May sound tricky, however totally feasible!
I have to come clean about my uncanny habit of stalking restaurant menus online before trying them out. Not only because I am a foodie at heart and I’ll genuinely get excited about trying new dishes, but I also want to make sure the restaurant offers enough healthy options. I also have a habit of requesting slight alterations in whatever I do decide to order. I know, I sound like a real peach to dine out with, huh? 😉 Thankfully, my family and friends have come to expect and accept this. The truth is, you can easily stay on track with your health goals while dining out and still enjoy yourself. Here are a few of my favorite tips and tricks for dining out.
1. Start green. Almost all restaurants offer house salads that are typically pretty simple- raw veggies over a bed of lettuce, possibly topped with cheese and/or croutons. If the main entrée you decide to order is on the rich side, consider holding the cheese and/or croutons on the salad. If salad isn’t your thing, starting with broth-based soup is also a good option. Minestrone, for example, would be an ideal choice.
2. Order dressing and sauces on the side. This is one of the easiest ways to cut back on excess fat and calories. Restaurants are often very generous with dressings. The suggested serving size of salad dressing is 2 tbsp, however some restaurants will douse salads with anywhere from 1/4-1/3 cup of dressing. Requesting dressing on the side puts you in control of how much actually makes it to your greens.
- As far as salad dressings, choose olive oil, balsamic and lemon based dressings as opposed to mayonnaise-based dressings.
- For main entrees, try to avoid any creamy sauces such as alfredo, hollandaise, garlic cream sauce, cheesy pasta sauce, tomato-cream or Béarnaise sauce. Or simply request light sauce.
3. Split an entrée and/or appetizer. Ordering a big green starter salad and splitting an entrée is my preferred route of dining out. I find that every time I do this, I leave the restaurant feeling perfectly satisfied rather than uncomfortably full. For example, the last time my mom and I enjoyed dinner out together, we decided on The Cheesecake Factory. We could have easily racked up a whole days worth of calories and fat in our meals, however we decided to take a team-approach to their 27-page long menu. We split an appetizer (shrimp summer rolls), a turkey burger on a whole-grain bun and a side of sweet potato fries (our favorite). We also may have ordered a fancy dessert and each indulged in a couple of bites. Everything was excellent and we both agreed it was the perfect amount of food.
4. Share from start to finish. To play off #5, order one appetizer for the whole table or order one dessert with multiple forks. Sometimes, just a bite or two is perfect.
5. Request substitutions. Most restaurants are more than accommodating for guests with specific dietary needs and considerations. Don’t be afraid to ask for healthy alternatives to menu items. For example:
- Request meat be either grilled, baked or broiled
- Request no- or minimally-added butter or oil to cooked veggies
- Request double veggie as sides as opposed to a veggie and a starch
- Request no added salt
- Request light sauce on pasta dishes
- Inquire about whole-grain options
6. Take half of your meal home. Ask for a to-go box upon arrival of your meal and box up half of it to take home. This is a great way to exercise portion control and prevent temptation of eating past signs of satiety, or fullness. If you know you will get to enjoy your meal again the next day, you may feel less of a desire to eat excess amounts during that moment.
7. Enjoy cocktails or dessert. Craft cocktails can be loaded with sugar, so try to opt for either one or the other. If you’re looking to enjoy a “mocktail”, request soda water with a splash of cranberry or orange juice with a squeeze of fresh lime. You could also inquire about “skinny” cocktails made with diet juices or sugar substitute.
8. Enjoy a protein-rich snack 2-3 hours before dining out. This will help keep your blood sugars stable and prevent you from over eating on less-healthy options at the restaurant.
9. Always start with a full glass of water. Dehydration can mask signs of hunger, so drink up! I encourage at least 8 ounces of water before all meals/snacks.
10. Avoid stressing over splurging. I always like to touch on the mental component of health because it is so crucial to living a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Although I advise only eating out on occasion (~1-2 times per week), your body can handle decadent meals as long as they are enjoyed in moderation. Stressing over meals can actually be worse for your health than the meal itself. If healthy choices are limited when dining out, just do the best you can, enjoy the experience and spoil your body with nutrient-dense foods the next day.