By Caroline Mackey, CNP, PTS
Whether you’re on a particular healthy eating plan or just embracing making healthy nutrition choices, dining out can often derail your good intentions. It’s often a fun and social event, and we all want to enjoy ourselves. Sometimes, however, that can lead to an overabundance of unhealthy food and drink. To maintain your healthy lifestyle when you dine out, it’s all about a balance of choices and not going overboard with any of the more decadent options.
Here are some tips and techniques for you to stay on track:
- If you know where you’re going ahead of time, take a minute to look up their menu online beforehand. I find this is an easy way to avoid typical pitfalls at the restaurant of picking something that might not be the healthiest choice, and you can see ahead of time which options are best and won’t feel pressure to make a quick decision.
For anything with a sauce, like salad dressing, ask for it on the side. That way you can still get the taste and flavor and enjoy it but you can control the quantities.
- When choosing a salad dressing, go for ones that are as simple as possible like a balsamic or olive oil dressing. Sprinkle on the dressing when you get the salad, and then sprinkle on a little salt as well. Salt really helps bring out the natural flavors of the salad and makes it much tastier, even with a simple dressing on top. You could also try the ‘fork dip’ trick: dip your fork into the dressing and then put salad on your fork. Lots of great dressing taste without using a lot.
- Request no croutons with salads; nutritionally lacking in any benefits and an easy modification for the kitchen to make. If you still want a crunch with the salad see if they can add some nuts. I’ll often look at all the salad options to figure out what they can put on salads. Then I choose one that has a good balance of healthy ingredients and then ask for a modification or two as needed.
- Avoid or have removed dried fruits in salads. These are very high in sugar content and are often coated in sugar as well; a hidden source of unnecessary added sugar and will cause spikes in blood sugar.
- If you want starch with your meal, aim for things like whole grain/wild/basmati rice, quinoa or sweet potatoes. Choose baked or steamed.
- Avoid anything deep fried; in addition to the high caloric content, what’s important to consider is that frying foods takes away its nutritional value, the oil is most likely damaged, and it has an inflammatory response on your body.
- Instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich, go for mustard or some creamy avocado.
- If you’re at a restaurant that typically has large portions, order a couple of appetizers instead. For example, order a starter size salad and add some chicken or fish to it, and add some soup or another simple choice (nothing deep fried).
- If you wish to have alcohol, choose a clear alcohol like a vodka soda, or one glass of wine. Have 2 glasses of water for every alcoholic beverage to pace yourself. Aim for a maximum of 1-2 drinks.
- If something like a tray of nachos is being shared with the group, go ahead and order a salad for yourself, and then just have a few bites of nachos. You don’t need to abstain completely, but just keep it in moderation and focus the primary portion of your meal on lots of greens and a healthy protein.
- If you know you’re going somewhere with primarily unhealthy fried choices, prepare yourself and eat ahead of time. Then you won’t be tempted to partake in the fried foods as you won’t be hungry, or can just keep it to a few bites and simply enjoy the company of being out with friends or family.