“What do you do when you go out to eat?” That is one of the most common questions nutrition professionals are asked. I understand, it can be very difficult to maintain a healthy diet when faced with the overwhelming amount of choices on restaurant menus. If you have extreme willpower and you’re able to order a grilled chicken salad with lemon wedges, good for you! That is a surefire way to keep your calorie intake in check when eating at a restaurant. I, myself, like ordering things that I might not necessarily prepare at home (I can definitely prepare a grilled chicken salad at home) so you’ll find me ordering something savory. If you are one of those savory food-cravers, here are my suggestions to dining out without the guilt:
- Have a light snack before heading out; e.g. a piece of fruit, half of an energy bar, or a glass of milk.
- Ordering a beverage? Stick with water, not only will you save calories, you’ll save money too. If you’re having an alcoholic beverage with your dinner, alternate your libations with water. And remember, that fabulous Mai Tai-Piña-Rita-Tini that the person at the next table ordered, probably has as many calories as the entree you’ll be ordering; the calorie-devil disguised in fruit, an umbrella, and a fancy glass.
- Ask yourself, “Do I really need an appetizer?” You really don’t, unless it’s a side salad with a light vinaigrette dressing.
- Tell your server to hold the bread. Nothing leads to mindless nibbling like a basket of warm bread and some butter patties.
- Keep in mind, entrees at many restaurants are really 2-4 servings. So, when you get your meal, divide everything on the plate in half (or quarters if you’re at Cheesecake Factory) and box up one half. For instance, if I order a burger, I save half of the burger and half of the fries for later. Again, not only are you saving calories, you’re saving money!
- You know the lettuce, tomato, and onion that come with your burger? Put them on your sandwich, it’s an easy serving of veggies!
- If you order a salad, get one made with spinach, romaine, spring mix, or any other lettuce that has some nutritional value (iceberg = water in the form of lettuce).
- If you’re planning to order dessert, you can do a side <–> dessert swap. Order veggies or a salad, instead of fries or creamy mashed taters as your side, if you want to indulge in a dessert after.
- If you get a dessert (and you didn’t do my side <–> dessert swap), split it with a friend.
- Eat slowly! Put your fork or sandwich down in between bites. I used to have a bad habit of scarfing down an entire burger and fries because I liked the taste so much, and by the time I would pay my check, all I wanted to do was lay down because I felt so full and bloated. Now, I divide my food, enjoy every bite, and stop eating when I feel full.
- **Bonus Chinese takeout tip**: Most Chinese takeout is not healthy, unless it’s steamed chicken/tofu and veggies. Fried rice is not brown rice, it is rice that turned brown because it was fried in an asinine amount of lard. If you order Chinese food, be VERY aware of your portion sizes. Ball your fist up, half of your fist size will be your serving of rice and your full fist size will be your protein (chicken/tofu/beef/duck). And definitely ask for no MSG. I highly recommend a snack before even thinking about ordering Chinese takeout, and just say no to those crispy noodles.
Now, I don’t go out to eat often, but if I’m going to out to eat, I’m having a freaking burger. Why would I spend $13 on a salad that really costs about $2, when I can have a tasty burger for 2 meals (counting the leftovers!) for the same price? On a side note, I have some bonus advice for you based on my experiences both as a gorger and a nutritionist: do NOT comment on what or how your friends are eating. Not everyone is ready to be health conscious, so let them join you when they’re ready. This advice goes the other way too, if you are not ready to adopt a healthier lifestyle, don’t comment on your friends’ healthier choices…encourage them or keep your mouth shut unless it’s to shove a forkful of chili cheese fries down your hatch.