I’m very candid when I say that I love eating out – the majority of my bucket list* (and inspiration to start this blog) is new restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops. I love cooking too, but there’s just a unique memorable experience of dining out, especially at a place that appreciates good food flavors and combinations. I support that dining out can fit into a healthy lifestyle, if you go about it the right way. And you’re mistaken if you think you have to order a salad every time! Being a dietitian, finding ways to be nutritious and healthy are things I don’t think twice about, but I also love to try everything.
My goal through this post is to just share some new thoughts to focus on when going out to eat, and take some of the stigma away from it always being so unhealthy! It can definitely fit into any lifestyle.
If I’m eating out for breakfast/brunch: I’ll typically order an egg dish with veggies, especially if there’s a seasonal flare, a pastry that I wouldn’t make at home, or waffles. Because..waffles. I’ll never get oatmeal out because I make that at home every day!
Before I get to the restaurant (and this goes for any meal), I’ll always look at the menu online – not necessarily for calorie information, but more to see what they have. Although if you’re trying to lose weight, I do think it can be helpful to see how much fat/sodium and calories can be hiding. I’m an indecisive person by nature and at least I can stew over the options I’m deciding between. Plus, if I know I’m planning on ordering something heavier or creamier for dinner, I may plan for a lighter lunch.
Another thing I’ll do before going to a restaurant is I’ll always look the business up on yelp. I write reviews for everywhere I go, and I also rely on reviews for so many things and I’ll look at the pictures of some of the dishes there. This usually helps me decide what to order but if multiple customers have complained about the same thing, it may make me question that dish or I’ll specify certain things when ordering.
If I’m eating out for lunch, it’s almost common place for me to order something with protein and vegetables – a salad, a veggie dish, a sandwich with a side salad. I love the taste of veggies, but I’ll also add some protein and fat to stay full.
Dinner is the most common meal for us when dining out. On these occasions, I’ll make sure to load up on vegetables earlier in the day, and/or make a small salad or eat some raw veggies before I leave, if possible. The tip here is not only to make sure I’m getting my nutrients for the day, but who wants to pay $6-10 for a side salad with a blend of everything you have at home?! If you plan on ordering the most amazing salad ever, then fine – you’ll get your veggies. But if you’re eyeing a signature dish that may not include fiber, fruits or vegetables (can still be yum!), just make some different choices for lunch that day or the following day. Or add a side of broccoli or asparagus. Your body will thank you. Balance.
One major thing I’ve learned and that I’m very conscious about is: don’t go in too hungry! Just like you don’t want to go grocery shopping hungry. While this may sound counter-intuitive to the idea of going in with an empty tank to try everything on the menu, I find that I’m more aware, feel more in control, and make better choices based on my body (rather than my mind) when I’m not to the point of being hangry. Plus, you never know how long your wait to be seated could be, how long your food could take, or if your order will get messed up (hopefully not). I’ll always err on the side of caution, and aim for being at a 3 on the hunger scale.
I’m also pretty choosy about where I dine out. I try to avoid chains, as I would much rather spend my money to check out local places. (There are exceptions – I love Panera and Chipotle, and Dunkin’ for their coffee). Unfortunately, these places are less likely to post the calorie information (at least until the new regulation is put into place), so here’s some things I look for when I’m actually at the point of ordering.
- Is there something on the menu that I’m craving, no matter how hard I try to talk myself out of it? For example, if you have an insatiable craving for steak, you might be deficient in iron or zinc, and you should probably order it!
- Can I make this at home? If so, I’m probably not going to order it (unless I have a craving, as stated above)
- Are they featuring a seasonal or local ingredient or producer that I’m interested in supporting or I already know I like their foods? If so, there’s a 87% chance I’m ordering it!
- If I don’t love the side that comes with the dish, I’ll ask if I can switch or substitute it. Remember, you are the paying consumer. This is also a great way to add in a side vegetable! I’ll always ask for dressing on the side (if I get a salad) – and you can do the same with cheeses, sauces, oils and toppings so you can control the quantity.
I like eating with a group to share share share! I like to try everything so I’m always pro-splitting – It cuts down your portion size, and allows you to try something different (if your companion is willing to share with you, too). And if no sharesies, while I can easily put down a whole restaurant meal, taking some home for leftovers makes things so much easier for lunch the next day (no prep work needed), and could also allow room for that dessert I’ve been eyeing.
Alcohol is a big one. People underestimate the caloric value of alcohol, which is pretty void of nutrients, sans the resveratrol in wine. I’m a fan of my fancy cocktails, but I’ll stick usually only stick to 1 if I order, because I’m really here for the food. Alcohol prices also add up quickly! I like to drink water throughout the meal to increase fullness and clean my palate to truly taste the food flavors.
While these tips aren’t meant to help you save “calories” when eating out, I think most of them are good habits to be mindful of nonetheless. No matter what you’re eating or ordering, make it worth it. Don’t settle for a salad if that’s not what you want. If you have to have that piece of cheesecake, savor each bite. Conversely, don’t force yourself to eat every last bit of something if you’re already full. I’m all about leaving a restaurant stuffed to the brim of delicious food and memories, but don’t put yourself in misery.
It’s normal when dining out to enjoy foods that wouldn’t be necessarily characterized as healthy or wholesome – meaning they provide a lot of taste, flavor and satisfaction, but minimal nutrients. Sometimes, that’s part of the experience, and I completely get it. Enjoy those foods, but perhaps stick to the smaller portion sizes. Or skip the appetizer and/or alcohol if you’re planning on dessert, or vice versa.
Phew – I guess I need to wrap this up. Restaurant portions are typically much larger than what we need. They’re significantly higher in saturated fat and sodium, too. But that being said, it’s good for the soul to enjoy a non-traditional meal you wouldn’t make at home, or savor that social outing with friends, or that romantic date with your significant other. Enjoy that glass of wine, or that dessert because it IS possible to fit eating out into your healthy lifestyle.
I’m linking up with Jill for a life of Fitness, Health and Happiness!
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Lastly, congrats to Maggie D for winning the Aldi gift certificates. I hope you love Aldi as much as I do!
How do you approach eating out?
Do you usually order the same thing or do you switch it up?