Eating out can get some of us in real trouble. If you’re frequently on the go, don’t plan your meals in advance and eat out on a daily basis then I can guarantee you that you’re eating more than you really need. Of course ideally you should make your own meals using as many fresh food products as possible but that’s not always realistic. That is why I put together a little guide on how to eat smart at a restaurant.
Note: most chain restaurants are now required to have nutrition information available to you. It should be either on their main menu next to the dish or on a separate menu. The information includes calories, protein, fat and sodium content of the dish. I have recently noticed that at some places nutrition information is also posted on the menu that hangs on the main wall when you walk into a food place. For instance, Panera Bread has that. They also tell you the amount of calories of all their pastries. Read more about this law here.
With that said here are some things you can do to not over eat when you’re out in a restaurant:
- Order water with lemon as your drink. I also recommend ordering a glass of water with couple slices of cucumber. Avoid sugary, alcoholic drinks and try a 5 oz glass of red wine. Check out my “Thoughts For a Bar Hopper” article.
- Do not get full on the bread that is frequently served before the appetizer arrives. The best thing to do is to let the waiter know that you want to pass on the bread all together. You should do the same with chips and salsa – do you really need to eat 300 calories of chips???
- Skip appetizers! I know this is hard but the appetizer itself provides you enough calories for a whole meal. Most appetizers are not that healthy unless you’re at a sushi place getting soy beans.
- Order a salad or a soup. Now watch out for what kind of soup it is. Is it heavy on cheese? Most of the creamy soups you get are high in calories. Broth based soups are low in calories. For instance Chili’s serves a really good chicken, broth based soup with lentils and avocado. The serving is really small. That would be a soup to have! Potato & Cheese soup would be one to avoid. As far as salads go, it should be a small, simple salad preferably with spinach rather than iceberg lettuce. Order dressing on the side and use sparingly. Don’t let the restaurant drown your salad in the dressing! I am not talking about a main course salad here packed with stuff and drowned in dressing!
- By now you should no longer be starving. You have had water and either a small soup or a salad. Now it’s time to decide what you will order. Ordering healthy stuff is impossible in all places. Some restaurants serve only really unhealthy, high fat and calorie foods. So what can you do? You can look on the menu for and check out their sandwiches, pasta. chicken and fish dishes. Try to avoid dishes that are fried and go for the foods that have been steamed, baked, grilled or roasted.
- Whatever you end up ordering there are two ways in which you can make a huge difference. 1. Go for whole wheat, whole grain stuff. So if you’re eating bread, rice or pasta, make it whole wheat, brown and whole grain. 2. Portion control – do not clean your plate. This is the number one thing that people don’t get. Eating all of that will not help you in any way and we can argue about this for a long time but you do not need all those calories! As soon as your dish arrives ask the waiter for a to go box and stuff half of your food into the box. I see too many people eating out actually consuming everything that’s on that plate and then they wonder, “why am I gaining weight?!” Gee, I wonder!
- Skip dessert. I know desserts are fun but you will just have to let it go. Chili’s (sorry I recently went there and couldn’t believe how unhealthy their food is! Hence I’m using them as an example!) brownie/vanilla ice cream dessert has 1100 calories. Yes, you do not need that.
- Leave the restaurant and be proud of yourself because you just finished controlling what goes into your body instead of letting the restaurant do that. Congratulations!
What are your tips for eating out? Any healthy appetizers that you know of? How do you handle going out to restaurants? Please share your feedback!