Restaurant food is notoriously unhealthy. Yet, going out to eat is more than the act of eating. It’s about socializing with company, experiencing a new environment, and taking a break from the usual at-home menu. The experience of going out to eat is an integral part of maintaining whole health—the only way to stay on track is to make your life sustainable, and that calls for much-needed nights out sometimes.
That doesn’t mean you should make unhealthy choices every time you go out to eat. You can indulge and enjoy yourself without ruining the work you’ve been doing to stay on track with eating.
Next time you go out to eat, keep these ideas in mind. They’ll help you find a balance between enjoying unhealthy restaurant food and giving your body the nutrients it needs.
Find the Right Restaurant
If you have control over the restaurant choice, you’re in luck. This is the best way to ensure you can find something healthy on the menu that will still be delicious. Luckily, finding an option with healthy restaurant food is easier than ever with Yelp, online menus and healthy eating apps. If you don’t want to do manual research to find a good restaurant, use one of these apps or websites:
After entering nutritional preferences (which you can save to the app for easy searching later), you can login with Facebook or create an account. Once logged in, you’ll find a list of restaurants nearby, available in map format too. The app also provides a list of specific dishes from nearby restaurants based on your initial food preferences, making the research process even easier.
You can use GPS to locate nearby restaurants and specify whether you want to see restaurants that have gluten free options in addition versus those that have a specific gluten free menu. This is a good way to weed out actual gluten-free restaurants from those that just have a salad on the menu, which is of course gluten free in most cases. With an account, you can view restaurant details as well.
This awesome website lets you specify preferences for calories, fat, sodium, protein, fiber and carbs. After making your choices and specifying a location, you’ll be shown a list of restaurants. Click on each one to see a breakdown of every menu item that fits your criteria.
Be Your Own Food Advocate
My husband always makes fun of me because I ask a lot of questions when we go out to eat: Is that made in-house? Is there any dairy in the dish? Can I have that sauce on the side? Unfortunately, this is often the only way to get a clear picture of what my options actually are.
You can be your own food advocate by doing the same. Here are a few questions you may want to ask:
- Is this cooked with butter or oil?
- Is this cream- or broth-based?
- Is this breaded?
- Can I get grilled instead of fried?
- Can I get sauce on the side?
- Do you have any oil-based dressing?
If you’re too nervous to ask questions, “make” your own plate instead. Pick and choose sides that fit your needs or pair an entree salad with an appetizer. For example, you might indulge with a side of mac and cheese, paired with steamed veggies and a salad on the side.
Peer pressure can make healthy eating harder when you’re out to eat. Your friends may not be saying, “Common, just get a burger,” but their unhealthy orders tempt you to “cheat” and do the same. Avoid this temptation by: 1. Being the first to choose your meal, and 2. Order.
If you can, choose your meal at home by looking at the restaurant’s menu online. If you can’t or didn’t do that, choose your food right when you sit down and put the menu away. This helps to avoid the mental tug-of-war between something that’s healthy and something you know you’ll wish you didn’t eat.
When the server comes, order your food first and hand over the menu. Now your friends can order as they please and your choice is already made.
Ditch Your Dish ASAP
Eating out is social and we tend to overeat by picking at our plate while we chat. Avoid this potential trap by getting rid of your plate as soon as you’re done. If you don’t see your server, ask another one walking by to take it for you instead. Without food in front of you, you’re less likely to nibble.
Ordering a healthy dish when surrounded by unhealthy restaurant food choices is hard. The key to success is preparing beforehand and avoiding temptation when you arrive.
If you can’t choose a healthy restaurant yourself, choose something healthy from the menu before arriving and remember to get rid of your dish right away. You’ll leave dinner feeling proud of your healthy choices and refreshed thanks to good company.