It is one of the most popular topics with my coaching clients. How do you order when eating out and still stay on track with health goals?
It takes a little practice but it is very easily doable. Here are some tips to get you started making better decisions while enjoying social life and still reaching health goals.
Choosing a Restaurant:
- Avoid “all-you-can-eat” places.
- Choose a place with a varied menu. It’ll make it easier to find something healthy and to your taste.
- If possible, don’t decide to eat out on the spur of the moment. It’s best to make plans and account for it during the rest of the day’s menu planning.
- Fish restaurants and restaurants with extensive salad bars usually have healthy options available.
- Any restaurant with a mascot is probably chain oriented and will be harder to find options suitable to a healthy lifestyle.
Before leaving the house:
Sometimes, the battle is lost before we even open the door. All it takes is a few minutes of preparation and you’ll bypass the chaotic last minute not so healthy decision.
- Go to the restaurant’s website to find a menu.
- Decide what you want to eat before you leave the house. Is this a chicken night or are you craving pasta? If possible, choose a specific menu item so you’re not tempted by the menu at the restaurant. Have in mind options for when you get there if they cannot accommodate a few changes to the meal you chose.
- Make reservations. This cuts down on waiting and hunger time at the restaurant, as well as the number of drinks you have at the bar.
- While making reservations, check on preparation methods and their ability and willingness to accommodate your requests. Learn what options you have and what substitution choices are available.
- Don’t leave the house hungry. About 1-2 hours before eating, have a small, healthy snack to avoid pre-meal munching later.
- Bring along some add in’s for your dish (avocado, your own dressing…that is if you are going to places you know won’t accommodate.
When you sit down at the table:
This is a critical point that sets the tone for the rest of the evening. It’s when much of our mindless munching happens, we can see and smell the food all around us, and we’re usually at our hungriest. If there were ever a perfect time to take charge of your experience, this is it. Get off on the right foot.
- Start by politely sending back those free munchies that show up right away. Breadbaskets, rolls, tortilla chips or Chinese noodles can be bottomless pits of calories.
- If you need to munch a little to ward off hunger, ask the server if something else is available. They might have rye or whole wheat bread or rolls, raw veggies or even chips and salsa are better alternatives. Just don’t fill up, have a limit for yourself.
- Choose salsa over most other dips that are extra high in calories like con queso or other cheesy dips.
- Order water right away and start sipping. Much of what we mistake as hunger is often merely thirst.
- A glass of spicy tomato juice or vegetable drink can bridge the hunger gap.
- Dessert menus, with huge, tasty close-ups of caloric landmines are on the table for a reason. Even if it’s a tabletop display, give it to your server.
Many people stumble here as they make split-second decisions and rationalize away poor choices. But since you have a plan ahead of time, it should make it easier to stay on course. If you’re faced with a menu and no time to prepare, there are still a number of rules of thumb and tricks you can use.
- First tip, never go by the menu! Always ask how the food comes prepared. We often think things are simple and clean but the restaurant will sneak things in, even with things such as egg white omelets… they often add whole milk to make the portions look fluffy and bigger. Just ask, it will save you a lot of misunderstanding in ordered dishes.
- Don’t ever be shy about asking questions or making requests. The food is every bit as important as the restaurant, the table and the setting, so make sure it’s what you want.
- Try ordering menu items a la carte. Platters, combos and meals may come with extras you might not want.
- Ask about the size of the dish. This could be important information when watching calories. You can always have them package up ½ the dish to go before it even comes out of the kitchen!
- You can add vegetables to just about anything (salad, pasta, soup, cheeseburgers) if you just ask.
- Watch out for cheese, sour cream, gravies and special sauces.
- Ask for your food not to be prepared with butter, cream sauces or oil instead steamed or plain with sauce on the side.
- When in doubt, opt for brighter color. Most high-calorie, high-fat menu items are brown, beige, white or pale yellow (other than some desserts, of course).
- Don’t feel rushed into making a hasty decision. Just because your server is in a hurry doesn’t mean you have to be. At the same time, if you’ve made a healthy decision, stop looking at the menu immediately.
- Try ordering one course at a time. Order a healthy appetizer, but don’t order your soup or salad until you’re finished, then eventually your entrée. Sure, you may be starving now, but how will you feel in 20 minutes after the appetizer? Still feel like facing that pile of country fried chicken? Take your time, relax and enjoy.
Select foods that are:
- Steamed in their own juice (au jus)
- Lightly sautéed
Often high in fiber, the right soups and salads can curb hunger and add a bunch of vegetables and nutrients to your meal. Much better to be filling up on leafy greens at the beginning of your meal after all, than munching on those last few dozen French fries on your plate.
Salad bars can be good or evil, depending on how you use them. Pass over the grated cheeses, eggs, creamy dressings, bacon, croutons, pasta salad, potato salad and macaroni salad, and stick with the staples of sliced carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, snap peas, raisins, nuts, garbanzo beans, fruit and other fresh produce. That alone can be quite a meal.
- Always get your salad dressings on the side. Instead of pouring it on top, dip your fork in the dressing before taking a bite.
- If you can’t find low-fat dressing options that you like, try a squeeze of lemon, or vinegar with a touch of oil.
Preparation methods and sauces are key.
- Bad preparation words = buttery, breaded, buttered, fried, pan-fried, creamed, scalloped, au gratin, a la mode.
- Good preparation words = grilled, baked, steamed, broiled, poached, roasted, blackened.
- Avoid sauces made with milk, cheese, oil or mayonnaise.
- Marinara and tomato-based sauces are usually more flavorful and healthier than creamy sauces and gravies. As a rule of thumb, red is usually better than white or yellow.
- Get all sauces, gravies and creams on the side so you can add to taste.
- Even better, rely more on herbs and spices to flavor your food. Become familiar with your favorites and ask for them by name.
- If ordering pasta with a cream sauce, ask the kitchen to go light on the sauce.
- Know your fatty and lean meats. Pork: fairly lean except sausage, bacon, and ribs. Fish: all fairly lean or contain healthy fat. Chicken: fairly lean especially when skin and fat is removed, and white is leaner that dark meat. Ground beef products (in order of most to least fat): ground beef, ground chuck, ground round. Eye of round and roasts are leaner, while steaks and ribs have more fat.
- Don’t eat the skin of chicken, turkey or duck. You can save yourself loads of fat and calories with this simple step.
- Ask for your fish or meat to be broiled, with no extra butter.
- A recommended serving size of meat is 3-4 ounces. If you order a 9 ounce steak, make sure there is some left.
- Vegetarian options are not always lower in calories if they’re loaded with cheese, nuts and other non-vegetable ingredients.
- Remember, a salad and a healthy appetizer can make a great meal!
Choose Water with Lemon or Unsweetened Ice Tea. If you are going alcoholic ask for vodka or water and drink two glasses of water per glass of alcohol.