Between breakfast meetings, events, and social dinner with friends, eating out is a regular part of my life, as I am sure it is many of yours. However, since what we eat directly impacts how we feel both physically and mentally, a lot of meals can make us feel way off our game (I know from experience, I oftentimes feel that 4pm slump after a big lunch out.)
Since eating out is sometimes the only option, I’ve realized that I should come prepared to make smarter and healthier choices while at restaurants.
An indulgent meal out once in a while is totally fine, but when it’s several days a week or more, and sometimes multiple meals a day, it can really add up, thanks to large portion sizes, excessive oil, butter, and sugar. Plus all that salt, which can make us feel bloated and dehydrated. And that’s all before factoring in the alcohol consumption.
I’ve done my research and have found a few simple ideas that can aid in making better choices while at your favorite restaurant.
Check The Menu Ahead Of Time
Picking a restaurant in advance makes life easier. A reservation saves hanger-inducing wait time, and thanks to being able to scope out menus and reviews online, you can save yourself the anxiety of trying to choose well in the moment—also helpful if you have allergies or other restrictions. Even just knowing what cuisine you’ll be having can help you figure out what changes to make elsewhere in your day. For example, knowing you’ll likely have pasta for dinner lets you know to have a veggie-packed salad with grilled salmon at lunch. Have a few ideas in mind of what you might order, just in case something you wanted isn’t available.
Begin With A Salad
A simple salad that’s mostly greens with some veggies makes a great appetizer choice, since the fiber and water in lettuce help you fill up and avoid overeating later in the meal. Just be mindful that nuts, croutons, grains, cheese, dried fruit, and avocado can add up quickly, so look for something without a lot of extras—ideally, choose one or two. To make your salad a meal, make sure you’ve got some protein on there, such as fish, steak, eggs, or beans (I am leaving out chicken only because I do not eat it, don’t ask…)
You’ve probably heard this a million times, but having the dressing on the side and using a light touch really does help you keep it real with the extra calories, sodium, sugar, and other stuff often found in salad dressing. Oil and vinegar is also a great alternative.
Prioritize Protein And Veggies
Vegetables provide filling fiber and important vitamins and minerals, and protein helps you stay satisfied. It’s also a lot harder to overeat these foods when compared to breads and pastas, which tend not to be as filling in the moment. Just keep an eye on portions, especially with meat and fish, since most restaurants serve (at least) twice what you actually need in one sitting.
Sharing Is Caring
Splitting a dish is a great way to keep portions realistic or have a taste of a more indulgent dish you’d rather not fill up on. Aim for a balanced meal that provides veggies and some protein in the mix. For example, if you’re at a pizza place, your group could split one pizza and a few salads.
With small plates, choose wisely. Sure, they’re a great way to sample lots of flavors, but sometimes it can be easy to lose track of how much you’ve had to eat. Make it work by ordering a few vegetables, some protein-heavy dishes, and just a few of the more indulgent items on the menu.
Choose Your One Indulgence For Dinner
Whether it’s a glass of wine, the bread basket, or dessert, I recommend choosing what will be your “indulgence” will be for dinners. Usually, I tend to skip the bread basket unless I’m at a restaurant that’s known for having house-baked bread and a special butter that isn’t to be missed. I find that indulging in a glass of wine or a delicious dessert is more worth it. This rule of thumb helps me to feel like I’m having a treat, while still sticking with healthful goals throughout the meal. Of course, there are instances where it’s okay to loosen up a bit and have your cake and eat it too—but if we’re talking about sticking with a healthy eating plan while at a restaurant, then choosing one indulgence is the way to go.