How to Make Healthy Choices when Eating Out
Eating healthy does not have to be just an at home thing. You can still eat out and make healthy choices. With our tips, you will be able to eat out with your friends while still sticking to your healthy eating goals. Warning: planning is required and sometimes you will just have to say no! While it is possible to make healthy choices when eating out, you should still limit how often you do so.
The first thing to say no to is all-you-can-eat buffets!1 The tendency at these buffets is the desire to eat your money’s worth. This leads to an overconsumption of calories, leaving you stuffed and with an excess of carbohydrates and fats that your body simply cannot use.
One of the most important aspects of making healthy choices while eating out is to plan ahead. Try to choose a restaurant in advance. Mosts restaurants have an online menu that you can peruse in order to make the best choices. Many of these online menus now include nutritional information such as total calories.2 If you want to look for heart-healthy items, the American Heart Association has partnered with many restaurants to create a Heart-Check Meal Certification program. You can find more information here. Healthy Dining Finder is a website that can help you choose a restaurant to fit your dietary needs and this restaurant nutrition guide app can help you make the right choices once you have settled on a restaurant.
Another aspect of planning ahead deals with meal planning itself. If you know you are going to eat out for dinner, have a lighter lunch or vice versa.3
When looking at the menu, look for dishes with the words steamed, broiled, baked, roasted or grilled and just say no to fried or battered foods! The process of frying adds additional fats to your meal, and these fats are not the healthy kind.4 If you do not know how something is prepared, ask your server!5 Check out EatSmarter’s article on the best oils for cooking to help you navigate what to ask your server. Do not be afraid to ask your server what type of oil is used in your food’s preparation. Finally, choose a tomato or vegetable based sauce instead of a cream or cheese based sauce. This is one easy way to cut down on calories and to get some added veggies to your meal.6
Try to order your meal before the others at your table. This will help you stick to your plans and not be swayed by other’s choices.7
Avoid before meal extras like that bread and butter on the table or appetizers. If you are worried about being too hungry before your meal arrives, eat a healthy snack before leaving home like carrot sticks or a piece of fruit. Another option is to ask for a side salad or a broth-based soup if you really want a starter.8
Additionally, avoid sugary drinks that only add empty calories to your meal. Instead, drink water or unsweetened tea. Also, limit your alcohol intake. That glass of wine or cocktail adds additional calories to your meal that you may not have counted on.9
Make sure you balance your plate. You need a balance of healthy carbs, proteins, and fats. Do not just eat a plate full of meat or pasta. Make sure that you are getting vegetables, lean protein, and try to keep your grains whole! Many restaurants will substitute whole wheat pasta or brown rice if you ask them to. On that note, do not be afraid to ask for substitutions! You can ask your waiter or waitress for more side options as most restaurants will offer vegetables or a salad as a side choice. You can also substitute sauces or dressings with a higher fat content for ones with a lower fat content like a vinaigrette. Additionally, ask for your sauce or dressing on the side so that you have control over how much goes on.10
One of the best things you can do when eating out is to control your portions. Portions sizes at most restaurants are well over the recommended amount. Try asking for a to-go box at the beginning of your meal and place half of your meal into the box for leftovers--out of sight, out of mind! You can also share with a friend if you do not want leftovers, as long as you can find something you agree on. Many restaurants have lunch and dinner portions as well. Always ask for the smaller portion. Some restaurants will even offer half-portions of dishes.11
Eat slowly and take your time with each bite. Put down your utensils between mouthfuls. Savor the flavors and bring a bit of mindfulness to your meal. Not only will you enjoy your meal more, but you will also feel fuller after less food. It takes time for your stomach to signal to your brain that it is full and it can be easy to overeat when you do not give your body time to process the food it has taken in. Stop eating when you are full. You are not doing yourself any favors by stuffing yourself to the brim.12
If others are eating dessert and you have decided not to, stick to your guns! You can order a cup of coffee or tea to have something to sip on while they eat. If you do opt for dessert, try to find a fruit-based dessert or share something with the table!13
Eating out with kids? It is particularly important to plan ahead to make the best choices for your kids. Look for a restaurant that caters to children in order to make sure that the kiddo menu will contain something other than just chicken fingers and fries.14
For dining out tips by cuisine type, check out this link from the American Heart Association.
1. "Choosing a Restaurant," Healthy Living. American Heart Association, 9 Aug. 2016, Web.; Helen West, RD, "20 Clever Tips to Eat Healthy When Eating Out," Authority Nutrition, Authority Nutrition, 17 Aug. 2016, Web.
2. Taylor Wolfram, "7 Tips for Healthy Dining Out," www.eatright.org, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 11 Nov. 2016, Web.; "Choosing a Restaurant."; West, "20 Clever Tips to Eat Healthy When Eating Out."; "10 Tips for Healthy Eating Out," Heart Matters, British Heart Foundation, n.d., Web.
4. Wolfram, "7 Tips for Healthy Dining Out."; "Ordering Your Meal," Healthy Living, American Heart Association, 9 Aug. 2016, Web.; West, "20 Clever Tips to Eat Healthy When Eating Out."; Registered Dietitian Nutrition Services, “Eating Out the Healthy Way,” N.p.: Registered Dietitian Nutrition Services, n.d. Alberta Health Services, Web.
5. "Ordering Your Meal."; Registered Dietitian Nutrition Services, “Eating Out the Healthy Way.”
6. "Healthy Eating Out," NHS Choices, Department of Health, 31 Mar. 2015, Web.
7. West, "20 Clever Tips to Eat Healthy When Eating Out."
8. West, "20 Clever Tips to Eat Healthy When Eating Out."; Registered Dietitian Nutrition Services, “Eating Out the Healthy Way.”; "Ordering Your Meal."; "Healthy Eating Out."
9. Ibid.; West, "20 Clever Tips to Eat Healthy When Eating Out."
10. "Ordering Your Meal."; West, "20 Clever Tips to Eat Healthy When Eating Out."; "Healthy Eating Out."; Wolfram, "7 Tips for Healthy Dining Out."
11. "Ordering Your Meal."; West, "20 Clever Tips to Eat Healthy When Eating Out."; Wolfram, "7 Tips for Healthy Dining Out."
12. Wolfram, "7 Tips for Healthy Dining Out."; "Healthy Eating Out."; "Healthy Eating out of the Home," Nutrition Australia, Nutrition Australia, n.d. Web.
13. Registered Dietitian Nutrition Services, “Eating Out the Healthy Way.”; West, "20 Clever Tips to Eat Healthy When Eating Out."; "10 Tips for Healthy Eating Out."
14. Wolfram, "7 Tips for Healthy Dining Out."