Eating out can be a challenge when you’re moving towards a healthy lifestyle. Large portions and lack of control over ingredients and preparation methods can easily lead to taking in more calories, saturated fat and sugar than you need. But, it is possible to enjoy eating healthy while eating out without sacrificing your long-term health goals. Read on for some tips and strategies!
The Plate Method
The “Plate Method” is a simple tool for making healthy food choices in any environment, and allows you to easily navigate a buffet, dinner party, or restaurant menu. Here’s how it works: Fill half of your plate with salad and veggies (like broccoli, cauliflower, peppers or spinach); fill ¼ of your plate with lean protein (like poultry, fish, eggs or tofu); and fill the final ¼ of your plate with complex carbs (like potatoes, brown rice, whole wheat pasta or quinoa).
Now let’s get a little more specific. Here are some guidelines for making healthy meal choices at three of the most popular restaurant types.
Mexican: Chicken or shrimp fajitas are a great option for protein plus veggies. You can also make a taco salad without the taco: order chicken or shrimp over lettuce with tomatoes, onions, black beans, corn, pico de gallo, a sprinkle of cheese and a thumb-sized portion of guacamole.
Burger Joint: Choose a lean beef, turkey or bean burger on a whole grain bun (if it’s a large bun, eat half). Add lettuce, tomato and onion to your burger and order a side salad or veggie (many fancier burger places offer delicious roasted or grilled veggie sides!) If you want fries, order a small serving, and enjoy them instead of the bun.
Italian restaurant: While it’s fine to have a cup of pasta as part of a balanced meal, Italian restaurants often serve 3 to 4 times that size. Your best bet is to order a protein-based meal like grilled fish or chicken paillard. Split an appetizer-sized portion of pasta with someone at your table or enjoy a piece of bread from the bread basket (bonus points if there’s a whole wheat option.) Start with a salad and make sure your meal comes with plenty of veggies.
General Tips for Restaurants
Plan ahead: Look at the menu ahead of time so you know your options and make a plan that aligns with your goals.
Ask questions & make requests: Don’t be shy! Inquire how foods are prepared, and ask for modifications and ingredients to be held or substituted. Choose preparation methods such as steamed, broiled, roasted or baked.
Sip Smart: Stick to water, seltzer or other naturally sugar-free beverages such as unsweetened tea or coffee.
Be Savvy about Sweets: Enjoy a few bites of dessert shared among the entire table, or choose a piece of fresh fruit like an apple or orange.
Doggy-Bag: Research shows we tend to eat everything on our plates. Set yourself up for success by asking for half to-go before it even reaches the table. Bonus – one less meal you have to prep the next day!
With these tips you can enjoy eating out while staying on track with your health goals!