All too often I hear how difficult it is for people to enjoy a meal out with friends and family. Eating out does not have to be challenging. As long as you know how and what to order, eating out can be totally doable. I want to share 10 tips that will help you enjoy your time out while staying on track with your fitness goals. These tips will help you manage your goals without sacrificing your social life altogether.
1. REVIEW THE MENU AHEAD OF TIME
Before heading out, check the menu online so you can plan your meal using healthier options. It is smart to show up at the restaurant well prepared and knowing what it is you are going to order. You can eat healthy almost anywhere, but you must know what to ask for and how to manipulate the menu options.
2. EAT BEFORE YOU GO OUT
Yes, eat before you go out. Protein, specifically, will help fill you up and keep you satisfied until you eat again. Have a handful of nuts, protein pancake, eggs or a protein shake to tide you over. Whatever you do, don’t go out to eat starving. Most often, poor decisions stem from the fact that you are starving and foods you typically would avoid become foods you give into. If you arrive hungry, most likely you will be easily tempted to fall off track. Not to mention, by the time you get to your destination, get seated, order and eat, it can take hours.
3. DITCH THE CHIPS AND BREAD
Avoid the pre-dinner table snacks and digging into the fresh bread basket or delicious fried corn tortilla chips. Make sure it is out of reach, if possible, and ignore it. If your company is on the same page as you, trying to be more health conscious, ask the server not to bring them or remove them from the table. Remember— out of sight, out of mind.
4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK
Know what you are eating. Ask the server how the food is prepared and don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to ensure you are ordering your meal as you want it. With all the food sensitivities, allergies and “diets” out there, servers are used to answering questions, so ask away. Don’t assume the meal you order will be prepared exactly as the description states. Menus tend to give an overview of the meal but not offer the specifics that can easily prevent a meal from being healthy. For example, often an entre will not list “butter” or “cheese” in the description, but you can bet that most meals are doused with butter or dusted with cheese. Butter and cheese can easily add an additional few hundred calories to a meal!
5. FOOD SUBSTITUTIONS
Opt for the healthier choices. For example, choose brown rice over white rice and whole-wheat pasta over regular white flour pasta. When available, order black beans over refried or corn tortillas over flour. Keep in mind that often the different options will not be listed on the menu, so once again, be sure to ask if these healthy alternatives are available! Did you know you can always substitute a carbohydrate from a meal for extra veggies? That is always the best option.
6. LOAD UP ON VEGGIES
You can never go wrong with vegetables, just be sure to ask for salad dressings with the dressing on the side or grilled vegetables plain, no butter. NO BUTTER is key; most restaurants will drench their veggies in butter. When ordering a salad, be cautious of all the toppings. Often a “healthy salad” can have more fat and calories than a burger! Avoid salads with cheese, dried fruit, nuts (especially caramelized) and extra unnecessary calories. Don’t forget it is OK to modify your meals!
7. WATCH CONDIMENTS AND DRESSINGS
Little things like dressing and mayonnaise can defeat your purpose by practically doubling your caloric intake and adding unnecessary fat. Be aware of this and make the healthier decision. You may be surprised that you don’t even notice or miss heavy dressings or mayonnaise. As a replacement, try mustard, dill relish, salsa or simply ask for balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the side.
8. GRILLED OVER FRIED
Look for options that are grilled over fried. Anything that has the word “crunchy,” “fried” or “breaded” you want to avoid. You would be surprised how many meals can be made “grilled with no butter or sauce.” Even a healthy salmon is normally prepared with butter, so don’t forget to ask for what you want.
9. SAUCE ON THE SIDE, PLEASE
If a meal comes with sauce, as most do, ask for the sauce on the side or simply request, “No sauce, please.” Restaurants tend to add sauces to everything. Most are loaded with cream and butter, so best to avoid them at all costs.
10. LOAD UP ON WATER
Be sure to load up on water. Not only will water help keep you full so you don’t overeat, but it will also keep you hydrated and help combat extra sodium that is used in restaurant meals to boost flavor.
The more you are aware of how to navigate a menu, the easier eating out will be. Eating out doesn’t have to be so daunting. The more you eat out and learn to ask for what you want, you will see how accommodating most places can be. There is no reason why you can’t go out to eat with friends and family, while continuing to stay on track with your goals. I hope these tips help and prove how realistic it really can be.
Be on the lookout for my next article on more specific ordering out tips and suggestions.