I come from a very foodie family. We get excited about trying new things and get very crabby if we miss a meal. Half the fun of traveling for us is getting to try new restaurants. So for a weekend like this one, where my dad and brother are coming to visit me in Kansas City, I anticipate that almost all of my meals will be eaten at restaurants.
Eating outside of the home has become so much more common in America than it used to be, and it is definitely a contribution to the rising obesity rates. When you eat at a restaurant, whether it’s fast food or five star, you lose the control of what is going in to your food. This means that sometimes even the “healthy” options really might not be so healthy. And don’t even get me started on portion sizes. And then there’s the free bread at Italian places, the free chips and salsa at Mexican places. Eating out frequently can be the downfall of a healthy lifestyle; eating at home will almost always be the better option.
For me, since I cook and prepare my own food 98% of the time, I allow myself to “splurge” a little when I do eat out, because it’s normally a special occasion like a birthday, celebration, or vacation. Food can be just pure fun sometimes, that’s okay. If you’re like me and you rarely ever go out to eat, go ahead and treat yourself when you do, if that’s what you want. There’s no harm.
However, if you are a more frequent out of home diner, or if you’re circumstances are a little different and you know you’re going to be eating several meals out in a row (i.e. traveling, or in my case, having out of town visitors), then you might want to think twice about your choices. The good news is, you don’t have to throw away your whole healthy lifestyle just because you’re going to be eating out more frequently. There are some simple tips you can follow to keep your portions, calories, and nutrients in check.
Skip the appetizer
Tell the waiter to take away bread or chips, and don’t order an appetizer from the menu. This almost guarantees you will overeat, and most appetizer options pack the most calories and fat of any of the menu items.
Stick with water
Soda, sweet teas, lemonades, and other drinks provide unnecessary sugar and calories. Stick to plain water or sparkling water and add some lemon for added flavor. If you’re really in the mood for something else, choose unsweet iced tea or diet soda.
Order from the “light” menu if they have it
Some restaurants have a section of the menu dedicated to lower calorie and/or “fresher”/”healthier” items. If not, a lot of menus will have a calorie count for each item. Don’t stress too much about calories, but don’t ignore them either. Just be mindful. Also, read the descriptions and look for options that offer a good balance of lean protein, veggies, and good carbs.
Ask how an item is prepared
Look for the words baked, grilled, broiled, or sautéd in the description. If you’re unsure, ask the waiter how it’s prepared and be aware of dishes with the word “creamy” or “fried” as these usually indicate high fat items- and not the good kind of fat.
Substitute a side salad or veggies instead of fries
If the entree you want comes with a side of fries or chips, ask if you can get a side salad or steamed vegetables instead. A baked potato is a better option than fries as well, but try to get some veggies in your meal if they aren’t part of your entrée.
Get the dressing on the side
Whether it’s a side salad or an entrée option, restaurants usually go way too heavy on the dressing. Order it on the side to control the amount of calories you consume from dressing. And speaking of salads; if you’re ordering one for your main meal to be healthy, be sure you double check what ingredients are in it and how they are prepared. It is REALLY easy to pack on the calories and fat in salads, and they aren’t always the best option. Look for salads that have a wide variety of fresh veggies and no fried meats.
Choose a whole grain option when possible
A lot of restaurants have a whole grain option for various items such as bread/buns, pasta, rice, and pizza crust. Ask if you can substitute for a more hearty, fiber-filled option.
Get a box!
The huge portions at restaurants are one of the biggest culprits of added calories that can lead to unwanted weight gain. Make it a goal to eat only half of your meal and take the other half home to eat for another meal later on. If you struggle to cut yourself off, try asking for the box before you even begin eating and put half the food away right away! Another option is to split an entrée with a family member or friend.
Allow yourself to really taste and enjoy the food and take note of when you are actually full. (This goes for all eating occasions, not just eating out!)
Don’t stress too much
I want to emphasize that treating yourself is okay once in a while. As mentioned before, these tips are more for those who are eating out frequently for whatever reason. Don’t let worrying about what choice you’re going to make consume you- just enjoy the experience and realize that you can always get back on track with your normal eating.
Drive through and fast food restaurants are a little different. In my opinion, it’s a lot harder to make good decisions with fast food, so I would recommend only eating it in absolute emergency situations. Always having some healthy food on hand at home or preparing ahead of time should eliminate the need to run through the McDonald’s drive through last minute. For example, I almost always pack a lunch or healthy snacks if I am going on a long road trip. Not to mention… you guessed it… meal prep! Always a life saver. (For meal prep ideas and tips, subscribe to my blog or follow me on instagram).
If you do find yourself with no other option than fast food, there are still some choices you can make to minimize the damage; grilled/baked instead of fried, light salads, skip the fries and regular sodas, take off half of the bun, choose a sandwich shop instead of a burger joint, etc.
I hope you guys found this post helpful and found a few tricks you’ll try next time you’re at a restaurant. As always, feel free to like, comment, or contact me and have a wonderful weekend!