5 Tips for Sticking to Your Healthy Eating Plan While Eating Out

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restaurant-mealHaving just returned from traveling, I know that vacations can easily sabotage healthy eating habits. Restaurants work hard to entice you with over-the-top food and drink options. Complimentary bread baskets, rolls, and tortilla chips as well as large portion sizes are just some of the obstacles that can derail your diet plan. Here are some helpful tips and strategies to help you stay on track with your healthy eating plan while eating out.

1. If you know you are going out for dinner, prepare! Eat carefully during the day. Have vegetable soup or a big salad for lunch. About an hour or two before you leave for dinner, have a protein shake, fruit and nuts, or yogurt so that you don’t arrive too hungry. It is important that you don’t starve yourself during the day or skip meals, as this can lead to overeating at dinner.

2. Select restaurants that offer plenty of choices. Review their menu before you go and plan ahead what you will order. Make sure the restaurant offers fresh vegetables and salads, and is willing to make menu substitutions. You may want to call ahead of time to be sure you can get something prepared to your liking and in accordance with your nutrition plan. Most restaurants are willing to accommodate your requests, especially if you tell them they are for health reasons. Avoid “all-you-can-eat” buffets at all costs.

3. Start with a low-calorie salad or a non-creamy soup for extra fiber and to help curb hunger. Ask for the salad dressing on the side and dip your fork into it before each bite, or simply add a spoonful of the dressing to the salad. A broth-based soup with vegetables will help fill you up before the main course, and you’ll be less likely to eat the whole entree. When your food arrives, ask your waiter or waitress to bring a box. Separate a portion before you start eating to take home for another meal. Or, opt to share an entree with your dining partner. It’s best to skip dessert, but if you do have one, definitely share!

4. Learn common menu terms that describe how the food is cooked. Ask the wait staff how the food is prepared if you are unsure of the preparation method. Often you can substitute a sauce lower in fat, such as a tomato-based marinara sauce for a high fat cream sauce, especially if you see it somewhere else on the same menu. Also, opt for a double portion of steamed or stewed vegetables to replace the starch that your meal may come with (for example, say no thank you to mashed potatoes, French fries, pasta, chips, etc.).

  • Look for low-fat menu terms: baked, braised, broiled, cooked in own juices, poached, roasted, steamed, stir fried, or caramelized.
  • Avoid high-fat menu terms: alfredo, au gratin, Bearnaise, breaded, crispy, creamed, double crust, fried, prime, rich, scalloped.

5. Eat slowly! If you eat quickly, you may wind up eating more calories than you need. Chew your food well and enjoy conversations with your dining partner(s). Put your fork down occasionally. It’s amazing how many people have another forkful ready to go before they’ve finished swallowing the last bite. Chew gum or have a mint when you are finished and don’t pick at your food after you have decided that you are done.

Eating at restaurants can still be very enjoyable and fulfilling, even when you are eating on the lighter side. It just takes a bit of preparation, becoming menu savvy, and keeping your bigger health goals in mind. Bon appétit!

Photo from here, with thanks.

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January 2023