Eating out typically makes it really hard to stay on track when following a healthy meal plan. Sociable events or festive seasons are usually accompanied by an abundance of food and drinks. When dining out, you’re not in as much control of the ingredients that are used. The comforting food which is often offered at restaurants is more likely to be higher in fat, sugar, sodium, and calories than a home-cooked meal.
Instead of giving in to heavier meals, sugary treats and alcohol; try to find a healthy alternative in restaurants, there are no more excuses to indulge. With a few tweaks, such as learning to eat and drink sensibly when dining out, your weight and waistline can remain stable as you indulge in a smarter and healthier way.
If you can and you have the option, choose the healthiest restaurant available. A steakhouse or a seafood restaurant are some of the best places that offer great options to suit your fitness goals. If possible, review the restaurant’s menu online. Scanning the menu earlier in the day enables you to make the right decision relevant to your goals. When the time comes, you will know what to order and easily make the healthiest decision.
Scan the menu
- Look for meals that have protein. Protein should always be part of your meal as it will keep you full longer. The best sources of protein include grilled chicken breast, lean beef, shrimp, fish (tuna, salmon, etc.), tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas, eggs. If the meal doesn’t contain protein, ask for a side of protein to accompany it.
- Order a meal containing vegetables. Vegetables are full of healthy fiber, nutrients and are very low in calories. Add extra vegetables to help fill you up.
- If you enjoy carbs, try to avoid anything fried or highly processed (such as fries or white bread). Instead choose either rice, regular or sweet potato, whole grains or legumes.
- Tweak your meal: Order creamy sauces and dressing on the side. They are usually high in salt, sugar and loaded with bad fat. To add flavor to your salad, make your own dressing by using one tablespoon of olive oil and vinegar. Instead of creamy pasta sauce opt for a tomato based one.
Don’t be afraid to ask the server to modify your order. If you order a burger, skip the bun and swap your fries for a salad. If you must have potatoes, request to have it boiled, grilled or baked.
- Opt for your food to be grilled, baked, steamed or boiled rather than fried. This cuts out a lot of saturated fat and calories. Remember, your server is there to help you, so you can always request how to prepare your food.
- Dessert: If you like something sweet after your meal, ask for fresh fruit and some plain yogurt. Alternatively, you could share a dessert you really want with someone to halve the calories.
What to skip
- Avoid fried and breaded foods. They are loaded with empty calories and don’t keep you full for very long. Instead, choose your food to be baked, boiled, steamed or grilled.
- Limit liquid calories. Always choose water. If you are in the mood for alcohol, opt for a glass of red wine (read further to find out more about alcohol). Try to avoid soft drinks, juice, smoothies, and milkshakes. They are packed with sugar. Did you know that one large strawberry milkshake contains about 500 calories? That’s the equivalent to eating a 3.5 oz chocolate bar!
- If the server offers bread to accompany your meal, say no unless it’s 100% whole grain. Out of sight, out of mind. If a bread basket is in front of you and you are hungry, your willpower will be tested to the limit. Better to avoid this scenario and make it easier for yourself. Even if the bread looks brown and you think it is whole grain, unfortunately, it is usually white refined bread, dyed brown.
- Enjoy your meal! Slow down and eat mindfully. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full.
- Listen to your body. If you are full, you don’t have to finish your meal. You can always take it home and enjoy it later.
- Don’t skip meals and try to go out on a full stomach. If you’re hungry when ordering, you’re more likely to overeat.
What about alcohol?
If you choose to drink alcohol, beware of the excess calories. Especially in sugary drinks like cocktails and beer. The best choices for alcoholic drinks are red wine and spirits. If you opt for spirits, have them on the rocks or with water. Skip the mixers. When you consume alcohol, the body tends to burn less fat and carbs. Furthermore, alcohol dehydrates the body. So always ensure that you drink a glass of water in between your alcoholic drinks. This will lessen the effects of a nasty hangover in the morning.
There is no need to feel guilty after dining out if you choose smartly. Instead of worrying, savor the valuable time with your loved ones.