With summer quickly approaching (finally!), and more of us travelling and eating out, I wanted to put together a quick guide for ways to eat healthy at restaurants. One of the most common challenges that I hear about from clients is that it is easy to maintain a healthy eating pattern when you are in a regular routine, but when social events, vacations, or plans come up, it can feel almost impossible to continue to make healthy choices. I still sometimes struggle with this myself, but I have come up with a few tricks that have helped me when I am travelling or have events happening. So here are my 5 Tips for Eating Healthy at Restaurants:
1. Build Your Own Meal
Who says you have to order something exactly as it is presented on the menu? If there isn't something that sounds healthy on the menu, either modify it to your liking or pick and choose items to build your own healthy meal. For example, instead of ordering a chicken burger with fries, you could ask for just the grilled chicken breast, with a side salad. You can also order several items from the "extras" menu - side of chicken, side salad, baked potato, etc. After all, you are paying for it, so make it work for you! (within reason).
2. Focus on Vegetables and Lean Protein
As much as possible, load up your meal with vegetables. If your dish comes with 2 side dishes, ask them to double the salad/vegetables. Although ordering a side of fries may be tempting, they are often fried in vegetable oil, which can be very toxic and unhealthy. The best choices include a garden salad with a vinaigrette dressing, steamed/roasted vegetables or a baked sweet potato.
It is also best to stick with lean proteins that are grilled or baked including chicken, fish and occasionally steak if it is part of your diet.
3. Avoid These Words
In general, you should try to avoid anything on the menu with the following words in the title or description:
Instead, look for words such as:
If you are unsure of how something has been prepared, ask your server for more information. It's important to also be aware that even if something says grilled, it could still be coated in unhealthy fats or sauces before it's grilled. It never hurts to ask to be sure!
4. Be Careful with Sauces, Dressings and Toppings
Sauces and toppings can be a huge source of added sugar, sodium, chemicals, preservatives and/or calories. In particular, barbecue sauces and salad dressings are often loaded with sugar and sodium. If you still want to have it with your meal, as for it on the side so that you can control the amount you are consuming. Most times, dishes come with far more than you need. When it comes to salad dressings, stick with vinaigrette-style dressings and avoid cream-based dressings. My personal favorite is a balsamic vinaigrette!
5. Cut Your Meal in Half Right Away
A friend told me about this trick a few years ago, and I think it's genius! As soon as your meal arrives at the table, ask your server for a takeout container and immediately put half of it into the container to take home. We all know that restaurant portions are usually way more than one serving, so you can control how much you are eating right away with this trick! Alternatively, you can split your dish with another person to achieve the same outcome.
Bonus: Enjoy Yourself!
There is nothing wrong with treating yourself every one in a while, and if that means ordering a dish you love, do it and don't feel guilty about it! Just be aware of why it may not be the healthiest meal, and get back to your normal healthy eating routine the next day.