Luckily, as a volunteer of the conference last week we got both lunch and 'nutrition breaks' provided to us that consisted of many healthy choices including fresh fruit, salads, and sandwiches/wraps. It did get me thinking however, about all of the people who had to travel for the conference and the fact that they likely had to eat out 2 - 3 meals everyday. Any of us who have traveled knows what that can be like - limited healthy choices, a feeling of constantly being overfull from the huge portion sizes, and how even a well-matured adult can find themselves breaking out like a teenager from all the extra grease! Unfortunately, in today's world these situations don't just arise when we are travelling, but are common for many of us with busy lives. Although eating out can be a great treat for you and your family, it should remain just that, a treat. This leads me into some of the tips and tools I've collected for eating out - especially for those of us with specific health concerns or simply a desire to eat food that makes us feel good!
There is a reason this is the #1 tip - although there are ways to make more nutritious choices while eating out, it will never compare to your own kitchen. Unfortunately, many of us have hectic work schedules, kids that participate in many weeknight activities, or just a desire to skip the cooking (and the dishes) on a Friday night. The problem with these things is that they often lead to eating out on a regular basis instead of just as a treat. The benefits of eating at home however are numerous, including saving money, controlling how much of an ingredient is in your food, portion size, and having a say in how it is prepared. One way my husband and I battle our urge for Friday night take-out is to make cooking fun! Although it can take some pre-planning to make sure we have all of the ingredients on hand, we often have a make-your-own-pizza night on the weekends. With my favorite 2 ingredient pizza dough recipe, it really couldn't be easier (coming your way soon)! Instead of sitting in a crowded restaurant, we put on some fun music, have a glass of wine and incorporate the dinner prep as one of our fun weekend activities. We usually make extra and freeze 1 or 2 pizzas for later or store them for lunches in the following week. Pair a homemade meal with a romantic movie and you have a recipe for the perfect 'date-night-in'!
2) AVOID the 'Extras'
Although an appetizer may seem like a great idea when your stomach is growling and the 'free' bread basket is hard to resist, these are extra calories that you likely don't need since that portion of pasta coming your way is sometimes 3 or 4 times a usual serving! Instead of ordering a side of wings or spinach dip to start, get a large garden salad and split it with your dinner date. This is usually inexpensive and a great way to fill up on a healthy side BEFORE being tempted with the main entree. If there is an appetizer that really sounds delicious, try ordering it as your entree instead, since the portion sizes are often smaller.
This is by far one of the most useful tips for me. Ask your server for a take-out container BEFORE you get your meal. Then cut your entree in 1/2 (at least) and put the rest away in the container. This ensures that you can feel good about cleaning your plate knowing that you've eaten a sensible portion. Plus, it guarantees you'll have lunch for tomorrow!
Many people with allergies are all too familiar with the questions they need to ask before ordering in a restaurant. Although it may be a little inconvenient, servers are used to it, so go ahead and ask what oil is used, if there is a smaller portion available, or ask them to hold the salt! If you think about being 'allergic' to trans fats, added salt, and massive portions, it can make ordering a little easier. It's your health - just ASK!
6) Don't drink your calories
Your best bet is to stick with water but if you can't resist the urge to order a soft drink or cocktail, don't opt for the refills. Enjoy it and then switch back to water.
Unless there is something light like fresh fruit, yogurt, or a 'bite-sized' version of the classic, opt for eating dessert at home. You can even stop at a grocery or convenience store on your way home and split your favorite chocolate bar with a friend. 100 - 150 calories of a sweet treat is sure better than getting sick off of the 500 calories of cake the restaurant would have likely served you. Sometimes, just waiting for the mint to arrive with your bill or saving a sip of a sweet drink for the end of the meal is all it takes to get past that 'I need something sweet' phase.
Many restaurants have their menus (including nutrition information) online. Before choosing a restaurant, browse some of the menu's online and find a restaurant that has both healthy and delicious sounding options. Also, by choosing what you want to order before you arrive, it can help eliminate the temptation of the specials or new menu items that may be less nutritious choices.
2) Learn your COOKING terms
The way foods are prepared has a lot to do with how nutritious they are. Foods that are baked are often a better choice than those that are fried. Foods that are described as grilled may be a better choice than those that are breaded. Here is a list of common menu terms you should know to help you order foods even at the trickiest restaurants!
Menu Terms to Know Cheat Sheet
3) There are also many amazing tools online that can help make eating out easier and more nutritious!
For example, Charles Platkin, PhD. who writes for The Diet Detective has a bunch of free downloadable Pocket Guides including one for eating out. Click here to check them out!
Eat Right Ontario is another great resource for all kinds of healthy living and nutrition tips. Here is a link to some of their suggestions for eating out: Top 10 tips for eating out
Or, if you're like me and can't keep dessert in the house since it gets eaten every day until it's gone, skip the restaurant all together, eat at home, and just go out for dessert! After all, life is supposed to be a little sweet ;)