For so many health-conscious people (or those on the road to making healthier choices), perhaps the biggest challenge across the board is learning how to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle while also enjoying a meal out. For some, this might just be an occasional lunch or dinner with friends or family, but for many, this includes weekly or daily lunches, regular work meetings that involve food, or companies that bring in lunch (and even dinner) for their employees on a daily basis.
The good news is, eating out does not have to derail your healthy diet goals. Successfully forming new habits of any kind generally takes around three weeks. The same goes for getting into the routine of cooking more meals at home (which generally ensures that we are making healthier choices), but the same rule applies for learning how to eat out in restaurants.
Here Are 5 Top Tips On How To Make The Best Choices When Eating Out:
Avoid the Bread Basket
Certainly one of the hardest parts to resist is the breadbasket that comes before the meal is served. You could easily eat an entire meal’s worth of empty calories in bread before the actual food even arrives. Empty calories mean that you the calories consumed offer little to no nutrient benefit. Bread is a carbohydrate, and high-carb diets are top contributors to weight gain and an array of other health problems over time. Instead of counting on will-power alone, ask the server not to bring the bread, period.
Read the Menu Beforehand
This might sound obsessive, but studies show that when we are hungry and/or distracted, we consistently make poor(er) food choices. If we familiarize ourselves with the menu online before arriving to the restaurant, we’ve already chosen the option we know to be healthiest, and can focus on having fun and not making any impulsive decisions.
Substitute Side Dishes
Get rid of the idea that you don’t want to be annoying. As long as you are polite about it, it is completely acceptable to ask how dishes are prepared, and to request substitutes. For example, if a dish is served over rice, ask that it be served over steamed vegetables. Ask for your salad dressing on the side. Instead of bread, ask for a side of fruit or veggies. Most all restaurants can easily provide these alternatives.
Stick to Meat and Veggie Options
Stick to orders that are made up of real foods, such as meat and vegetables, whenever possible. Depending on where you live, the restaurant might boast organic and grass-fed meats. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to order red meats such as beef or pork. However, if the meat quality is questionable, it is best to stick for leaner options (all animals store toxins in our fat cells), such as fish, chicken, and turkey. The veggie option might be a salad, roasted, steamed or stir-fried vegetables (request they don’t use too much oil if stir-frying).
Order Two Appetizers
Especially if portions are big, order two appetizers. This might be a salad or veggie dish, along with a meat option such as chicken skewers. If ordering soup, inquire as to what ingredients have been used, as many soups that sound healthy are often not.
Don’t Overdo It On The Alcohol
If drinking, stick to a glass or two of red or white wine, or clear liquors with lemon and club soda. Most cocktails are packed with sugar and calories, and beer can derail any healthy weight loss plan. Drink one glass of water in between alcoholic beverages, as being dehydrated makes us crave sugar and carbohydrates.
In fact, one study showed that drinking 17 oz. of water before a meal reduced the calories consumed by a whopping 44%.
Now, Take A Look At What To Order Where:
THAI: Thai food is actually one of the easiest, as you will find delicious meat and veggie options, galore! Try a papaya salad with chicken skewers, fresh (not fried) spring rolls with coconut-milk based Tom Khao soup, or one of the many sauteed veggie/meat dishes. For those that follow a gluten free diet, most Thai noodle dishes are made with rice noodles.
MEXICAN: While not the lowest-carbohydrate option, opt for the “bowls” instead of the more caloric burrito or quesadilla options. Stick with meat, beans, avocado and salsa, and request corn tortillas instead of flour.
JAPANESE: This Asian cuisine offers some great healthy options. Seaweed salad, miso soup, and sashimi are at the top of the list, as well as most sushi options. If you are avoiding rice (for example, a paleo diet), stick to the sashimi, which is simply raw fish. This is also an excellent way to get a big boost of heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids, which are generally lacking in the SAD (standard American diet).
ITALIAN: If you are avoiding pasta this might seem tricky, but Italian restaurants often have a surprising amount of healthy options. Most Italian restaurants offer some excellent salad choices, along with grilled meats and veggies.
Key Habit To Incorporate:
Last but certainly not least, is a note on portion control. Sometimes, making healthy choices when eating out has less to do with your food choices, and more to do with how much you are eating. Restaurants tend to serve bigger portions than you would serve at home, and since you spend more time lingering at the table, you are more likely to eat long after you are full. I strongly suggest asking for a to-go box when your meal comes, or better yet, asking that half of your order be boxed before it even arrives to the table. This can do wonders for your waist-line, and your budget!
Eating out does not have to undermine the hard work you’ve put into building a healthy diet and lifestyle. By getting into the habit of making these healthy choices when eating meals out, you can build the confidence you need to make healthy choices second nature.