Ever find yourself doing really well on your health goals? Like really getting in a groove and thinking, “I got this!” Then your friends or colleagues invite you to lunch and everyone’s getting the ribs, so you get the ribs. With fries. A cheesy appetizer. And there’s bread on the table.
In just one meal you go from “I got this” to “Dammit, I ruined everything.”
First off, one meal can’t completely derail your health goals. But if you’re dining out every week or two, that can spell trouble.
Second, it is possible to eat out regularly while sticking to your goals. With a few tips! And, spoiler alert, a lot of salad.
There are two main ways restaurants make it tricky to stick to your goals:
The (often hidden) amount of fat
Here’s how to address those two issues:
Restaurants love to go overboard on butter, oil, heavy cream and a cow’s worth of melted cheese. It tastes good! And food that tastes good means more customers and better Yelp reviews.
Here’s how to avoid all that hidden fat, while still eating good food:
Foods that are fried, breaded or sauteed
Cheese, phyllo dough, nuts and mayonnaise
Anything creamy (soup, sauce, pasta, etc)
“Extras” on your table (bread, etc.)
Foods that are grilled, steamed or raw
LOTS of veggies
White meat or seafood
Steamed or grilled veggies or a salad in place of fries
Sauces and dressings on the side
If you really want something “unhealthy”, go for it! Just make it more like a side dish. Order a salad (dressing on the side) and a burger, but cut the burger in half immediately and take the other half home. And definitely forgo the fries.
It isn’t just the sizes, it’s also the ratios. A healthy plate is half veggies, a quarter protein and a quarter carbs. Unfortunately, restaurants often skew the other way with veggies as little more than a garnish.
To take control of portion sizes:
Ask for half portions
Never have carbs as your main meal component
If you’re having an appetizer, make it a salad or other veg-focused option
Swap fries, rice or potatoes for steamed or grilled veggies
Instead of a main, choose 2 or 3 appetizers instead, which allows you to control your plate makeup better
Decide what you’ll order ahead of time (and on a full stomach) and avoid looking at the menu once you arrive
Try to order before your friends so you don’t change your mind at the last minute
Share foods when you can
Keep a healthy plate in mind (more vegetables, whole grains, protein)
Accept the salad. Make it your new best friend. It doesn’t have to be the only thing you eat, but making it the biggest thing you eat will go a long way.
Oysters, side salad, one piece of bread
Tartar and a side salad
Sashimis, 4 makis and edamame or seaweed salad
Salad with grilled chicken, quinoa and dressing on the side
Mussels are great, but hold the fries and have one piece of bread and side salad instead
Grilled salmon and veggies with brown rice
Half portion of pasta in tomato (not cream) sauce and a side salad or steamed veggies
Minestrone soup and a salad
So, yes, healthy dining out does mean a lot of salad. But you don’t have to only eat salad. Eat foods you like, just in reasonable portions. And chant the healthy eating mantra: “Veg, veg, veg, veg.” Drill that into your mind so if Karen from Accounting orders fries for the table… again (dammit, Karen!)... you can get yourself a starter salad and feel good about it. Then mess with Karen’s desk chair.