Sticking to a clean and healthy diet is often challenging, especially if you’re dining out! Many restaurant options are big, high-calorie meals. Restaurant servings can be extra-large and full of flavor enhancers, such as fat, salt, and sugar.
Since it’s a new year and you likely have resolutions to choose healthier habits, we’re offering some tips and tricks for healthy eating to make sure your dining out experience doesn’t disrupt your healthy weight loss goals…
1) Skip the Sugary Drinks
One of the easiest swaps when dining out is to skip the sugary drinks and stick to water, tea, coffee, or another low-calorie option. Most restaurant drinks are packed with sugar, which is calorie-dense. Skip the sodas, alcoholic beverages, smoothies, milkshakes, and lemonades.
Sticking to water can also have another benefit. Drinking a glass of water before your meal can also help you to feel full, which may help you to eat a little less when your meal comes. Need some extra flavor? Ask your waiter to add a slice of lemon or lime.
A great way to plan for your meal out is to review the menu ahead of time. Many restaurants publish their menu online, so you can decide what you want to eat. Choosing what you want to eat before you arrive can make it easier to make healthy decisions.
In the moment while at the restaurant, you might be hungry or feel social pressure to order something that won’t help you meet your goals. If you’ve already picked out what you plan to eat, it’s a lot easier to resist temptations.
And by researching restaurants ahead of time, you can flag the ones that aren’t a great choice for sticking to your weight loss goals or diet (and find a different restaurant instead!). Discovering this ahead of time is always easier than getting there and feeling like you have no choice but to break your diet.
3) Be Aware of Portion Sizes
Though the amount of food on your restaurant plate might look like a normal serving size, often it’s more than one serving (4). Most restaurant servings are at least two, sometimes even three, portions or servings!
And the problem is, your brain is wired to want to finish everything that’s in front of you. So even though your body doesn’t need the extra portions, you’ll end up eating more calories than you would if you had the same meal at home (2).
To avoid the portion distortion, split an entree with someone else or take part of your meal home with you to eat another day. You can even ask your waiter to box half your meal before it arrives on the table to resist any possibility of overeating.
4) Ask for Sauces, Dressings, and Butter on the Side
Sauces, dressings, condiments, and spreads can be quite calorie-dense. If you’re looking to minimize how many calories you’re eating when dining out, ask for the sauce on the side.
Or ask your waiter if a healthier option is available, like using oil instead of butter or avocado instead of mayonnaise. This gives you the ability to control how much dressing, sauce, or calories you’re eating.
In the case of a salad, you can also opt for your salad “tossed”. This method results in a thin layer of dressing on your salad and may offer fewer calories than if you apply the dressing yourself.
5) Start With a Salad or Soup
Speaking of salad, another great way to support your weight loss goals while eating out is to start your meal with a soup or some leafy greens. Because the soup or salad comes out first, this is a fool-proof method for ensuring you get your veggies before you load up on anything else.
And by starting with a light appetizer like soup and salad you can start to feel full before your entree even arrives (5). This makes it easier to not only load up on healthy nutrients but to watch your portion size while eating out.
6) Eat Slowly
When you’re dining out at a restaurant, the excitement of the conversation, background noise, and being surrounded by friends or family can compel you to eat quickly. But, it can take about 15 minutes or longer for your stomach to tell your brain that you’re no longer hungry(3).
Try and slow down while you’re eating. Put your fork down and join in the conversation or practice mindful eating where you savor each bite before going for another. By slowing down you’ll give your brain and stomach a chance to communicate. And you’ll enjoy the experience of going out to eat even more!
7) Pay Attention to Toppings
Like dressing and sauces, another sneaky calorie-add at restaurants is the toppings. You might choose an entree that sounds healthy, but the toppings aren’t healthy. A great example of this is a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread. Sounds healthy, right? But, when you add the bacon, mayo, and layers of dressing, it adds more calories than you might think!
When you’re choosing your meal, be sure to read all the ingredients. You can always ask your waiter to leave off the toppings or place them on the side so you can control how much you’re eating.
8) Look for Veggies and Whole Grains
When you’re reviewing the menu at a restaurant, look for superfoods like vegetables and whole grains. While vegetables and whole grains might not guarantee that an entree is healthy, it’s a great starting place for finding something on the menu that you’ll want to eat.
And that’s because veggies and whole grains are loaded with fiber, complex carbs, vitamins, and minerals that help supply your body with the nutrients it needs while keeping your weight loss on track. High-fiber foods like carrots, broccoli, quinoa, oats, lentils, and split peas, for example, help you feel full for longer, so you’re less likely to overindulge at the restaurant.
9) Don’t Arrive Starving
Next, a small trick that you can do to manage your meal at a restaurant is not to arrive at the restaurant starving. You don’t need to arrive feeling full, but you don’t want to be ravenous either! If you have a nutritious snack before you go, it can make it easier to resist the bread basket or appetizer on the table and order the entree you planned for before you arrived!
Our suggestion? Have a low-calorie, well-balanced meal replacement shake as a snack. Instead of making a full smoothie that would fill you up too much, just combine the shake powder with a liquid of your choice. This will calm your hunger and make sure you’re feeling your best in mind and body.
10) Order First
What our friends and family do often affect our own decisions. When all your friends start ordering sugary cocktails or burgers with fries it can be tempting to do the same. This temptation is actually based on science! In one study researchers found that the first person to order often influences the decisions that everyone else makes at the dinner table (6).
So take control and set a healthy standard! When the waiter comes to the table to take your order, be the first to place your order. When you’re the first one to order, no one else’s decisions can sway your own. This is especially important if you know that the people you’re dining with may choose to order food that doesn’t fit with your health goals.
11) Read Nutrition and Calorie Information
In recent years, more and more restaurants have started including nutrition and calorie information on the menu. When you’re reviewing the menu ahead of time or even when you’re sitting at the table, be sure to take a moment to read that information.
You can use the calorie and nutrition information to help you decide what to eat. (And see just how many calories you’re skipping by not ordering that double bacon cheeseburger!)
Want more tips to stick with your health and fitness goals this year?! Check out our Health Blog for more topics that can give you an edge in succeeding! And review our list of top-recommended meal replacement shakes!