4 Simple Ways to Stay Healthy Eating Out at a Restaurant
So I LOVE to eat out (maybe you do, too), but it can be tough to fit those delicious, restaurant meals into a healthy lifestyle. Cooking and eating at home certainly makes it easier to eat well: we have more control over what we eat, we can make fuel-filled choices, and we save money! It’s definitely a healthy habit for us to develop. So is it better to just give up eating out altogether?
Of course, it’s a personal choice (surely, you’re entitled to nix eating out for good, if that’s what you want to do). But, we do not have to completely eliminate eating out in order to be healthy! The reality is, going out to eat has a place in many of our lives. Sometimes, we’re pressed for time and may choose to pick up a meal from a restaurant. Eating out has also become a major social activity in our culture. And, going out to eat is just plain fun—we get to try new foods and flavors that we wouldn’t create ourselves!
The real question is: How can we make healthier choices when we do go out to eat at a restaurant? If you enjoy eating out and want to make it part of your healthy lifestyle, here are some tips to help you make healthy choices:
Whether you have a reservation days from now or you decide to go out to dinner tonight, consider what kind of meal you want ahead of time. Will you be happier making a healthy choice for this meal, or do you want to use this meal as an opportunity to indulge? Either is okay! Whichever you choose, planning ahead will minimize any stress you might feel about eating out, and can reduce potential guilt you may feel after the meal.
If you’re traveling and eating out a lot, if you go out to eat often for work, or if you’ve just been slacking on your healthy eating habits (we all do it), you may want to eat a healthier, fuel-filled meal at a restaurant. If so, mentally prepare yourself to make a healthy choice ahead of time, so you’re less anxious or unsure looking at the menu. Sitting at your table and looking at the menu before you order, you may feel pressed for time, decide to indulge impulsively, and then feel upset about the decision afterwards.
Many restaurants display their menu online, so you can choose your specific meal—before you’ve even arrived. More and more restaurants now also provide nutritional information on their menu or online, which can help you make a healthier choice. The key is to make the decision and then commit, either to making that healthy choice or choosing that indulgence, so you can have peace of mind when you order.
Focus on FUEL!
When we cook and prepare healthy meals for ourselves at home, we’re thinking about balance, food groups, nutrients, and truly FUELING our bodies. We can use this same mentality to make healthy choices at a restaurant!
What menu items offer your body quality fuel? How can you include wholesome foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your meal? Which menu items are lacking in fuel? Of course, this will all depend on your personal diet and lifestyle choice.
Many restaurants (especially for breakfast) offer fresh fruit as a side dish instead of something heartier or fattier.
Look for whole-grain options, like whole-wheat pastas and breads, quinoa, or long-grain brown rice.
To get more veggies, order a salad as an appetizer (or as your main meal), or choose wholesome side dishes like steamed or roasted vegetables.
Choose leaner proteins, like chicken, turkey, fish, beans, lentils, or tofu.
Watch out for high sodium foods or foods cooked in lots of oil, and request for your food to be cooked with less salt and less oil.
Beware of added sugars hidden in lots of salad dressings, sauces, and condiments! If you’re monitoring your fat intake, these items can also be sneakily high in fat.
Order Your Meal How YOU Want It
Part of the enjoyment in going out to eat (even when we make a healthy choice) is that someone else is cooking the food for us!
It’s your meal, so don’t be afraid to ask for simple, healthy modifications:
Ask for sauces, dressings, & condiments on the side—these are often loaded with calories, fat, sodium, and added sugars (not very fuel-filled)! Restaurants tend to drench dishes in sauces and dressings, but you have control of how much you use by ordering them on the side.
Swap if you want—not every restaurant allows substitutions, but you can always ask! Try swapping fries for fresh veggies, white bread for a whole-grain variety, or regular dressing for low-fat!
Choose healthier food preparationmethods—food that’s deep fried or pan-fried is often cooked in tons of butter or oil. Instead, ask for your food to be steamed, roasted, boiled or baked!
If You Do Choose to Indulge, Give Yourself Permission & Enjoy It Fully!
The reality is, there will be times when we go out to eat and want to indulge. If you’re going to a restaurant that you love, or if you’re excited about a meal and have decided that you want to indulge, tell yourself that it’s okay! Commit to the decision, recognize that you’re choosing to indulge (rather than impulsively “giving in”), and remind yourself that you are allowed to indulge. This way, you minimize that guilt because you’ve made the conscious decision to eat that indulgent meal or dessert!
You may be tempted to “save” calories and not eat much (or not eat at all) for the entire day, but this can actually work against us. When we starve ourselves before an indulgent meal, we often end up indulging far more than we would have if we had just fueled our bodies and eaten satisfying meals that day! We do not need to punish ourselves for indulging and enjoying food by starving our bodies (beforehand or afterward). Our bodies always deserve quality fuel, so we can function properly every day.
By giving yourself permission to indulge ahead of time, you can also plan the rest of your meals for that day and make them more fuel-filled. If you want to eat that ten-cheese pizza or double fudge brownie cake at dinner tonight, think about packing more quality fuel into your breakfast and lunch! Indulging can absolutely be a part of a healthy lifestyle, as long as we remember that indulgences are meant to be occasional.