Tips For Eating Out When You're On a Diet
Look, I get it. Sometimes it is just impossible to meal prep every meal for the week or to cook dinner every single night. Even I get sick of cooking and cleaning all the time. It just makes more sense to go out every now and then, or to pick something up on the way home. Good news, friends, there are tons of ways to eat healthy when you go out to eat as well. Here are some of the strategies I employ when heading out to a restaurant to eat.
Check out the menu ahead of time.
Most restaurants post their menus on their websites, or if you check Yelp, they will generally have a photo of the menu for restaurants as well. This way you can plan ahead for what you are going to eat later that day. If you know you want to have a splurge at the restaurant, try to eat healthy for the rest of the meals you eat that day. Otherwise, you can plan your healthy order out ahead of time.
Choose the right restaurant.
If you check out a menu ahead of time, and know there are zero healthy options there, suggest going to a different place instead! There are almost always healthy options at steakhouses, so when in doubt, I always suggest one of those.
Order a side salad to start.
I like to order a salad to start, especially when there is a bread basket. It is easy to get lost in conversation and find yourself mindlessly gorging on the free bread or chips they bring to the table before your meal. Order a salad so you have something to munch on before your meal, but that isn't so calorically dense as bread or chips. OR if you HAVE to eat some bread, keep it to a minimum, and skip the starchy carbs with dinner.
Order around a protein and veggie base.
When you order your meal at a restaurant, plan it around a protein: think steak, chicken, or fish. Then, pick a veggie, preferably not fried or sautéed. From there, you can either stop, order an extra veggie, or a healthy carb like rice or potatoes.
Skip the extras.
Baked potatoes or sweet potatoes are both really great, filling, sides. However, restaurants LOVE to load them up with ALL the fixings. Typically they will bring you a potato covered in butter, sour cream, cheese, brown sugar, bacon, etc. It kills me that people think they are eating healthy by ordering a sweet potato, when it is truly just a buttery, brown sugar covered dessert in disguise. You might as well have ordered the molten cake at this point. Take all that shit off! You don't need it. Sweet potatoes are SO yummy all by themselves. Ask for toppings on the side, so you can add just a little here or there, or try it just plain.
The same goes for salads. You can VERY easily order a high calorie salad that equates to ordering a burger and fries. Make a few changes, and you have a healthy and filling side or meal. Order your dressing on the side, remove the high calorie toppings like croutons, bacon, and cheese, and add additional flavor and satiety by asking for extra protein like fish, steak or chicken and/or add additional veggies like red onions or beets. Fun fact- if you love cheese like me, order feta or goat cheese on your salad instead of cheddar. Goat cheeses are typically less inflammatory than traditional cows milk cheeses, and they are also lower in calories and fat!
Avoid high fat cooking methods.
Try to stay away from ordering foods or sides accompanied with the words "fried," "sautéed," "creamy," "cheese-filled," "breaded," etc. These words just mean that the food is covered in oil or cheese, which adds up in calories FAST. Instead, ask for your veggies or meats steamed, cooked, or baked (grilled and broiled are good too!) without oil or butter. You can order butter or sauces on the side if necessary!
Ask for a to-go box as soon as you order.
Many restaurants provide you with portions double or triple the actual recommended serving size. If you immediately order a to-go box with your meal, you can put at least half of it away, so you aren't tempted to over-eat while sitting at the table. You can also appreciate the fact that you are now getting two meals for the price of one ;).
Don't be afraid to be annoying when you order.
Most restaurants are happy to accommodate any substitutions or changes you want to make to menu items. My orders are LENGTHY (the most EXTRA). I will go to the extreme of taking off salad toppings and substituting in extra veggies instead. I also order ALL the extras on the side so I know exactly how much I am getting. You can show your appreciation for the patience of your waiter by tipping them well at the end!
Always order water (with lemon) even if you are ordering another drink as well.
The lemon is just because I love the taste of it in my water ;). I use this tip for a couple of reasons. First, sometimes I feel like I'm hungry, but I'm truly just thirsty. Drinking water at a restaurant helps fill me up, so I'm not tempted to eat a HUGE meal. Secondly, if I choose to order a drink also, it typically ends up being only one, because I have filled my stomach up simultaneously with water. You can only drink so much!
Know when it's time to splurge!
We all get into diet ruts sometimes, and everyone deserves a break once in a while. Listen to your body and know when it's time to treat yourself. In those cases, don't worry so much about tracking calories or macros, and just enjoy your food and time with friends or family! I especially support this if it ends up being an epic dessert. I love dessert. After all, it's only one meal, and that one meal is not going to make or break your diet. Just be prepared to get back on track with your next meal!
My favorite go-to restaurants for healthy eating are steakhouses (especially Ted's Montana Grill), Chipotle, Newk's, and Whole Foods (salad or hot bars). If an area has a farm-to-table restaurant that brings in fresh foods from local farms, I like to try these out as well. In those cases, you know you are getting good quality, fresh foods. Again, check your menus, and plan ahead! Don't be afraid to be annoying when you order, so that you get exactly what you want!!
I hope these tips help you out with your next meal out. What are your strategies for staying healthy while eating out, and where are your favorite healthy spots? Let me know in the comments!