When you eat a well-rounded diet of lean protein, healthy fats, fruits, and veggies, you probably notice the benefits. You feel more energized. You build longer and leaner muscles. Your hair and nails may even get stronger and shinier. Sticking to a healthy eating plan when you go out to a restaurant, however, can be tricky. Since you’re not in charge of preparing your meal, it’s easy to slip up—even when you think you’re making a healthy choice.
Often, the dishes that appear to be “healthy” at a commercial eatery are laden with nutritionally empty ingredients. Take salads, for example. If you top them with enough croutons, bacon, cheese, and creamy dressing, the heavy extras negate any nutrition brought by the greens and other veggies. And restaurant salads classically resort to the less-healthy lettuce option—iceburg lettuce—as opposed to leafy greens like spinach leafs. Avoid common pitfalls like these and select a healthier dining-out option by following these simple tips.
Before you head out to a restaurant, see if you can find its menu online. Many eateries’ websites provide nutrition info for their dishes you may not see on the physical menu. Look beyond the calories and consider the nutrient composition. Does the dish have a healthy balance of fat, protein, and carbs? How much fiber does it contain? How much saturated fat and sodium? If you can’t find this specific info, look for words like “creamy” and “crispy” instead. These are likely fatty dishes you might be better off skipping.
Make Special Requests
If you don’t like to bother the kitchen with special requests, it’s time to rethink your approach. Don’t be rude about it, of course. But think of the menu as a starting point, and don’t hesitate to ask for small modifications. For example, you can request dressings and sauces on the side, ask to substitute steamed veggies for starchy potatoes, and make any other healthy swaps as you see fit. Never feel guilty about asking for something that better nourishes your body.
Veggies Are Free
Portion control is a helpful tool when you’re moving toward a healthy lifestyle, but it really doesn’t apply to non-starchy veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower—assuming they aren’t smothered with butter and salt. Feel free to ask your server for extra veggies in place of a less healthy side. Thanks to their high fiber content, the veggies will help fill you up and provide you with an array of vitamins and minerals, sans the saturated fat and sodium of other foods.
If nothing on the menu looks particularly healthy or appealing, design an a la carte meal. Choose two sides and transform them into an entrée, or select a single appetizer and make it your whole meal. More often than not, the appetizers at eateries are hefty enough to serve as a main dish. Avoid anything fried and try to find a starter that’s mostly plant-based—think hummus plates and chicken-filled lettuce cups—to stick to a healthy eating pattern. You’ll get to try a few different dishes and avoid overdoing it.
Avoid Sugar-Laden Drinks
Even if you’re incredibly careful about what’s on your plate, you can still blow an otherwise healthy meal by choosing a sugary drink. Sugary beverages come in the form of soda, cocktails, wine, and beer, and even freshly pressed juice. Whether it’s natural sugar from juice or processed sugar, like the type in a cocktail, your body will metabolize it the same way. So skip the sugary drink and hydrate your body with water instead. Let the fresh, colorful food fuel your body, not a drink loaded with carbs.
Now that you have a solid set of healthy-eating tips, you don’t have to worry as much the next time your friends invite you to join them for dinner. A healthy lifestyle never needs to take a night off! Always consider your options and don’t be afraid to ask for healthier modifications. By the end of the evening, you’ll still feel happy and healthy!