To Eat Out or To Not Eat Out
By Brianna Laurila, RD, LDN
Every road has its obstacles, especially the road to a healthier lifestyle. One of the many obstacles that may deter you from staying on track is, you guessed it, eating out! No matter how hard we try, going out to eat will always be a temptation between the appetizers, drinks, and desserts, oh my! In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, you need to be realistic with your goals and expectations. It is next to impossible to avoid eating out completely. When the time comes, being prepared to make the right decisions with food and beverages will allow you to enjoy the outing without ruining your progress.
Foods served at restaurants tend to be more calorically dense, high in sodium, contain unhealthy fats, and are typically served in large portions. Each of these characteristics will slowly but surely sabotage your goals. There are several steps you can take to manage those high-calorie meals.
- Plan, Plan, Plan: The ongoing theme with managing a successful healthy lifestyle is planning ahead to avoid overeating, limit temptations, and consume foods that will benefit your goals. Similar to meal prepping, you can plan for your restaurant trips by researching the menu online. Most restaurants have nutritional facts for meals online, allowing you to plan and pick the meal ahead of time to avoid quick, hunger-filled decisions on the fly. If the restaurant does not have this feature, you can turn to a calorie counting site or app. These typically have many popular restaurant meals available for selection to give you a quick peak at the nutritional contents.
- Choose Wisely: Avoid choosing meals that have several ingredients. Typically the more ingredients, the more calories. For example, choosing the ‘creamy parmesan shrimp scampi’ would lead to a high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium, nutrient-lacking meal. However, choosing the baked chicken breast with steamed vegetables would be a much healthier, satisfying, and low-calorie meal. As a general rule, try to avoid options that include terms such as buttery, casserole, creamed, cheesy, cream sauce, gravy, fried, and sautéed. Healthier terms to look for are steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, and roasted.
- Meal Al a Carte: Most often than not, restaurants will abide by your request to build or deconstruct meals they have available to better suit your nutritional needs. For example, let’s say the chicken parmesan meal catches your eye. The combination of breaded chicken, excessive amounts of pasta, and the lack of healthy vegetables will leave you feeling full of carbohydrates, empty calories, and lack of nutrients. Instead, you could ask for a baked chicken breast (without the breading), cooked vegetables with a small portion of pasta, and salad instead of bread.
- To-Go Please: As previously mentioned, the portions of foods served at restaurants are typically large. Having a large plate of food served to you will definitely cause overeating between the delicious food and the social aspect (talking while eating, losing track of your intake). Before you know it, you’ve eaten the whole plate! To prevent this, ask for a to-go box when you get your meal. Then portion at last half of your meal into the to-go box to take home with you. Out of sight, out of mind! Another option would be to split the meal with someone, this way you’ll both be conserving calories and preventing a splurge.
- Drinks and Desserts: When eating out, the best beverage to choose is water. Though we all know happy hours are tempting, remind yourself that alcohol is full of empty calories. If you choose an alcoholic beverage, stick to lower sugar options by using a no-calorie mixer. Choosing a wine spritzer, single spirit with a no-calorie mixer, or a light beer will help keep your caloric intake down. For desserts, if you must have one, try to choose fresh fruit, sherbet, angel food cake, or similar low calorie options.
All of these tips and tricks to stay on track to a healthier lifestyle will come easier with time. Just remember, you need to start the changes in order for these tips to become a healthy habit!
(Remember to take into consideration your own food allergies/intolerances, gastrointestinal disorders, medical history and diagnoses, and body composition goals. It is always recommended to collaborate with a physician, trainer, and dietitian for optimal performance and health management.)