Is it true that going out to eat makes eating healthfully more difficult? Is it even possible to dine out and eat healthy? Yes, it may be more difficult, but it is possible! More people are dining out than they are eating home cooked meals than ever before. In 1970, we spent $6 billion on fast food, and in the past few years we are spending $100,000 billion. It’s a big business!
The good news is that it’s getting easier to make healthy choices while dining out in most restaurants. I’ve developed a few tools you can use to ditch the stigma of unhealthy dining out and help make healthy eating more possible for you.
- Plan ahead: Look up the menu! Find places to eat nearby and make your best judgement. Also, when we are able to skim a menu in advance we can determine what our best options are and commit to them before even walking in the door. If you’re on Weight Watchers, you can plan out your points ahead of time by pre-selecting your menu choice.
- Prioritize: Protein and vegetables are your best friend, treat them as such! Protein is essential and will help with fullness, while the fiber within vegetables will do the same, as well as add more micro nutrients.
- Portions: Unfortunately, that 12-inch platter of steak, pasta, and fries is not a mindful portion. Most of the time the portions are too large at restaurants. Or at the very least they are lacking vegetables. Order double veggies if you can—you can never have too many! Ask for a box early so you can put aside a portion and save it for later. If you know the place serves too much, split a meal. We never really do tap out early enough when we’re chatting away and the deliciousness is right in front of us.
- Keywords: Look for things that are steamed, baked, broiled, grilled, NOT fried, loaded, or covered in butter. Be mindful of how many toppings are on different entrees, such as cheese, avocado, bacon etc. You can always ask to eliminate certain toppings, or get them on the side. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, a good restaurant will accommodate all your requests.
- Satisfaction: Let’s face it, if you are trying to choose healthy options and you hesitantly order the chicken and veggies and find you are still hungry, you may start picking at your friend’s plate! Keep in mind your body composition goals, or with certain medical conditions, you may have to make more sacrifices. When following a generally healthy diet we can choose what I call the “grey area”. Order the burger you crave, but ask for steamed veggies instead of fries. Spend extra for the salmon and veggies, or if you want the fries, split them with someone else. We do not have to be so black and white with our choices (pizza OR a salad). When we are truly satisfied from our meals we are more able to sustain our sanity, make healthy choices and listen to our hunger cues instead of rebelling because we weren’t really satisfied.
Liz Satterthwaite, RDN, LDN, is a ProMedica dietitian.