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Dinning Out


CHOOSE YOUR RESTAURANT WISELY

Be prepared.

If you go into a restaurant without any thought or research ahead of time, you’ll be more susceptible to diving off the deep end and ordering food that you’ll regret later. As some general guidelines of what to look for or to avoid when figuring out where to eat:

  1. Avoid “all-you-can-eat” places. More healthy eating efforts go there to die than any other type of restaurant.

  2. Choose a restaurant with a varied menu. It’ll make it easier to find something healthy and to your taste.

  3. Use a website to help find healthier restaurants near you

SCOPE THE MENU

Go to the restaurant’s website to find their menu and check it out. Do you have food sensitivities or allergies? They might even have a specialty menu available too. A lot of places now either have a dedicated gluten free menu.


Decide what you want to eat before you leave the house. If possible, choose a specific menu item so you go in knowing this is what you want.


Make reservations. This cuts down on waiting and hunger time at the restaurant, as well as the number of drinks you have at the bar.


WHEN YOU SIT AT YOUR TABLE

This is a critical point that sets the tone for the rest of the evening, it’s when you’re tempted by the free bread or free tortilla chips and mindless munching can happen.


Start by politely sending back those free simple-carb munchies that show up right away. If you’re totally starving, ask if they have any fresh vegetables soups and order a cup of that. Order a big glass of water. Often times we think we’re hungry when we’re just thirsty/dehydrated.


RETHINK YOUR DRINK

  • It’s easy to forget about the sugar and empty calories from the drink we order, whether it’s an alcoholic beverage or a simple glass of orange juice.

  • Stick to plan ‘ol water, whenever possible. Make it more fun by squeezing a lemon or lime in it.

  • Skip the mixed blended drinks. A frozen margarita can have 550 empty calories and 55 grams of sugar (not to mention artificial flavors, dyes, and other chemicals).


APPETIZERS

  • While in many cases it might be smarter to skip the whole concept of an appetizer all together.

  • Your appetizer can come from anywhere on the menu, not just the Appetizer section. Look at other parts of the menu (salads, soups, side items, even breakfast items) for healthy starter options.

  • Some great starter options: fruit, steamed seafood, smoked salmon, salad with oil/vinegar, broth based soup, boiled meat.The kitchen may be able to put together a small vegetable tray for you upon request.


SOUPS AND SALADS

These can be a great appetizer or side dish to your main entree. It’s much better to fill up on leafy greens at the beginning of your meal than munching on the last dozen of French fries on your plate.

  • Salad bars can be good or evil, depending on what you choose to load your plate up with.

  • I suggest passing over the cheese, creamy dressings, croutons, pasta salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, and anything that looks processed or fried. Instead, load up your plate with lots of raw veggies, some lean protein, some complex carbs, and some healthy fats

  • Ask for extra vegetables on your house salad, and see if you can have them use something other than iceberg lettuce for a base (spinach, romaine, or arugula are great options – the darker the green the healthier it is).

  • Avoid creamy soups like chowder or bisque, which can be loaded with the bad fat and calories. Instead, try broth-based soups, like minestrone, wonton, beef barley, gazpacho, tortilla, or the classics like chicken noodle or vegetable.


ENTREE

  • Many people stumble here as they make split-second decisions and rationalize away poor choices. But since you have a plan ahead of time, it should make it easier to stay on course!

  • Danger buzz words = buttery, breaded, fried, oozing, creamy, scalloped, cheesy, glazed, alfredo, crispy, au gratin, a la mode.

  • Safer buzz words = grilled, baked, steamed, broiled, poached, stir-fried, roasted, smoked, blackened.

  • When figuring out what to order, keep in mind the idea of balancing your plate. Ask yourself: Does my entree have some protein? Complex carbohydrates or starchy veggies? Lots of non-starchy veggies? Healthy fats? If not, ask to add whatever it’s missing


SIDE DISH

  • Most entrees come with some side dishes.

  • Order as many vegetable options as possible. Steamed, stewed, raw, grilled, or boiled veggies are best, with little or no added oil. Real butter on them is good, it actually helps you absorb the vitamins in some of the vegetables better because they are fat soluble. Watch out for anything “creamed” or in casserole form.

  • Tempted by potato options, especially the French fry variety? Opt for a baked sweet potato for your best choice.

  • Creamy coleslaw is often mistaken for a healthy option, don’t fall for it, it’s not!


WHEN YOUR FOOD ARRIVES

  • Yay your lunch or dinner is here! Before you dive in, pause for a moment – how you eat is nearly as important as what you eat. It’s a chance to enjoy yourself and a good meal.

  • Eat your protein first. High protein foods take longer to digest and really put the acid in your stomach at war to break them down. You want your stomach to get working on breaking down these foods before anything else gets a chance to absorb the acid. It will also help reduce the blood sugar spike that typically will occur after eating most refined carbs. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable, your body will be less likely to store extra calories as fat at your next meal.

  • Eat the amount you would eat at home. Just because it’s on your plate, it doesn’t mean you have to eat more. When the dish arrives, ask for a to-go box to set aside some for leftovers. Most restaurant entree sizes are massive! It’s easy to get carried away in conversation and eat more than you want. You know that: “OMG I’m so full I need to unbutton my pants when I get in the car” feeling.

  • Eat slowly, take your time. Enjoy and savor one bite at a time. Put your fork down between bites. Let your brain know that you’re eating so it’ll know when you’re full.


DESSERT

  • You’ve done so well so far, don’t mess it up now! You can have a delicious send-off without completely depriving your sweet tooth, or skip it all together and be ok with that too. I can probably count the times I’ve eaten a restaurant dessert on one hand…usually because I’m too full by then.

  • You can never go wrong with fruit as a dessert, as long as it’s not buried under syrup or whipped cream.

  • Split it with someone else or have a bite or 2 of someone else’s dessert.

  • Skip the toppings, if you order an ice cream or cake (full fat is better for you than fat free!) order it without any toppings.

Enjoy a healthy snack before you go out.

Yes, eat before you go out. Protein will help fill you up and keep you satisfied until you eat again. Have a handful of nuts, a protein bar or a shake to tide you over. Whatever you do, don’t go out to eat starving.

Most often, poor decisions stem from the fact that you are starving and foods you typically would avoid become foods that you are craving. If you arrive hungry, most likely you will be easily tempted to order something that isn’t the best choice.


Substitute

Opt for the healthier choices. For example, choose brown rice over white rice and whole-wheat pasta over regular white flour pasta. When available, order black beans over refried or corn tortillas over flour. Often the different options will not be listed on the menu, so once again, be sure to ask if these healthier alternatives are available!


Curb your condiments.

Little things like rich dressing and mayonnaise can turn a healthy meal into a disaster by practically doubling your caloric intake and adding unnecessary fat. Be aware of this, and make the healthier decision. You may be surprised that you don’t even miss heavy dressings or mayonnaise. As a replacement, ask for mustard, dill relish, oil & vinegar or your salsa as condiments.


Fill up on fiber

You can never go wrong with vegetables. Just be sure to ask for salad dressings on the side or for vegetables without butter. It is all about making healthier choices whenever possible. Your choices become habits. With every healthy choice you make, you are contributing to your life long success.


Half-it.

A meal from a restaurant is usually about two to three times the serving it really should be. I always ask for a “to-go container” and immediately put half away for later. It helps control your serving and offers you lunch for the next day.

All in all, enjoy going out to eat—it’s fun! The more you practice eating out and making healthier choices, the sooner it will become a habit. You will find that you are still able to go out to eat with friends and family, while continuing to reach your goals.

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