Dining out when dieting (or just living fit) does not have to be a stressful endeavor. As long as you know how and what to order, you can stay on track with your goals and have fun while you are at it! Yes, you heard me right: You can reach your goals without sacrificing your social life altogether.
If you do decide to go out for a bite to eat, I suggest checking the menu online in advance to plan your meal. It’s smart to show up at the restaurant with a plan. This way, the fried, covered and smothered options don’t catch you in a moment of weakness. That said, you can eat healthy almost anywhere, but you must know what to ask for and how to manipulate the menu options. Here are a few tips for dining out success:
1. Enjoy a healthy snack before you go out. Yes, eat before you go out. Protein will help fill you up and keep you satisfied until you eat again. Have a handful of nuts, a protein bar or a shake to tide you over. Whatever you do, don’t go out to eat starving. You will be setting yourself up for failure. By the time you get to your destination, order and are served, it will probably be time to eat your next meal and you will definitely be ready to eat again.
Most often, poor decisions stem from the fact that you are starving and foods you typically would avoid become foods that you are craving. If you arrive hungry, most likely you will be easily tempted to order something that isn’t the best choice. Doesn’t a Bloomin’ Onion sound amazing when you are starving?
2. Just say NO. Avoid the pre-dinner table snacks like the fresh breadbasket or fried corn tortilla chips. Keep it out of reach, if possible, and ignore it. If your company is also trying to be more health conscious, ask the server not to bring them or to remove them from the table. Remember, out of site, out of mind.
3. Ask questions. Know what you are eating. Ask the server how the food is prepared to ensure you are ordering your meal exactly as you want it. With all the food sensitivities, allergies, “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 do not offer the specifics. For example, often an entree will not list “butter” in the description, but you can bet that most meals are doused with it for flavor. Butter can easily add an unnecessary few hundred calories to a meal!
4. Substitute. 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. Often the different options will not be listed on the menu, so once again, be sure to ask if these healthier alternatives are available!
5. Fill up on fiber. You can never go wrong with vegetables. Just be sure to ask for salad dressings on the side or for vegetables without butter. It is all about making healthier choices whenever possible. Your choices become habits. With every healthy choice you make, you are contributing to your life long success.
6. Curb your condiments. Little things like rich dressing and mayonnaise can turn a healthy meal into a disaster 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 miss heavy dressings or mayonnaise. As a replacement, ask for mustard, dill relish, oil & vinegar or your salsa as condiments.
7. Half-it. A meal from a restaurant is usually about two to three times the serving it really should be. I always ask for a “to-go container” and immediately put half away for later. It helps control your serving and offers you lunch for the next day.
All in all, enjoy going out to eat—it’s fun! The more you practice eating out and making healthier choices, the sooner it will become a habit. You will find that you are still able to go out to eat with friends and family, while continuing to reach your goals.
To help you make healthy dining out choices, I’ve created a Dining Out Flow Chart for you to print and keep on hand. Hope this helps!