Growing up, eating out with my family was one of my favorite things. The best part would be watching every waiter/waitress come out holding a tray of food, and inspecting it to see if it was ours. And that moment when it was mine was pure bliss (I mean, hey, even as a kid food was very important!).
Even now I do enjoy going out, but one of the hardest parts can be finding and choosing healthy options, especially ones that fit my macros. And while yes there are such things as enjoying your meal out and cheat meals (although I personally don’t use “cheat” meals), there are many benefits and reasons to choosing to eat healthy meals out. 1) Choosing a healthier entrée means I have more room to enjoy some dessert; 2) I need certain macros; 3) My schedule is sometimes such that I have to eat away from home multiple times, meaning I can’t indulge every meal out; 4) Eating healthy just makes me feel better.
So although you should generally try to eat as many meals at home that you make as you can, there will be times and situations where eating out is necessary. Plus, you should be able to go out with friends and family and enjoy yourself! Here are some tips to help you eat healthy when you are eating out.
1. Check online for nutritional information
A lot of restaurants are putting their nutritional information online now. So if you know the place you are going out, check their website or Google to see if any information is available. Some places even have a tool where you can custom build your meal (Jimmy Johns for example) and get personalized macro content. This is great if you want to change menu items by adding or deleting some ingredients. Lastly, CalorieKing is a free app that has a lot of nutritional information on popular fast food and sit down restaurants,which can be really helpful!
2. Pick out smart/macro friendly options
Once you’ve found the nutritional data, check it out to find options that will be a good bet. If you count macros, you’ll obviously choose options that fit your macros. If you aren’t counting, still check for items low in added-sugar, saturated and trans fat. You want to try to get a good mix of fat, carb and protein just to have a well-rounded meal too.
If the restaurant you are going to doesn’t post their nutritional info, here are some tips for picking out a healthy choice:
3. Ask for dressings, sauces, etc. on the side
Oftentimes the dressings, condiments, sauces, etc. are loaded with fat and bring down the nutritional content of the meal.Asking for these things on the side allows you to control the amount you use in your meal; therefore, having more control over your meal nutrition. Also, whenever possible, choose healthier options like salsa, whole-grain mustard, or oil and vinegar dressings.
4. Look for key menu words
There are some words that are key identifiers of healthy vs. unhealthy on the menu. For example: fried/deep-fried, breaded, buttered, fully loaded, battered, crispy all tend to point towards unhealthy items on the menu. Instead, look for these words which point towards potentially healthy choices: steamed, stir fried, grilled, baked, broiled, fresh, etc.
5. Look for ways to substitute
More than likely, you’ll have options to substitute items or sides in a meal. Order brown rice instead of white, whole-wheat bread instead of white, veggies instead of fries or potatoes, etc. Ask for dry veggies (less oil). You get the idea: most places will allow you, to some degree, to customize your meal.
Here is an example of my customized meal at a mexican restaurant that I had over break. I enjoyed my food and my time, while still making good, healthy choices. I ordered 3 chicken tacos with only lettuce and tomatoes on top, no cheese (cheese is okay in moderation, but I usually ask no cheese because its harder to know the exact amount and type used by restaurant). I ordered them with corn tortillas as opposed to flour, got a side of charro beans instead of refried, and substituted mixed veggies for the side of rice. I topped my tacos with salsa and some guacamole which I got a side of so that I could control the amount I used. Lastly, I went in not super hungry so that I could forego the chips. It was very hard, but worth it because I actually had the appetite to finish my whole meal without feeling stuffed and bloated due to overeating.
Eating out doesn’t have to be difficult or unhealthy if you choose. Do make sure you are enjoying your time and meal out; don’t order something you hate just because it’s deemed “healthy”. There is still room to enjoy a meal out here and there. But, there is also room to enjoy delicious meals out and enjoy healthier choices!
What tips for eating healthy do you use when you eat out?