Do you want to stay trim and fit, but also really enjoy dining out? Or, does your work or travel schedule leave you eating in restaurants multiple times per week? If so, you’re not alone. Nearly 60% of North Americans report eating out at least once per week. I believe that the whole point of being healthy is to enjoy your life more, thus it makes no sense to stop doing the things you enjoy in order to be healthy. The good news is that, with a bit of planning and a bit of know-how, you can stick to a healthy eating routine and still enjoy meals out.
Your plan of attack will depend on a few different factors:
- Why are you out to eat? Are you there because you’re on a work trip and you just need to eat, or are you out to enjoy time with a friend or spouse? If you’re eating out for necessity, then sticking to a less indulgent meal would be wise.
- How often do you dine out? If eating out is a rare occurrence, what you choose will have little impact on your long-term health. If you eat at restaurants often, then you may choose to be a bit more strict with your choices.
- Are you trying to maintain your current level of health or improve it? You will have some more ‘wiggle room’ in your choices if you are aiming to maintain where you’re at.
- Here’s my disclaimer: Before I list all the tactics to consume fewer calories when dining out, remember that listening to your body and eating with intention trumps everything. I’d rather you eat what you really love, even if it’s the penne alfredo with prawns, and choose to eat mindfully, with awareness and to 80% full, than choose a ‘lighter’ option but not enjoy it at all, or eat too much.
With that being said, having a few strategies can help, and I’m here to help!
Before you go out:
- Eat a small snack prior to going out, or at least ensure that you are not ravenous. If you are too hungry, especially to the point of feeling irritable, your desire to eat anything and everything can easily override your desire to choose a healthy option.
- Decide ahead of time. If you are able to, research the menu online to see what the restaurant offers. It’s easier to stick to a plan that you made ahead of time rather than to try to decide on the fly. If your plan is to indulge in whatever you want; then go for it; but decide ahead of time.
- Change your mindset. Remind yourself that you’re there to enjoy time with your friends or spouse, and that you happen to be eating food. Enjoy your food, but remember that it’s just food.
At the restaurant:
- Start with water. Cold water, hot water, lemon water, soda water- there’s so many choices! If you choose to order a drink, enjoy something on the lighter fare such as a glass of wine, or alcohol mixed with soda water. Fancy drinks such as margaritas and long island ice teas can pack upwards of 600 calories per glass.
- Skip the appetizers. Appetizer is not synonymous with lower calorie. In fact, many appetizers have more calories than the main course. Have you ever been out with friends to get something ‘little to snack on’ and end up with a plate of nachos on the table. Even when shared, a plate of nachos has more than enough calories to fuel most people for an entire day! If you must, split an appetizer with your table then opt for something lighter, such as cocktail prawns.
- Just say no to the breadbasket. Oh… that warm, fresh out of the oven bread; crusty on the outside and soft, gooey and white on the inside. Alongside, a perfect scoop of garlic butter. It’s so good. But really, it’s just bread. Save your wonderful appetite for the main course. You’ll feel happier, healthier, and less bloated when your meal is done.
- Pump up the veggies. Ask the server for a double serving of steamed veggies instead of all the starches. Yes, ask! You have the right to order food the way you want it; and a good restaurant will want their customers to be happy. If you are really craving a potato or rice, ask for a smaller portion, such as just one or two fingerling potatoes.
- Use caution with sauce. Sauces are meant to make the meal tastier; and the brain loves fat, sugar and salt! To control for condiment overload, ask for dressings and sauces on the side and do the fork dip. Put a bite size portion of food on your fork, and gingerly dip in the sauce.
- Enjoy open faced burgers and sandwiches. Burgers and sandwiches can hit the spot, but rarely do we need to eat an entire bun or two thick slices of bread. Ask for your sandwich open faced (only 1 slice of bread). Many restaurants now offer lettuce wraps as a lighter option to a traditional burger.
- Make informed choices. Foods such as creamy, crispy, breaded, stuffed, sautéed and buttery are euphemisms for high fat. As I mentioned before, eating with awareness is more important than what you eat, but you’ll still want to make an informed decision.
- 8.Remember that not all salads are healthy. Some entrée salads can have upwards of 1200 or more calories- more than most people need in a sitting. Salads can be great options, but go light on the added cheese, bacon, candied nuts, dried fruit and dressing.
- Before you dig in, visualize how much you think you will need to eat to feel satisfied and energized. Eat slowly and with awareness, and when you reach the point, pause check in with your hunger. If you feel satisfied, stop eating, and ask for the rest in a to-go bag. If your meal will not be good as leftovers, let it go. The food is wasted whether it goes in the garbage or into your belly after you’re already full.
- Put a napkin over your plate to signal being done. Having a physical barrier between you and your food will help you stop the ‘picking’ at your meal once you’re done eating.
- What about dessert? I’m not going to give advice on which desserts are healthier. I believe that if you really want something, you should have what you really want and eat just enough to satisfy your desire. Before looking at the menu, check in with yourself to see how you’re actually feeling, and how you want to feel when you leave the restaurant. Are you pleasantly full? How will you feel after dessert? Do you want dessert out of habit? How will you feel if you go home without having dessert? If you choose to look at the menu, order something that is worth the calories. Enjoy slowly and mindfully. If you eat with awareness, you can reach feeling ‘satisfied’ in 3 wonderful bites.
With some planning and awareness, dining out can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. Make informed choices, listen to your body, and enjoy your meal!