We’ve all been there: sitting in a restaurant, scanning the menu and suddenly our healthy eating plan goes out the window. And sometimes that happens without us knowing it. Next time you’re out for a bite, arm yourself with these strategies and face down any menu with confidence.
Plan your strategy
Whether you’re grabbing breakfast on the run, ordering lunch from a take-out menu, or enjoying dinner at a fine restaurant, these strategies will help you make smarter choices.
- Know where to go. If you eat out a lot, have a repertoire of restaurants where you know you can find healthy options. When visiting new restaurants, plan ahead – check out the menu online and identify the better selections.
- Know what to look for. Memorize this short-hand list of “green-light” and “red-light” cooking methods:
|Cooking methods: the good and the bad|
- Know how to ask. Don’t hesitate to ask your waiter about cooking methods and ingredients, such as whether the baked chicken was drenched in butter before it went into the pan. If you’re not happy with the cooking method or ingredients, ask that your food be prepared in a different way.
- Know when to say “no.” Decline extra grated cheese, skip the croutons, request dressing and sauces on the side and try to avoid adding extra salt once your food arrives. Remove skin from poultry and visible fat from meat.
- Know your alternatives. Order an English muffin or low-fat bran muffin instead of a cinnamon bun or croissant. Choose whole grain breads and pizza crusts instead of white. Look for tomato-based pasta sauces instead of creamy ones.
Avoid portion contortion
Your brain needs time to register that you’re full or satisfied so it’s important to eat slowly, especially when a plate of food is set down in front of your rumbling belly. Also consider that restaurant serving sizes have become larger over the years so you’ll want to watch not just what you eat, but how much of it.
Fortunately, there are many ways to fight back:
- Opt for the smaller sizes whenever there’s a choice.
- Select an appetizer instead of a main dish, and pair it with soup or a salad.
- Consider sharing an entrée with your dining companion.
- If your dish arrives and it’s very large, or if the meat portion takes up more than a quarter of the plate, eat only half of the food, then ask to take the rest home in a “doggie bag.”
- At a buffet, fill up with a healthy soup (one that isn’t cream-based) first so you won’t be ravenous on your second trip. After that, try taking only half the amount you think you want at each visit.
Choose the best
Whether you are dieting or just trying to eat more healthily, view eating out as an opportunity to eat a wider variety of nutritious foods that you may not stock at home.
- At the coffee bar, skip the calorie-packed fancy drinks. Order a latte or cappuccino with low-fat milk.
- At the salad bar, load up on leafy greens with shredded carrots, cucumber slices, tomatoes, pepper sticks and zucchini chunks.
- At the deli counter, try whole grain wraps or dark rye bread with slices of roasted meat (instead of cured or smoked meat) and plenty of veggies like tomato, sprouts and greens.
- At a fine dining restaurant, experiment with a vegetarian dish with tempeh or lentils, or try lean game meats such as bison, caribou, elk, deer or moose.
- At a Chinese take-out place, order stir-fry with tofu, chicken or seafood and lots of steamed veggies.
- For dessert, choose fruit-based options instead of cakes or creamy pies.
Wherever you’re eating your next meal, try to reduce the fat, sugar and salt, favour whole grains over refined and enjoy plenty of fruits and veggies – and you’ll be well on your way to healthier eating.