CHOOSE YOUR RESTAURANT WISELY
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:
Avoid “all-you-can-eat” places. More healthy eating efforts go there to die than any other type of restaurant.
Choose a restaurant with a varied menu. It’ll make it easier to find something healthy and to your taste.
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).
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.
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
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