With the few simple steps below, you'll take away all the stress that comes with trying to eat healthy while eating-out!
We all know that feeling… when you’ve been doing an amazing job of sticking to your ultra-healthy, nutritionally balanced meal plan - then all of a sudden you find yourself in a restaurant with your friends, wondering how on earth you’ll get out of there without ruining all your hard work.
Eating out is part of our culture - a much-loved social tradition, and a treat none of us should miss out on - regardless of our health and fitness goals.
However, restaurant dishes are notoriously high in empty calories, sodium and oil, leaving many of us wondering whether we ought to stay home with our steamed kale and protein shakes…
You’ll be pleased to know we have some tips and tricks for enjoying delicious, restaurant food in the company of your mates while staying on track to your health and fitness goals. Here are 12 tips to eat healthier when eating out!
1. Choose your restaurant wisely
Never leave things up to chance - always check the menu before you leave home, and if you don’t see anything that’s at least halfway healthy, pick another restaurant.
Pay close attention to the menu descriptions, and beware of words such as creamy, buttery, breaded, crispy, pan-fried and sautéed - because these descriptions are a pretty clear indication that your meal will be loaded with unhealthy trans fats.
We’re really lucky these days because health and wellness are trending pretty hard in the restaurant industry. This means there are always new, health-focused restaurants popping up and eagerly waiting to cater to your dietary needs.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Sometimes a menu description can sound like a healthy choice but end up being way oiler and saltier than you expected. Empower your food choices by asking the restaurant staff how the food was prepared. There’s no need to be shy - you have the right to make informed decisions about the food you eat.
3. Hack the menu
Think of the menu as a guide and choose your own healthy adventure. Swap fries for salad or steamed veggies, replace a creamy sauce with a salsa, or ask for a menu item to be steamed, grilled or air-fried.
While not everything will be possible, there’s no harm in asking - and you’d be surprised how accommodating most restaurants can be.
4. Ask for extra vegetables
The more whole plants foods on your plate, the better. You can never have too much colour, so ask for extra vegetables and less of everything else.
Again, don’t be afraid to explain your needs to the restaurant staff. If enough people are asking for healthier options, then perhaps they’ll eventually make their way on to the menu...
5. Skip the bread basket
There is a practice in many restaurants to place a basket of white bread on the table while the kitchen prepares your meal. This encourages mindless snacking, and we all know how easy it is to make a meal out of bread, whether we’re hungry or not!
Rather than enduring the wait with a tempting basket of empty carbs right in front of you, simply ask the wait staff to skip the bread basket as soon as you arrive at the restaurant. Perhaps they can offer you a plate of raw veggies to munch on instead? If you don’t ask, you’ll never know!
6. Drink plenty of water before the meal
It's surprisingly common for people to confuse thirst for hunger. This is because the signals for thirst and hunger are interpreted by the same part of the brain.
If we’re not well hydrated when we turn up for a restaurant meal, we could easily consume far more calories than we actually need.
To avoid dehydration and confusing thirst for hunger, it’s important to drink at regular intervals without waiting until you actually feel thirsty. Sipping on water while you wait for your meal is a good alternative to munching on breadsticks!
7. Order your meal first
This is a little scary to learn, but other people can actually influence our decisions without us even noticing. In social situations, it’s natural for people to mimic each other subconsciously, and making menu choices is no exception.
Simply being aware of our subconscious tendency to mirror others might be enough to ensure your decision is entirely yours, but just to be safe - try to place your order first.
8. Awareness and mindful eating
Always try to eat your meals in total awareness of the experience - especially when you have the pleasure of dining out. Notice the flavours, textures and presentation of your meals, as well as the way different foods make you feel - emotionally and physically.
There are a couple of other tricks to developing a mindful approach to eating. Chewing your food very thoroughly, and even counting to a minimum number of chews for each mouthful is a good place to start.
Putting down your fork between each mouthful will also help to slow you down and get in touch with your satiety signals.
9. Start with soup or salad
Before ordering anything else on the menu, start with a soup or a salad. Keep in mind though, that some restaurants even manage to make soups and salads greasy and unhealthy.
Check the ingredients to ensure it’s full of the nutritious whole foods you love and consider asking for the salad dressings on the side.
Rather than drenching your salad in a high-calorie dressing, try dipping your fork in before scooping up the salad - you’ll find the balance of flavour and crunch is just right!
10. Skip the alcoholic and sugary beverages
Did you know that fruit juice contains as much sugar as soft drink? With each drink adding around 150-200 nutritionally-void calories to your meal, whether it’s alcoholic or not, the best option, when you’re eating out, is water.
Either go out for a meal or go out for a drink - but not both at once.
11. Snack first
While it does seem a little counterintuitive to have a snack before heading to the restaurant, turning up to a restaurant totally ravenous is a recipe for diet disaster.
Having a small, high protein snack before you go out won’t fill you up too much to enjoy your meal, but it will help you feel calm and grounded, and you’ll avoid making the regrettable, emotionally-driven food choices we all tend to make when we get too hungry.
12. Beware of portion inflation
Even if a restaurant serves healthy food, it’s very likely that the portion sizes will be much bigger than what you’re used to eating at home.
If we’re not careful, it’s possible to end up eating a whole day’s worth of calories in just one meal! Depending on your personal caloric needs, you may be able to get a satisfying meal from an entree, or perhaps two appetisers.
Another option is to create your own meal healthy meal from the selection of ‘sides.’ Otherwise, go ahead and order from the main course menu, but set some aside to take home or consider sharing the dish with a friend.
As you can see, eating healthy when eating out is definitely not as difficult as it seems.
Of course, using these tips will be much easier when you’re dining out with like-minded, health-conscious people - but even if that’s not the case, remember that you have the right to make informed and positive food choices to nourish your mind, body and soul.