Eating Out at Restaurants and Staying Healthy

One of the questions I get asked a lot by my patients and friends is “how do I eat out and not kill my diet” or “we are celebrating a family birthday by going out to a restaurant but I don’t want to ruin the progress I’ve made.”! It’s tough but it can be done. You don’t have to avoid eating out altogether and you can enjoy family celebrations that involve eating out.

It’s true, restaurants often sneak in unhealthy ingredients or add flavor boosters that also come with a lot of calories. But, if you take a little extra time to look at the menu, talk to the waiter or service person and be mindful with your choices, you can eat out and stay healthy.

 

Here are some important tips to keep in mind as you continue to enjoy eating out:

 

1. Look for the light menu. Many restaurants today offer a “light” menu including fast food places and a growing number of chain restaurants. You’ll soon find that light doesn’t always mean you’ll be giving up flavor. The “light” choices often are smaller portion sizes, the seasonings are lighter and the sides include more healthy choices than regular items.

Ask to see the calories if it’s a chain. The new law requires it. Many restaurants are already showing the calories for each meal. It can be quite a surprise to see how many calories are in some of your favorites and it makes it much easier to make a good choice.

 

2. Take half your dinner home. Portion sizes at restaurants are often the most unhealthy part of your dinner. To avoid overeating, you can simply ask your waiter to serve you half the meal and box up the other half for you to eat for lunch tomorrow.

 

3. Go grilled. One way to eat smart is to opt for grilled instead of fried items. Fried foods have gobs of additional calories and fat. Grilled chicken or fish make great choices because they’re lean proteins as well. Be sure to ask if they put butter on the fish or chicken after it is grilled and consider asking them to “hold the butter.”

 

4. Avoid drinking extra calories. If you’re watching those calories, don’t forget to count the calories that you drink. Drinking soda products, sweet tea or alcoholic beverages while you’re out can add calories quite quickly. Choose water and then you’ll only need to worry about the calorie content of your meal.

 

5. Be salad smart. You can choose a salad as your main dish as a way to eat smart. You’ll probably find that there are bigger salads on the menu beyond the house or side salad. Many of them contain a bigger vegetable variety or meat such as chicken. Ask the waiter to leave off the extras – nuts, dried fruit, and blue cheese can add hundreds of calories and make a “salad” a 1200-calorie meal. Ask them to serve your salad dressing on the side rather than on the salad. Then the amount of dressing you put on the salad is up to you. When it comes to dressing, a little bit can go a long way. Here’s a tip: avoid the creamy dressings. That’s the fatty stuff!

 

6. Appetizers can make the meal. If the restaurant serves tasty appetizers, you can order an appetizer as your main dish. If that’s not enough food, you might want to order two appetizers (though not the crispy fried kind). Many times two appetizers will still be less food than a main course selection.

 

7. Choose healthy sauce. Be aware of how the sauce is made in the dish of your choosing. If you’re eating Italian, for example, choose an option with a tomato-based sauce. This will provide you with a bigger benefit than a cream based alternative. This is also the case when it comes to choosing your soups; avoid the cream based ones if possible.

 

8. Include fruits and veggies. You know that fruits and veggies are an important part of your diet at home, so you should continue to seek them out when you’re making your selections at a restaurant. Steamed vegetables can be a great side dish, and fruits can likely be ordered in place of a dessert item.

Keep in the mind the same healthy information you use when building your home meals while you’re out. Don’t be afraid to indulge yourself from time to time, but maintain an awareness of your eating habits and portions and you can’t go wrong.

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