If your life is like mine you are busy. Like, with a capital B Busy.
You have work, sports, your kids sports, hobbies, or maybe you travel a lot. Whatever you are busy with, you are busy.
And when you are busy with life cooking is often not a priority. So, when it is time to eat you head to the closest restaurant or fast food joint.
The challenge for us is that we truly want to eat healthy. We want to fill our bodies with nourishing food that will not make us fat, and we want to succeed at our health goals. But restaurants, and especially fast food outlets, are typically not conducive to achieving our health goals.
In the past we had two options, bring food from home or eat food that will not benefit us. Thankfully today we have a lot more options, and the restaurant industry has made an effort to meet our needs for healthy food.
But eating healthy food at restaurants is still a challenge, and there are still a lot of mindfields we need to navigate.
To help you along the way I have created a quick list of 5 tips for eating healthy while out at restaurants.
Tip #1 – Focus on vegetables
Restaurants love to serve meat and less healthy carbs (potato cooked in various forms, bread, rice, etc.). Most dishes in any restaurant, and especially in fast food establishments, are pretty low in vegetable, if there are any at all.
By focusing on ordering a dish with a significant amount of vegetable you will avoid the worst foods (hamburgers and fries, pizza, pasta with dairy sauce, etc.) and you will be able to zero in on the foods that will be more beneficial for your health (salads or a meat dish with a side of veggies).
Tip #2 – Hold the oil and butter
Restaurants love to cook with oil and butter.
They grill, sautee, sauce,dress and create reductions with the stuff. If you are eating at a restaurant guaranteed you are eating more fat than you would cooking at home.
So what can you do about it? There’s a few steps you can take to make your restaurant meal a little healthier as far as fats go.
First, restaurants may be using cheaper oils in their salad dressings. Ask for olive oil and vinegar, on the side, for your dressing. Yes, it’s still oil, but it is a heart-healthy oil that is of higher quality. And by asking for it on the side you can monitor the amount that goes on your salad.
Second, ask for cooked vegetables and grilled meat “dry”. Chefs will coat steaks, and other meats with oil before grilling them. They do the same with vegetables. Even steamed vegetables are finished in the saute pan with oil on them. The appearance of your food may not be as pretty when presented to you, but it will still taste delicious and be a lot healthier.
And finally, don’t order deep fried anything.
Tip #3 – Don’t let your hunger decide
Very rarely are we at a restaurant and not hungry. And often we may not make the best meal choice because we are allowing the emotion of hunger and our cravings to make decisions for us.
This is where we have to put on our big girl panties, and make a conscious, analytical decision based not on emotion, but on what food is actually right for us.
Now, I am not judging you, trust me. I have made some pretty poor decisions at restaurants based on the belief that I am starving!!!!!!! I probably didn’t need the margarita, guacamole, chips, 3 tacos and fried ice cream. But I really felt that I needed them.
And while all that food tasted amazing, what it really gave me was a stomach ache and guilt. So not worth it!
When you are staring at the menu, practically drooling over the choices, take a moment to really ask yourself what you want to accomplish at this meal.
If your goal is to indulge and eat all the food you haven’t allowed yourself in a while, then go for it!
But if your goal and desire is to eat food that fuels you, helps you feel great, and helps you achieve your health goals, then pause for a moment, reflect on what your decision will mean, and then go back to tip #1.
Tip #4 – Choose the right restaurant
Is your restaurant choice setting you up for failure or success?
When you order your food you are limited to what the restaurant has on their menu and in their kitchen. They will not run out to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for your special order. So it’s best to make sure the restaurant you chose has healthy options that will fit your needs before you go.
Tip #5 – Don’t be afraid to speak up!
Restaurant owners, managers and servers want you to be happy. They want you to enjoy your meal, feel good about your meal and come back again. They are ready to do what they have to do to make you happy.
It helps to remember that when we want to make a change to a dish.
Often our fear of making a scene, being perceived as difficult or being labelled as “fussy” prevents us from ordering what we want and really enjoying our meal. You don’t have to order exactly what is on the menu. You can ask for substitutions, dressing or sauces on the side, or you can even order one or two side dishes with a salad and no entree at all.
If it is on the menu you can have it, change it, or substitute it.
Committing to your meal plan or a healthy way of eating does not mean you don’t get to enjoy the restaurant experience. And it shouldn’t stop you from seeing friends, celebrating events or even travelling.
By doing a bit of research on the restaurant, making a few strategic choices, and not letting hunger make the decisions for you, eating at restaurants while sticking to your healthy eating plan can be a great, and delicious experience.