Who likes going out to eat? On a busy, chaotic day, it is so convenient to stop by your local favorite restaurant on the way home instead of slaving over a hot stove after a long day.
While cooking at home may be the healthiest route because you are in complete control of what is going into your food, dining out doesn’t always have to be “bad”. It may lead to more temptation to order fries or fried chicken, but staying on track with your healthy lifestyle is totally doable while dining out.
Today I am going to share my favorite tips that I use when I go out with family, friends, or with the hubs for date night.
- Order something that is veggie heavy
One thing I always look for at a restaurant is something that is loaded down with veggies. In a country that is very meat-potato heavy that may be difficult. For example, I LOVE eating at Mexican restaurants, but they are limited with vegetables. You may get lucky and get some peppers or onions in your fajitas, but that’s about it. Even the “vegetarian” options are usually carb heavy, but they always have veggies in the kitchen! I typically order a spinach and cheese quesadilla, heavy on the spinach and light on the cheese. Don’t be afraid to ask! They are generally accommodating, considering you are paying for the meal.
Another perk to ordering something with tons of vegetables is that it improves satiety (fullness). The fuller you feel, the less likely you are to overeat. Also, vegetables are high sources of fiber which aids in digestion and improves colon health. It’s a win-win!
2. Don’t ditch the salads
I have read a lot of articles saying that salads are bad because they may contain more calories than a burger and fries…
This may be true, especially if you’re loading that sucker down with bacon bits, extra creamy dressings, and a bunch of cheese, however that doesn’t mean you should stay away from them!
There are ways you can order a salad and it still be kind to your waste-line (and organs). Opt for salads that have leafy greens like spinach, kale, arugula or baby romaine. These greens are plentiful in fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals our bodies need for different metabolic pathways. Choose lean proteins like grilled chicken or fish instead of deep fried meats. A lot of people are against the cheeses on salad…but sometimes the cheese can really bring all the salad components together, just ask them to go light on it-1 ounce of cheese goes a long way.
Let’s talk salad dressing…this is where the bulk of the fat and calories come from–especially with the creamy dressings like thousand island, ranch, and blue cheese. Personally, I am not a fan of mayo-filled dressings, but if that is your jam, then that is okay. Try to limit your salad to 1 tablespoon of dressing-again, a little goes a long way! If you’re looking for a healthier alternative, choose the olive oil based dressings like oil and vinegar and vinaigrette. These dressings contain omega 3 fatty acids which may improve heart health.
3. Choose nutrient-dense sides
I know…you want that burger real bad…and nothing goes better with a burger than fries, right? If I am really craving an entree that may not be the best for me, I try to choose a side that will balance my meal out. For example, if I want to order a buffalo chicken wrap from Backstreets (my fav!) then I am going to choose a side dish that is more nutrient dense. Typically that would be a side salad, steamed veggies, or mashed cauliflower (if available–and Backstreets has the BEST mashed cauli!).
4. Drink water for your beverage
I know I am going to sound like a broken record here! I don’t know about you, but I drink a TON when I am at restaurants because the waiter is constantly filling up my glass…if it’s there, I’m gonna drink it! Think about all the empty calories in a soda or sweet tea (hey, I’m from the South!). In 8 ounces of soda, there are about 100 calories and 24 grams of sugar…most glasses at restaurants are about 16 ounces. If you drink 2 glasses of soda at your meal you are consuming around 400 calories and 96 grams of sugar just in your beverage! We really should only be getting between 25-30 grams of added sugars daily…I realize they put ice in the cups that take up room, but this is just an illustration.
Not only is water better for your body, but it’s better for your wallet too! Water is free. I don’t know about you, but I love free stuff! Water also helps push the fiber in your meal through the digestive track making for an easier exit, if you know what I mean.
Dining out is an experience, and I realize it can be a special occasion for many of you–it is for me too! In those cases, I am totally a promoter of indulging…but for the average American who eats out several times a week, these tips can come in handy! While there are many tips and tricks you can do, these are the four that I utilize regularly. Hope they benefit some of you!
What are your guides for dining out? I’d love to hear some new ideas!
Until Next Time,
Katrina Detter, RD, LDN