Eating Out the Healthy Way

Everyone needs a hobby – something they really enjoy, are good at, or aspire to master.

My favorite hobby is going out to eat.  And believe me, I’ve mastered it.  As the saying goes, practice makes perfect…

I love discovering new places and trying new kinds of food.  About the only foods that are off the table (literally) are spicy-hot foods, sushi, and incredibly exotic foods like bugs, domestic or endangered animals/fish, etc..

Chile Peppers

No, Thank You. I’ll Pass on these Peppers.

SIDEBAR QUESTION: Why do people knowingly eat incredibly spicy-hot foods?

IMO, hot is a temperature, not a taste.  I enjoy horseradish, “non-scalding” curries, and the like.  However, I don’t understand the joys of any foods above the first couple of levels on the Scoville scale.

[shudder] I don’t get it.

Alrighty, Back on Topic We Go!

When I started eating healthy, I worried that going to a restaurant – any restaurant – would be too incredibly tempting.  From the bread basket to dessert, there are too many paths to diet destruction.  Historically, willpower aint been my greatest strength.

On the other hand, unless I was prepared to give up going to restaurants (not likely), I needed to find a comfortable way to dine out without giving up any good habits.

The Mighty Fish

After the first several weeks of eating healthy at home, I prepared for our first meal out – nothing too elaborate – just a lunch at Legal Sea Foods.  A seafood restaurant offers plenty of healthy options.

It was a successful adventure – totally “on program” – which emboldened me to try additional restaurants.  I came up with a few basic tips that enable me to enjoy going out to eat without endangering my progress.

Here are 3 tips that help me and may help you eat out more confidently.

#1 – DO YOUR RESEARCH

Educate yourself before you order. Heck, ideally you should do it before you choose a restaurant.

At home or on a smartphone, check out the restaurant’s website.  Read the menu.  Many chain restaurants post nutritional info, but most independents don’t.  Even if you can’t find the nutrition info, identify some healthy and tasty menu options you can enjoy without guilt.

Generally, all restaurants offer healthy options.  However, if someone suggests a restaurant and your research makes it clear that it doesn’t offer any palatable healthy options, offer an alternative.  Friends and family will understand.

For example, friends of ours wanted to go to an Italian restaurant that seemed to serve mounds of pasta or huge piles of cheese (or both!) with every menu option. Pasta in moderation is fine, but it’s not where I like to “spend” my carbs.  When we mentioned that we’re trying to eat healthy, our friends were totally supportive and selected another spot that fit the bill.

#2 – PLAN YOUR DAY 

When you know you’re going out to eat, think about what you’re going to eat the rest of the day.  Eat lighter before and after, so you can allocate more calories to your meal out.

Of course, when you enjoy eating an appetizer, entrée, and occasional dessert like me, you definitely need to think about what you order as well as what you’re eating (or have eaten) the rest of the day.  Everything in moderation, right?

If the meal out is more spontaneous, consider what you’ve already eaten during the day and make food choices that are both reasonable and more importantly, appetizing.  Sometimes, I just order a salad, select the healthiest dressing to be served on the side,  and ask them to add some grilled chicken breast (boneless and skinless, of course).  No one ever said no to these simple requests.

#3 – ENJOY YOUR VICTORY

Select foods you wouldn’t cook for yourself.  Savor every bite of your meal.  Chew slowly. Really taste whatever you’re putting in your mouth.  Make the meal worth the time and energy you spent thinking about it.

If you slip, fine.  If there’s something decadent on the menu you can’t resist, eat it.  And afterwards, don’t beat yourself up about it.  If you deprive yourself or feel incredibly guilty about what you ate, you’re much more likely to ditch your healthy habits altogether.  Then, you’re back where you started, but you feel WORSE than when you began.

Additional ideas that may be helpful:

APPETIZERS: 

    • If you know you won’t be able to resist the bread basket (I feel your pain!), then ask the server to not put it on the table.  If it’s already on the table, ask them to take it away.
    • If you want an appetizer, focus on non-fried, non-cheesy, non-dip-related items. Consider shrimp cocktails and salads, but beware of sugared nuts, fruit – especially dried fruit like cranberries, and fat-laden dressings.

ENTREES:

    • Seafood is a high-protein and low carb option.  Salmon has a higher fat content than most fish, but it’s heart-healthy fat.
    • Lean, white proteins are also good (e.g., chicken and turkey breasts).  If you can’t order them skinless, cut the skin off the meat when the dish lands on the table.  If you cut it off immediately and push it to a side of your plate, you’re less likely to be tempted by it.
    • Also, ask for the protein naked – no crumbs/breading, no fatty butter-based sauces, etc.
    • Ask for them to bake, broil or grill the meat versus frying it.

SIDES:

    • Sub a second vegetable or ask for extra vegetables instead of whatever the starch is.
    • Ask for steamed veggies versus sautéed, but if they must be sautéed in a fat, ask for a little olive oil versus butter.
    • Request that no butter is added to anything.

DESSERTS: 

    • If everyone’s order a dessert, order tea or coffee.  It gives your hands and your mouth something to do while everyone else is about to embark on a sugar rush.
    • If there’s a dessert that’s really special, something you absolutely can’t resist, ask someone to split it with you.  Often, I’m satisfied with just a taste of something sweet and yummy.  I don’t need to gorge on it to feel satisfied.
    • Also, consider asking if there is any sliced fruit you can have or make substitutions to  dessert to make it at least slightly healthier.

For example, I love strawberry shortcake.  Currently, it’s strawberry season, so everyone seems to have it on the menu.  Occasionally, if I want it, I ask if the strawberries are fresh (vs. strawberry sauce).  If they are, I ask them to hold the biscuit and just give me the strawberries and whipped cream. Yummmmm…

    • Ultimately, if you want to eat an entire dessert by yourself, think about how you can balance the treat with the rest of your day’s intake.  Eat it and make sure you really, really enjoy it, because it should really be a rare indulgence.

Again, regardless of where you go and what you eat, be mindful.  Consider all of your options.  If you spend the time thinking about your intake on the front end, you won’t have to  “pay” for bad decisions on the back end (to ensure your back end doesn’t expand!).

Finally, here’s a list of trusty  chain restaurants we frequent, because their menus and nutritional values are available online or because we know they offer healthy choices.  Not every entrée is ideal, but we typically find good options here.   Some of these are regional, but most are national chains.

Hope these are helpful.  And if you have any tips for eating healthy when you eat out, please share. I’m always looking for new ideas.

Photo Credits
~ Hot peppers courtesy of time_anchor via CC
~ Legal Seafoods sign courtesy of Dave Lindblom via CC
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About Barbara

Married to Greg, the nicest Greek man in the world. No kids - just two hyperactive Maine Coon cats - Griffin and Harper. Independent consultant. News and political junkie. Diehard social progressive. Movie lover. Book reader. Blog writer. Overweight. Underpaid. Open-minded about everything except closed-minded folks. Occasionally witty. Sometimes wise. Always wise-ass.
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2 Responses to Eating Out the Healthy Way

  1. Jillian says:

    I get it all but the take the warm, crispy skin of the chicken as soon as the plate hits the table. I love roast chicken skin. It is probably my bread basket. LOL

    • Barbara says:

      LOL I hear ya. We all have our food kryptonite we have to avoid/manage. My list is long. And sometimes, you just have to have it, ya know? As long as I’m not eating loaves of bread slathered in butter and you’re not eating chicken skin every day, we should be fine. Of course, now I want a huge slice of warm fresh bread. 😉

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