According to Prevention Magazine, "No one stays home anymore. Where are we? We’re sitting in restaurants. On average, Americans dine out four times a week, according to the National Restaurant Association. As we eat out more and more, the percentage of obese people increases, while their wallets decrease. We spend $1 billion a day dining out. The Census Bureau’s population clock has the U.S. at 310,751,194 people, so if we spend some $365 billion a year eating out, that averages out to $1,117 per person per year, a large portion of which could be savings if you ate at home instead."
This type of eating out is the perfect recipe for obesity and disease down the road. But we’ve trained ourselves to eat out. We’re just too busy to cook. So - do you want to be overweight or poor? HELL NO. We need to think about this the next time we decide to eat out.
So what’s the answer? Eat only steamed veggies? Refuse to dine out? Nah, I believe you can dine out successfully and enjoy your experience by learning how to navigate any menu. Here are some tips that will help you eat smart while dining out.
1. Do Your Research Before You Go: Go online and look at the restaurant's menu ahead of time. See what dishes look healthy–grilled items, salads, vegetable sides. Decide before you go what you’ll order, and stick to your decision once you get there. You can also plug in the meal with myfitnesspal app and most of the time you can find out the calories and nutrition facts for most restaurant meals.
2. Be the First to Order: You’ve decided to pick something light off the menu, but when your friend orders the cheeseburger, you start to rethink your boring grilled salmon. To sidestep the temptation of your friend’s less healthy dish, place your order first. If you can’t order first, then make your decision, close the menu, and repeat your selection to yourself to help you stick to it. If you’re dining at a restaurant you visit often, just ask for your favorite healthy option without ever opening the menu.
3. Tweak It: Before ordering your selections, ask the server about the details of the meal. And if you don't like the way something is prepared (aka with tons of butter or creamy sauce), don’t be afraid to make special requests. For example, ask that foods be served with minimal butter or oil. Ask that they serve the sauce on the side. Ask if a particular dish can be broiled or baked rather than fried. Also, ask that no additional salt be added to your food.
You may also be able to make substitutions. If the ingredients are on the menu, the chef should be able to accommodate your needs. A common substitution is a baked potato for fries, or a double serving of vegetables instead of a starch. If your dish does not arrive at the table the way you ordered it, don’t be afraid to send it back. If you don’t see something you like, ask for it. As a paying customer, you have the right to eat not only what tastes good, but what’s good for you.
4. Skip the App: Stay away from snacking. The most damage often occurs before the actual meal begins: appetizer trays are loaded with fat. Besides that, they take away your appetite for the healthiest foods to come. Avoid them. When the server brings the freebies like chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants or a basket of rolls and butter, politely tell them you don't want them. They can pile up fat and calories that you don’t need. And if the temptation isn't there, you won't eat it!
5. Become a Salad Snob: A salad can be your meal’s best friend or worst enemy, depending on how you toss it. Pile on fresh greens, beans and veggies, but don’t drown it with high-fat dressings or toppings like cheese, eggs, bacon or croutons. Pick calorie-friendly dressings like oil & vinegar vs anything creamy. (Keep in mind that all creamy dressings have a million ingredients in them including preservatives and tons of sugar!) If you want to try just a bit of that yummy dressing that comes with the salad, ask for it on the side and only dip a few bites of your salad/fork into it.
6. Avoid the Carbs: As a general rule, when I eat out I go for any dish that is not made up of all carbs. For example, I never order pasta (even if it has veggies in it - don't get fooled!) or eat the bread. I look for items on the menu that have a lean protien (beef, chicken or fish) with a side veggie. If it comes with potatoes I go for it. But I usually eat that last, when I'm already filled up from the rest of the dish.
7. Choose low-fat preparation methods: The way your entree is prepared influences its calorie and fat content. Choose grilled, broiled or baked meats and entrees. Pan-fried and deep-fried foods give you extra fat you don’t need. Broiling, baking, steaming, poaching and grilling seafood, skinless poultry, lean meat and veggies give you all the flavor without all the fat. For example, grilled chicken is lower in fat and calories than fried chicken. (If you are served chicken with skin, you can remove the skin to save significant fat and calories.) It’s not easy to get rid of all fat in restaurant meals, but give it a try.
8. Enjoy alcohol in moderation: Drinks can be diet-killers, too. Ice water is free, but fancy mixed drinks have lots of empty calories, and the alcohol can dull your reasoning. Since alcohol can contribute significant amounts of calories, limiting your intake to 150 calories’ worth is a good idea. The following portions of alcohol each contain 150 calories or less: 5 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of liquor, 12 oz. of light beer.
Many people find it helpful to order wine by the glass rather than the bottle so that they can better control and monitor their intake. You can decide ahead of time at which point in the meal your beverage would be most satisfying. For example, you may want to save your glass of wine for your entree and sip water while you wait for your meal. Holding off on alcohol until a later course also helps to decrease alcohol’s effect on your inhibitions. If you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, it can relax you to the point that you lose sight of your game plan. Setting a personal limit and planning when to enjoy your beverage should help you stick with your goals.
9. Practice portion control: Do not eat until you are stuffed, no matter how good the food tastes! Restaurants serve mountains of food–about two to three times the quantity that we need in a meal. This is no big secret. Just don’t try to finish those mega-size portions. I judge right away when the dish comes out whether or not I'll finish it. And I make a mental note to leave half so that I can take the rest home and eat it the next day. Eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed, and take the rest home. Eating slowly helps too.
Keep track of how much you eat, and stick to the number of servings you planned to eat. You probably won’t bring your color codes containers with you to the restaurant so that you can measure out portions, but you can rely on visual references. For example:
a. A serving of cooked meat, chicken or fish is like the palm of your hand, or about the size of a deck of cards. b. A serving of green salad is like an open-cupped hand. c. A serving of fruit or vegetables is like your fist, or about the size of a tennis ball. d. A serving of baked potato looks like a baseball. e. An ounce of cheese is like your middle and index fingers together, or about the size of four stacked dice. f. A serving of salad dressing is like your thumb. g. A 3-ounce hamburger patty is the size of a quart-size mayonnaise jar lid.
BONUS TIP ABOUT DESSERT: Practice the three-bite rule!
If you truly want chocolate turtle cheesecake, go ahead and have it, but limit yourself to a taste. Take three bites and then set it aside for a few minutes. You’re less likely to come back to it. You might even discover that those few bites of a great dessert can be very satisfying, and might be all you really wanted in the first place. You can’t possibly blow your diet big-time on three bites of anything. After your three bites, you can ask your server to take it away, unless your dinner mates wants it :)
Want to learn how fit people train their mindset around food so that they can eat out without guilt? You would LOVE the 2B Mindset program! I am enrolling most months for this exclusive food mindset training, check that out and fill out the application if you think it's for you!