, oozing, creamy, scalloped, cheesy, glazed, alfredo, crispy, au gratin, a la mode.
  • Safer buzz words = grilled, baked, steamed, broiled, poached, stir-fried, roasted, smoked, blackened.
  • When figuring out what to order, keep in mind the idea of balancing your plate. Ask yourself: Does my entree have some protein? Complex carbohydrates or starchy veggies? Lots of non-starchy veggies? Healthy fats? If not, ask to add whatever it’s missing.

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8. SIDE DISH

Most entrees come with some side dishes. While they might sound like they’re not important to the overall healthy factor of your meal, they can really make or break it. 

  • Order as many vegetable options as possible. Steamed, stewed, raw, grilled, or boiled veggies are best, with little or no added oil. Real butter on them is good, it actually helps you absorb the vitamins in some of the vegetables better because they are fat soluble. Watch out for anything “creamed” or in casserole form. 
  • Tempted by potato options, especially the French fry variety? Opt for a baked sweet potato for your best choice.
  • Creamy coleslaw is often mistaken for a healthy option, don’t fall for it, it’s not!

9. WHEN YOUR FOOD ARRIVES

Yay your lunch or dinner is here! Before you dive in, pause for a moment – how you eat is nearly as important as what you eat. It’s a chance to enjoy yourself and a good meal. 

  • Eat your protein first. High protein foods take longer to digest and really put the acid in your stomach at war to break them down.  You want your stomach to get working on breaking down these foods before anything else gets a chance to absorb the acid. It will also help reduce the blood sugar spike that typically will occur after eating most refined carbs. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable, your body will be less likely to store extra calories as fat at your next meal.
  • Eat the amount you would eat at home. Just because it’s on your plate, it doesn’t mean you have to eat more. When the dish arrives, ask for a to-go box to set aside some for leftovers. Most restaurant entree sizes are massive! It’s easy to get carried away in conversation and eat more than you want. You know that: “OMG I’m so full I need to unbutton my pants when I get in the car” feeling. 
  • Eat slowly, take your time. Enjoy and savor one bite at a time. Put your fork down between bites. Let your brain know that you’re eating so it’ll know when you’re full.

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10. DESSERT

You’ve done so well so far, don’t mess it up now! You can have a delicious send-off without completely depriving your sweet tooth, or skip it all together and be ok with that too. I can probably count the times I’ve eaten a restaurant dessert on one hand…usually because I’m too full by then.

  • You can never go wrong with fruit as a dessert, as long as it’s not buried under syrup or whipped cream.
  • Split it with someone else or have a bite or 2 of someone else’s dessert.
  • Skip the toppings, if you order an ice cream or cake (full fat is better for you than fat free!) order it without any toppings.

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As you can see, a few small preparation and eating shifts will make your experience away from home a positive one, and help you build momentum for next time.

OH! One more thing. Watch out for sleazy marketing efforts too! Beware of traditionally not-healthy restaurants (like fast food) that promote some healthy foods on their menu or advertise themselves as being a healthy place to go to get real, clean food.

For example: Chick Fil A and their Kale Superfood Salad. I’ve seen it advertised online as being “crazy healthy!” But doing a little digging by looking at the nutrition facts and ingredients list will reveal that the salad contains nearly 4 teaspoons of sugar (which will spike your blood sugar and release insulin – a fat storage hormone), genetically modified soy (pesticide exposure has been linked to cause Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer, weight gain, allergies, depression, diabetes, antibiotic resistance, and more), sodium benzoate (linked to hyperactivity, premature aging, cancer, Parkinson’s disease), maltodextrin (made from GMO corn and linked to weight gain, bloating, gas), yeast extract (linked to headaches, obesity, neurological and brain damage, liver toxicity), and calcium disodium EDTA (accumulates in the tissue in our bodies, linked to kidney damage, kidney failure, headaches, fatigue, aching joints).

An example of a restaurant that calls themselves “healthy” but is actually far from it…well, I’m pointing my finger at you, Subway. Sure it might be a bit healthier than getting a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s, but it’s a far cry from being healthy.

Wish you could stay healthier, but travel a lot? Here you go! 🙂

Did you enjoy these tips? Do you do any of these already? Think of any I missed? Leave em in the comments section below!

 

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