We all love to do it!
Go to a restaurant.. sit down, relax, not have to worry about the cooking or the cleaning! Unfortunately, when it comes to eating healthy and dining out… the two don’t really often go together!
However, that being said… it CAN be done, or at least attempted! Here are some tips on how to make the healthiest possible choices when dining out at a restaurant!
1. Check Before You Go: Many restaurants nowadays have their nutritional information right on their websites! The Keg, Earls, Boston Pizza… Zaxby’s, P.F. Changs (for you lovely USA folk!)… etc. Take a few minutes if you know where you are headed and check out this information. This will help you make a better informed decision about what the healthier choices really are, you might be surprised! Tip: Always be aware of the “serving size”… the calories may look small, but you might be getting 6 ‘servings’ in that one little plate!
2. Start With H20: Water is your best friend at a restaurant (and at all times really) for a couple reasons; it will keep you feeling fuller so you don’t overeat, and if you are sipping on water throughout your meal you won’t be drinking as many (or any) of the empty calories in soda, alcohol, or other beverages. Tip: Drink 2 large glasses of water about 20 minutes before hitting up your favorite restaurant, you will feel more full and be apt to eat less!
3. Skip The Starters: Unfortunately little plates does not mean little calories. Most appetizers, starters, or “tapas”, are often fried, super saucy (not in a good way), and full of extra fat and calories! Believe it or not, a plate of hot wings will set you back at least 800 calories, a small order of calamari, about 1,000 calories, mozzarella sticks, around 1,000 too… even the lettuce wraps will be around 700 calories or more! Tip: If you feel you MUST order a starter, stick with a small salad with the dressing on the side… I’ll talk about this more in the next point!
4. Don’t Trust The Salads: Back in my days of serving tables I always used to see people ordering the salad because they wanted to “eat light” that day. How much I wanted to tell them that the salad they just ordered was around 1,700 calories, and they were better off ordering the same burger their boyfriend did. Yup, not kidding. Salads are total fat (and sugar) traps! Dressings can be bursting with calories, and then to top it off, the cheese, candied nuts, dried fruit, whatever else that may seem like a “light choice” is actually setting you back more than you would think! Tip: Always, always, always…. always, order your salad with the dressing on-the-side. You will save yourself a load of calories here by adding about 1/2 of the amount they give you on the side (and the amount they give you is usually still half of what they would actually put on the salad)!
5. …Or the Veggies: Ahh, another trickster! The side of veggies that you ordered is, well, veggies, right?? So they’ve got to be a healthy choice! Well, no, not really. Most veggies are sauteed with a stick of butter or more than just a ‘dizzle’ of oil. This is meant to amp up the flavor, but it also amps up the fat and calories. A simple side of veggies can set you back around 300 calories. Oh, and watch out for the other sides too, mashed potatoes, around 400 calories, and a rice pilaf…closer to 500! Tip: Always ask for your veggies steamed, then seasoned with some salt and pepper… no oil or butter please! If you really want, get a little side of butter for yourself, and put a small amount on.
6. Portion Control: Meals at restaurants are not portioned to your calorie needs. Unless you are a 300 lb male bodybuilder athlete on a 5,000 calorie/day diet….but, I think most of you are not. Chef’s at most restaurants are not concerned about calories when creating delicious meals. They are concerned about flavor! Also, most restaurants give you double the amount you really should be consuming in a meal, which is why most of us are usually asking for a wheelbarrow to help us to our car when finished eating! Tip: Ask for a take-away box when you get your meal, box half of it up right then and there. Then, sit and enjoy the half you have left. Take your time, and when you are finished, wait at least 10 or 15 minutes and decide if you are truly still hungry. Chances are you won’t be, and now you have lunch for tomorrow too! 🙂
7. Watch Your Alcohol: Liquid calories add up fast when you are downing the margaritas (which can run you about 500 calories a pop!). If you are going to enjoy an alcoholic beverage with your meal, stick with a small glass of wine, a light beer, or a shot of the hard stuff with water or soda water and a slice of lemon or lime. Stay away from the sugary cocktails and super-sized pours. Tip: Set a rule, for every alcoholic beverage you have, make sure you’ve also had 1-2 glasses of water! You won’t drink as fast or as much, and you’ll save yourself some calories… and possibly a headache in the long run ;).
8. Skip the Sweets or Share them: Desserts are delicious, we all know that, and they are far from “healthy” most of the time, also not a big surprise. So, when you order a dessert you already know it’s not the best choice. So either, don’t order one… OR if you do, SHARE the LOVE! Have one piece of cheesecake between the few of you! Tip: Stick with a sorbet, frozen yogurt, or a “mini dessert” if they have it!
9. Take Your Time: Most people scarf down a meal in around 5-7 minutes. Really, once it’s in front of you, your usually mowing down till it’s gone, and usually that doesn’t take long! The problem with this is that you really don’t give your body a chance to feel it’s true “full” feeling that let’s you know it’s time to set down the fork and take a breather. Try to slow down, and enjoy each bite. After all, you are paying probably 3 times what the food actually costs, so you might as well enjoy it! If you eat slower, you will also allow your body the time to signal to your brain that you are full, and you will also avoid overloading your digestive system. Tip: Try be conscious of how fast you are eating and take at least 6 “breaks” during your meal where you actually set down your fork or spoon and chat for a little bit! It’s harder than it sounds, but I challenge you to try this!
10. Don’t “Save Up Room”: The worst thing I hear from clients, and people in general is that when they are going out for a dinner, or to a BBQ or Potluck, or a special occasion where there will be a smorgasboard of food, is that they’ve “eaten less all day to SAVE UP room”. Bahhgkjfsalk!!! Do not do this. Do nottttttt do this. Basically, by skimping out on food all day you are slowing down your metabolism. Your body is going – “hey, what’s the deal here, I’m hungry, I guess I should reserve energy, keep my fat stores, and slow down that metabolism, because I don’t know when I’m going to get my next meal!!”. Then, when you get to that restaurant and eat eat eat, your metabolism has slowed, and your body still is in the “reserve mode” and those calories aren’t going to be burned off in the same way they would if you had eaten consistently all day, kept your metabolism running, and kept your blood sugars up. Tip: Eat consistent, smaller meals throughout the day, that include a healthy balance of complex carbohydrates, fats, and protein, and don’t forget to drink your water. By the time you get to your special meal you will be less apt to overeat and make poor food choices!
Here are some words to watch out for on a menu! When translated they often mean just extra fat and calories!
Red Flag Words:
Pureed: Cream and butter is often added to purees to make veggies and stocks smooth, always ask what’s in it!
Sauteed: This is pretty much another word for fried (or pan-fried) in a little… or more likely a lot of oil or butter.
Steamed: Always ask if these “steamed” foods are still topped with butter or oil at the end!
Blackened: This usually means it’s coated in flour then cooked in butter and or oil!
Pane: This is a French term that pretty much means breaded and deep-fried.
Twice-Baked: That twice over is when all the extras are added… butter, cream, oil, cheese… you know, the fixin’s!
Instead, look for words such as “poached”, “roasted”, “sous-vide”, or “grilled”!
I hope this post will help you navigate the menu next time you are out at a restaurant! You don’t have to avoid dining out at all, just be conscious and aware of what you order, and how much you consume to keep you on track with making healthier choices and staying on track with your goals!
Nutritionist in the Kitch