One of the most difficult things I’ve found when trying to follow a healthy lifestyle that fits my health needs is dining out at restaurants. During Covid, you may be eating out less, but ordering food to enjoy at home is still an option. When you work so hard in your kitchen to follow a healthy diet that fits your lifestyle, ordering food can feel like a step backward. When placing an order for food, you can say goodbye to knowing everything that goes into your meal and, most likely, the amounts of ingredients, such as butter, salt, and saturated fats.
You could say, “Well, I just won't order food, then.” But, realistically, that’s just not gonna happen.
The good news is that it’s still totally possible to eat restaurant food AND be healthy – you just need a few tricks up your sleeve so you can be prepared to make good, healthy choices.
Tips For Healthy Eating At Restaurants
1. Scan the menu
Look for keywords on the menu that are giveaways for what to avoid. Here are some examples of the most common culprits:
2. If you eat Meat
Meat has a ton of protein and, when lean, is a great idea to order. When ordering meat, pick leaner cuts of beef (great options include flank steak, skirt steak, tenderloin, sirloin, or filet mignon). When in doubt, chicken is another great high protein, low-fat option, particularly chicken breast.
3. Order fish.
Fish is a great option, as long as it’s not fried. You can order seafood in tons of different ways—steamed, blackened, baked, broiled, sautéed, or grilled. My favorite is grilled. Just like with meat, fish allows you to enjoy protein. While it may be a bit pricier, it’s often a great option on the menu, especially if it’s fresh fish.
4. Ask to double or triple the vegetables.
Let’s be real. Often, a side of vegetables in a restaurant is more of a garnish, not a real serving. When ordering, ask for double or triple the normal serving of veggies, and offer to pay extra (more often than not, you won’t even be charged). You could also look to the sides portion of the menu to see what options the restaurant has available. A big problem with veggies is that they get cooked in a ton of butter so make sure to ask that the vegetables NOT be cooked in butter when you order them.
5. Ask about preparation.
Truth: Chefs are trained to use lots of butter and salt to heighten flavors. Duh, right? It tastes good. They do this because, if you add butter or salt on most anything, it tastes better which makes the customer happy meaning more business in the future. They’re not there for your health. They’re there to feed you tasty food. If you’re concerned about the butter or salt in your food, don’t be afraid to ask your server how the food is prepared. If you find out what you want is loaded with oil or butter, either ask for it to be prepared differently or choose something else.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Along the same lines as the previous tip, I highly recommend that you ask the waiter/waitress questions about how the food is prepared if you’re not clear. You’ll only know for sure what’s in your food if you ask. This can mean a difference of hundreds of calories and tons of unnecessary saturated fats, and high levels of sodium.
Is it uncomfortable? A little at first, but it’s your responsibility to know what you’re putting into your body and your waiter’s responsibility to know what goes into the food they’re serving. The more you ask, the easier it gets, I promise!
7. Look for these desserts.
Let's be honest, this is the one you were waiting for! Desserts are a fun part of eating out at restaurants. If you want to enjoy a dessert, you do have some options. My favorite thing to do is to order one dessert for the table. That way, you don’t eat the entire dessert yourself. Instead, you enjoy a few bites and satisfy your sweet tooth. If you’d rather not share, another great idea is to ask your waiter for a simple dish of berries or a fruit sorbet. Just remember, it is okay to eat dessert- follow the 80/20 rule.
8. Box it early.
Did you know restaurants often serve two to three times what you need for a normal serving? Next time, ask to box half your entrée BEFORE it ever even gets to the table. This will save you money and calories. It may sound weird, but it makes tons of sense. You can also split an entrée with another person if you’d prefer.
9. Skip the fancy drinks.
If you must order an alcoholic drink, try to avoid margaritas, piña coladas, and other exotic mixed drinks. They include sugary add-ins that add tons of calories, sugars and flavors. Instead, order a glass of wine, a light beer, vodka and tonic, or a simple martini. These options will be better for your healthy eating goals, especially if you choose not to drink that often.
10. Drink water throughout the meal.
Try your best to get used to drinking water as your main beverage. Drinking water will slow you down from eating your food too fast, which will help you enjoy the food more, and it will allow your brain to get the message from your stomach that you’re full so you don’t overeat before your plate is already empty.
You can ask for a slice of lemon if plain water is too boring. To ease into just having water, you can also wait to order a different beverage until after you’ve finished your first glass of water.
Now, all you need to do is use these tips the next time you go out to eat. The more you use them, the better you’ll get at spotting healthy versus unhealthy options and it will feel more and more natural. The bottom line is it’s possible to make good choices and have control over your food – even at restaurants.
Did I miss anything? What’s your best tip for how to eat healthy at restaurants? Share in the comments below!
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Jennifer Castro is the owner of JAC Wellness Solutions. She is a Health Educator, Nutritionist, and Patient Advocate specializing in Women's Health & Vestibular Disorders. When she was diagnosed with an inner ear imbalance called Meniere's Disease, she knew she had no choice but to step up her game and become a detective for her own health. Coach Jenny is studying to become a Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach while creating course content for health coaches and educators. She created an educational program for preschool teachers called Jump & Roll Fitness. The program provides lesson plans on how to create healthy habits for preschoolers. She also works as an Insurance Broker providing insurance solutions for small businesses, wellness, and medical practitioners. This blog is ALL about health, well-being, nutrition, lifestyle and kitchen hacks. She also tells stories of her own personal health journey. Coach Jenny loves to garden, spend time with her hubby, and loves to bake new recipes. She likes to put her own "healthy" spin on her and her hubby's favorite sweet treats.
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