• Lauren

Healthy Tips for Eating Out: Putting a Rest to Restaurant Stress

"Wanna grab a bite somewhere?"

How many times have you said this to someone, or had it said to you?

Food is kind of like a major part of our culture, yeah? Though home-cooking is part of that, so is eating out! First date? At a restaurant. Birthday celebration? At a restaurant. Mother’s Day, catching up with a friend, too tired and lazy to cook...you go to a restaurant!

So, the question becomes how do we make this integral part of our culture work for our health and body goals?

Well, first off a little reality: Eating out all the time simply doesn’t jive well with weight loss. If you choose to make weight loss a priority, you should be prepared to draw some boundaries on how often you’re eating at restaurants versus cooking your own food.

That being said, you should also be living your life, yo! Getting healthier (whether or not weight-loss is part of that for you) should be just a piece of the grand scheme of enriching our lives. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to "get healthy” if it forces us to quit enjoying life.

Over time, I’ve developed 7 simple tips for eating out at restaurants in a health-conscious sorta way:

  1. Preview the menu and nutrition data online when possible

  2. Don’t starve yourself beforehand

  3. Choose easy-to-estimate menu items

  4. Use visual aids to help with portion control

  5. Mind the menu keywords

  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for modifications!

  7. Sometimes “unhealthy” options are healthy for the soul

#1 Preview the menu and nutrition data online when possible

Be the man with the plan. Menus are sometimes huge and overwhelming! I'm looking at you, Cheesecake Factory. If you have time, I recommend doing a little recon by checking out the menu before you show up. I like to attempt to narrow the menu down to 3 options that sound workable for my current diet, and then my game-time decision at the restaurant is much simpler. Sometimes there’s just one workable option and that’s life, my friends.

Ex: Chili's website. Nutrition data can often be found at bottom menu of webiste, but you may have to dig around a bit

#2 Don’t starve yourself beforehand!

Going into a restaurant ravenous can be a recipe for disaster. My whole methodology is centered a healthy life, of which healthy foods are just one aspect. This means you should treat your body right by feeding it as you normally would. If you know you’re going to consume a few extra calories while out at dinner and want to choose some lighter options earlier in the day, fine, but completely neglecting to feed yourself will most likely leave you crabby and end in a regretable binge. Don’t be that girl!

#3 Choose easy-to-estimate menu items

Publicly available nutrition info is only required for restaurants that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations. This means that many times, you’ll be forced to guesstimate your meals. I try to choose menu items that are more practical to account for. Typically, this looks like a simple meat-based entrée, accompanied by some sort of starchy food and non-starchy vegetable. I find it easier to estimate when I’m able to see the separate parts of the dish.

For example, when I go to a Thai restaurant, I’ll typically order something like Pad Prik- a dish consisting of chicken and green beans sautéed in chili sauce with a side of white rice. This type of dish is much easier for me to visually estimate portion sizes on than something like a piece of lasagna, in which the amounts of meat, cheese, cream, etc are so variable and very difficult to estimate due to presentation.

#4 Use visual aids

I love the above visual. Try to commit these values to memory and let them guide you when calculating your caloric intake at a restaurant.

#5 Mind the menu keywords

Restaurant dishes are typically cooked in more fat than what you might assume. This isn’t always a bad thing! Fat can be used to enhance already-amazing flavors and is a key component to many fabulous must-try culinary experiences. Not to mention, our health stands to greatly benefit from a little dietary fat. HOWEVER, if you’re counting calories, you’ll want to be mindful of this truth and probably avoid higher fat content dishes.

These menu keywords are ones to avoid if you’re limiting calories:

  • pan-fried

  • crispy

  • tempura

  • dipped

  • butter

  • scalloped

  • breaded

  • cream

  • alfredo

  • loaded

  • smothered

Better options? Check for these!:

  • grilled

  • steamed

  • baked

  • roasted

  • braised

  • broiled

  • seared

Sautéed can go either way on this scale, depends greatly on the chef.

#6 Don’t be afraid to ask for modifications

If you’re going for what you know will be a high fat dish, it’s OK to ask your server if it’s possible to leave out the carbohydrate. When I dine out at Mexican restaurants, I frequently ask for my meal without cheese or sour cream. You could also consider asking for a double portion of veggies instead of the baked potato, etc.

It’s not a big deal! The worst they can say is no.

#7 Sometimes the “unhealthy” option is healthy for the soul

There are times in life where the potential pleasure from a remarkable dining experience far outweighs the importance of calorie counting. The last thing I want anyone to do is completely remove the enjoyment of eating from their life in order to be “healthy.” That’s. Not. Healthy.

While in Vegas recently, I had the opportunity to eat at some amazing restaurants completely unlike anything I’ve tried at home. For these occasions, I let my appetite, curiosity, and intuition guide me, not MyFitnessPal. There’s a time and place for everything, bees, use judgement.

Don't just take it from me!

Do you ever watch your favorite restaurant reviewer on Food Network and think "man, how do they NOT get fat!?"

Since I'm no foodie, I decided to ask for advice from someone who IS. Enter, Rebekah, a food aficionado. Both an amazing home chef AND a restaurant lover.

Rebekah uses a lot of the same tips, but also shared the following advice:

  • Keep a strict diet during the week and leave indulging for the weekends

  • Choose intuitively if nutrition info isn't available. Which for Beck means "I avoid starches and try to have a plate with mostly vegetables, eat a fist full size of protein, and always stop eating when I'm full."

  • Avoid fried foods...unless it's a cheat meal!

  • "When I'm trying to be good, I tend to steer toward low-cal/low-fat salads with lean grilled protein."

Kind of relieved that Beck isn't some magical food metabolising unicorn, but a human, like the rest of us!!

If you love food, I highly recommend you check Rebekah out on IG @beckeatsworld and on her lovely website here.

Moral of this story? Being healthy and enjoying a social life are not mutually exclusive., I recommend doing the majority of your cooking and eating at home, using the above tips for eating out when possible, and allowing yourself a periodic off-the-record culinary indulgence. Doesn't sound too bad, does it?

What about you guys? Any special tips for balanced restaurant eating that I've missed?