Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Going on vacation with your family?
Traveling for work or heading to a conference out of town?
Getting together with friends for lunch or dinner?
Eating out at restaurants doesn't mean we have to sabotage all the hard work that we put into our nutrition and fitness. Below are tips on navigating restaurants and continuing to eat healthy whether you're out for a meal with friends or vacationing with family.
Be prepared. I almost never go out to a restaurant without studying the menu first. Many restaurants have their menus available online and so previewing the menu is usually pretty easy to accomplish. If possible, look through the menu and decide on your choices beforehand so you have a plan.
Choose a healthy restaurant when possible. Fast food chains should be reserved for emergencies only. What does a healthy restaurant look like? They will likely use fresh, local, and/or organic ingredients. For U.S. residents, check out Healthy Dining Finder, which offers options for healthy restaurants.
Leave something on your plate. I know that may sound wasteful, but restaurants generally give us larger portions then we need. In my experience, I have a tendency to get lost in conversation and lose track of how much I've consumed. If you look at the plate (by Precision Nutrition) you can get a sense of how much of each macronutrient (fat, carbs, protein) make up a well-balanced and appropriately portioned meal. Many restaurants tend to create plates that offer much more protein, fats, and starches then veggies — and so be mindful of how much you're eating. Another option is to eat half of your meal and take the rest home with you to have the next day.
Ask for more... veggies that is. Instead of piling on or eating more starches then you need, simply ask for more veggies. For instance, as much as I love mashed potatoes, they're likely made with lots of butter, milk and sometimes cheese, so I skip the mashed potatoes and ask for more veggies instead.
Go as naked as possible. While I would love to eat a fish entree that has the word glazed in its description, I know it's likely made with sugar and other ingredients that I simply don't need in my diet. So instead I will order the most naked fish I can. This tip would also apply to other lean proteins like pork, chicken, and red meat.
Other descriptors of food to avoid include: fried breaded cheesy lightly coated crispy sizzling secret blend carmelized creamy smothered
Look for the Magic 3. When ordering, look for meals that include:
- vegetables and fruits - lean protein
- high fiber, slow-digesting carbs like beans or whole grains
Inquire. Before I transitioned to more mindful eating, I rarely asked how meals are prepared in restaurants. When I go out now, I don't hesitate to ask if I'm uncertain as to how something is prepared. Here are some questions to ask your server: - How are the vegetables cooked? Any chance I could have them steamed instead?
- Could you put the dressing/sauces/condiments on the side?
- Is the chicken breaded, grilled, or broiled? (in case you're wondering, broiled or grilled is usually the healthier choice)
- Is there any added sugar, butter, cheese, or oil?
These questions may seem nit-picky, but they could potentially save you from eating hundreds of unnecessary calories and perhaps more importantly, consuming added ingredients like sugar and sodium.
Soup and salad for the win. Depending on what kind of soup and salad you order, yes, both can be healthy options. However, not all soups and salads are created equal. Be aware of soups like onion soup, broccoli cheddar, cream of mushroom, and clam chowder. Why? The onion soup will likely contain much more cheese then we need to consume, much like you will find with the broccoli cheddar soup. The cream of mushroom (which I once ate often) has heavy cream, butter, and flour, much like the clam chowder. Now you're probably wondering how can you go wrong with a salad? Dressings can contain a lot of unnecessary calories and ingredients. In addition, when you top a salad with things like cheese, croutons, bacon, tortilla chips, or candied nuts, you're adding those unneeded calories and ingredients like sugar and sodium. When I order salads, I always ask for the dressing on the side so I have control over how much I use. When in doubt, it's better to go with a vinaigrette or oil based dressing over a creamy dressing.
Do you need to follow these tips all the time and for every single meal you eat out? Nope. I eat healthy (and mindfully) at restaurants about 95% of the time, as I don't want to sabotage all the mindful eating and working out I've done. When you do indulge a bit from time to time, you will definitely enjoy and appreciate those meals.
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