Guide to Healthy Eating Out

Children at Restaurant

Eating out is a fun way to spend quality time with friends and loved ones, but it usually means blowing your diet or eating unhealthy foods you wouldn’t normally cook at home.  With these tips, eating out doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself to stay healthy. It is possible to enjoy delicious restaurant food and stay on track if you know what to look for!

Restaurant food is made to be extra tempting and delicious, not healthy. Nutrition is the last thing considered when restaurants create menus featuring deep fried dishes drenched in oil, rich sauces, salads with creamy dressings, and vegetables covered in butter.

Use these strategies to enjoy a meal out while avoiding the pitfalls.

Before You Head Out, Make a Plan

  • If you know ahead of time that you're going to a restaurant for dinner, plan to have lighter meals during the day.
  • Make a commitment to eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are no longer hungry. Put your fork down in between each bite to give yourself time to breathe and relax.
  • Skip the drive. Pick a restaurant that's walking distance. This way you can avoid the parking and traffic hassles while enjoying the scenery. Try to include some physical activity together as a group before or after eating. A brisk walk before a meal gives you time to chat. A stroll afterward improves your digestion.

Scout Locations

These days, you can find healthful foods almost everywhere. Go online and check out healthy dining options nearby. You can read restaurant reviews and more before choosing where to eat.

Preselect Your Menu

The trick is to know what you're getting into before you get to the restaurant and are tempted by enticing menu descriptions. Many restaurants post their menus with nutrition information online. You'll be able to choose the most nutritious items and arrive ready to order the best meal plus ask for substitutions where necessary.

Don't Go Starving

If you arrive at a restaurant starving, before you know it, you’ll scarf down several pieces of bread and order the first delicious thing you see. Before you leave home, have a large glass of water and a small snack like sliced veggies or a piece of fruit to hold you over until mealtime. Or when you get to the restaurant, order a cup of broth-based soup or small green salad to stave off hunger.

Read between the Lines

The way a dish is described on a menu can give you clues to how it's prepared. Keywords to look for include "grilled," "broiled," or "steamed." These descriptions usually mean the food is cooked with less fat. Watch out for descriptions such as "rich,” “creamy,” “fried,” “breaded,” “smothered,” and “alfredo.” These words describe foods cooked with extra butter, oil, fat, and calories. 

Just Ask

Don't be afraid to ask your server to help you improve your meal. For example, instead a side of fries or potatoes, you could ask for a salad. You can also ask that items be prepared without oil, butter, or cheese. When your server walks out with a basket of bread or chips, simply ask that they be taken away. Make sure to always request salads with the dressing on the side, or request oil and vinegar.

Create Your Own Dish

Many times you can order "off-menu." For example, ask what vegan or vegetarian dish the chef can prepare for you or if it's possible to make plain grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. Many restaurants are happy to comply.

Portion Control

You've probably read advice to ask for half portions or share your meal with a friend. However, with the gigantic portion sizes at some restaurants, half may still be too much. Instead, remember what your portion sizes would look like at home and try to replicate that with your restaurant meal. Build your plate with lean protein, vegetables, and a healthy fat or starch. Try to cut down on the heavy side dishes like french fries or mashed potatoes and fill up on better options like steamed vegetables, side salad, plain baked potato, or fruit.

 

Add to Your Meal

It’s not all about deprivation and what you can't eat. Think about all the healthy items you can add to your plate. Look for extra vegetable options, different herbs and spices. Opt for foods with healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Be sure to order lots of fresh fruits and veggies. And go for lean meat, turkey, chicken, or fish.

If you enjoy dining out, you don't have to stop to stay healthy. With some preparation and savvy substitutions, you can order meals that are as nutritious as the ones you prepare at home.