Few people, even the most committed, die-hard healthy eaters, want to completely forego the pleasures of dining out. After all, eating at restaurants has been a regular part of life for centuries the first known dining establishments opened in Europe in the 17th century. A restaurant meal is a ritual of sorts, often used to signify special occasions ranging from birthdays and weddings to first dates and business deals. Many of our most cherished memories are tied in some way to restaurants.
But eating out has its drawbacks. In addition to the cost (usually justifiable if the food is tasty) and the crowds (on the plus side, a lot of people usually indicates a great eatery), there is the pesky truth that restaurant food is not always healthful food. In fact, it can seem downright difficult to make smart food choices while at a restaurant, much more so than while simply shopping for groceries. After all, you're not the one in the restaurant kitchen preparing the food, taking care to add a dash of salt instead of a handful, or to fry in trans fat free oils rather than the kind prone to gunk up your arteries.
What's a conscientious eater to do? Fortunately, there are ways to ensure you can maintain a clean and healthy diet without sacrificing all the pleasures both gustatory and social that come with dining out. Here are some tips:
10 Tips for Eating Healthy While Dining Out
- Choose dishes that are steamed, grilled, or broiled rather than those that are fried or sauteed. These low fat preparations will limit your exposure to potentially unhealthy oils.
- In buffet style, all you can eat settings, order an item from the menu if possible, rather than the buffet. This will keep you from undue grazing and excess calorie consumption.
- Start your meal with a veggie-laden salad. This will ensure you at least partially fill up on nutrient rich, low calorie, life giving foods, leaving less room in your belly for the not so healthy stuff.
- For a beverage to accompany your meal replace soda pop (even the sugar-free or "diet" varieties have no nutritional value) and opt for purely hydrating water, unsweetened herbal tea, or antioxidant rich green tea.
- Are all the entrees too big, rich, gluten filled, meaty, milky, or otherwise out of step with your healthy eating plan? Put together a nice meal using items from the "side dish" portion of the menu. A baked potato with no toppings, a plate of steamed vegetables, a piece of whole grain bread, and a bowl of fruit are just a few side dishes that, once assembled, can make a filling and healthful meal.
- Choose wild, free range, and grass fed fish, poultry and/or meat products. If the restaurant does not offer such products, select a meat free menu item or request one to be made that way. Meat from commercial factory farms may be tainted with antibiotics, hormones, and other undesirable substances that have no place in a healthy diet.
- Whenever possible, select whole grains over refined carbohydrates. Whole grain breads, whole wheat pastas, brown rice, and quinoa are some examples of healthy whole grains that provide lasting energy and are packed with nutrients. They're much healthier than refined carbs like white flour pasta, white bread or rolls, white flour breadsticks, and the like.
- You've probably already heard the suggestion to request your salad dressing on the side so you can determine just how much ends up on your salad. Feel free to do the same with other sauces and toppings if you want to exercise portion control.
- In lieu of a fat and calorie heavy dessert, satisfy your craving with a bowl of naturally sweet fruit. Chances are, if a restaurant is offering a buttery, sugar filled berry compote, for example, you can probably request a simple bowl of berries perhaps embellished with some dark chocolate shavings as a healthier alternative.
Listen to your belly and embrace leftovers. When you're satisfied with what you've eaten you should feel neither obligated to clean your plate nor embarrassed to take home what remains. Stuffing yourself is as unhealthy as letting good food go to waste is unpleasant, so do neither and request a doggy bag!