While it’s important not to let a healthy lifestyle come in the way of your relationships with friends and family, it’s also important to not let spending time with friends and family set you back from a healthy lifestyle. Going out to eat is a very common social option, but it’s also a way to easily indulge in unhealthy foods and can often set you back a few steps from your health/fitness goals.
So, here are our favorite tips when it comes to choosing healthier options at restaurants:
- Look at the menu beforehand
Many restaurants now have their menus available online, and many chain restaurants include nutrition facts as well so you can check macros as well as sugar content. Take advantage of this to check the restaurant beforehand and see what healthy options they have or ones that you can ‘create’ (tip #6). If there really isn’t anything (like if your friends want to go to Taco Bell), it’s probably better to skip eating there and just eat before/after.
- Eat something small before you go
This is a good tip to avoid two issues that can occur if you go out to eat hungry: Cravings and overindulgence. If you’re hungry before you go out, you may end up craving unhealthy options on the menu. This could cloud your judgment and end up with you making a poor decision. The second issue is over indulgence. When you go out to eat, they often have massive plates of junk food. As you can imagine, if you’re hungry, it will be that much easier to eat way too much of it. So before you go out eat something nutritious and satisfying. Try having something loaded with vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. This way you won’t give into cravings and eat too much.
Avoid sauces/dressings when possible
I mentioned this in my “10 Tips for Eating Healthy on a College Meal Plan” post, but the same goes for eating at restaurants. Sauces and dressings typically have a lot of sugar as well as other ingredients that you don’t know about. And unlike when buying the sauces/dressings yourself, you can’t see the list of ingredients and nutrition facts. So instead of getting dishes with a lot of sauce, try choosing options that don’t contain sauces, and try getting salads without dressing (plus you can always ask for lemon/lemon juice instead).
Keep in mind that the food will most likely not be from the best sources
Unless otherwise stated, restaurants usually don’t use wild-caught fish, free-range chicken, or grass-fed beef. The vegetables most likely aren’t organic either (unless you’re going to a restaurant that purposely tries to be healthy). This shouldn’t stop you from eating out at restaurants altogether, but just something to keep in mind when ordering. Personally for me, I choose the chicken over the farm-raised fish, but it’s usually up to personal preference.
Stray away from cooked items and fried foods
At home, I’m very particular about the heat and oils/butter I cook my food in. Unfortunately, when you’re eating out a restaurant, there’s very limited control over that. Because of this, it’s usually better to stray away from cooked foods. I don’t like eating salads with just raw vegetables, but I’ll usually get one with some chicken for added protein and the amount of cooked food in the dish is very limited. Mike and I also really enjoy getting sushi because it’s not cooked at all (if you get raw fish) and it’s relatively healthy. Definitely avoid fried foods like fries, fried chicken, crusted chicken/fish, etc. since those have a lot of damaged fats from the high heat and bad oils that they are cooked in.
Don’t rely on their ‘healthy section’
Many restaurants are realizing that people are becoming more and more health-conscious, so they may even add a ‘healthy section’ on their menu. But these are often just low-calorie choices that the restaurant offers, and low-calories definitely does not make a dish healthy. Always look at the full menu to see what options are available, because chances are you could find much healthier options in the rest of the menu as well.
Ask for substitutions/customizations/swap sides
This is by far the best thing you could do to make your meals healthier at a restaurant. When I’m out to eat with friends, I almost always end up swapping sides if the dish comes with them because they’re typically french fries, mashed potatoes, or something of that sort. I like swapping them out with a side of vegetables or fruit (if they won’t do the veggies) or just don’t get a side if they’re really against making accommodations. A lot of places offer gluten-free options as well nowadays including gluten-free pasta and pizza. Some other substitutions/customizations I have made before are asking the restaurant to cook my eggs in butter and asking for no sauce/dressing on dishes. It might seem annoying at the time, but restaurants are usually more than willing to accommodate your health needs and you won’t feel bad afterwards.
Hopefully these tips help make eating healthy and restaurants a little easier – Happy dining!