Restaurants can present numerous challenges for those of us looking to maintain our healthy eating habits. Everything from the lighting to the size of the plates in restaurants can psychologically alter our eating habits.
You also have no control over how the food is cooked; the chef could be using a huge amount of cooking oil, or adding heavy sauces that are rich in both fat and sugar. The restaurant stays in business because of the taste of its food, not because of the food’s health-promoting qualities. The better the food tastes, the more likely the restaurant is to get repeat customers.
The menu somtimes isn’t much help. Something that would be healthy and good for your body composition if you were preparing it at home might be a caloric disaster at a restaurant because of the way it’s prepped, cooked and with its accompaniments.
Still, there are some ways to protect your waistline:
- Eating something before going to the restaurant. It’s fine to go in hungry, but you want to avoid feeling ravenous before you even see the menu. This will keep you from making a food decision solely based on the feeling in your stomach (rather than your head).
- Stick to water, coffee or unsweetened tea – don’t drink anything with calories. It’s too easy to consume 40 grams of sugar in a sweetened beverage, especially when combined with dishes seasoned with salt or MSG. The exception might be alcohol if it’s a social situation (more below).
- Avoid anything breaded, battered, or fried. These dishes are calorically-dense and nutrient-sparse.
- Ask for all sauces/dressing on the side. That way you get to decide how much of it you need — and you may decide you don’t need any at all. A great way to regulate your sauce intake is to dip the fork in the sauce then into the piece of meat.
- Decline the bread/chip basket. If you’re dining in a group, let the others have it. If you followed step #1, this becomes so much easier.
- Have your waiter/waitress box half of your meal right from the start. This way you never feel compelled to finish your whole meal (out of sight, out of mind), and you’ll be satisfied knowing that you’ll have another meal to eat later that’s already prepared.
What about alcohol?
Cocktails with coworkers. Celebratory champagne. It makes sense; many cultures have social behavior and drinking tightly linked. While alcohol isn’t necessarily ideal for optimal results, from a fun perspective, having a drink or two every now and then is relatively harmless. The main key is to stick with simple alcoholic drinks (e.g., whiskey, wine, dry martini, gin and soda with lime, etc.). Avoid most mixed drinks and the ones with lots of sugar.
And fast food?
If you’re stuck with fast food, keep it as simple as possible: Order a couple of hamburgers or grilled chicken sandwiches plain — just meat and buns. Then toss the buns and have the meat, along with a salad (with a little dressing) or some fruit, if they have it.
It’s very possible to get great results by adhering to the 6 tips above when eating out. Remember, most restaurants are happy to make accommodations for their patrons, so don’t be afraid to ask for easy things like putting the dressing on the side or boxing half the meal from the start.