Whether it has been a long day at work, or you’re tired from running errands all day, or truth be told, there is just nothing in the pantry or fridge for you to pull something together with, you have decided to go out to eat or make a run for the drive-thru. This is completely normal and okay, and a bonus is you don’t have to clean the kitchen afterwards. However, I’m sure we can all agree most restaurant food options are not exactly what you would call “healthy”. So, here are some handy tips for the next time you find yourself enjoying a meal out, and do me a favor, enjoy it without a side of guilt.
The main goal is to find that happy balance in your eating lifestyle. This is why I promote the 80/20 method, choose healthier foods 80% of the time and enjoy your favorite foods, or less healthier options, 20% of the time. Your 20% can be used for going out to eat, but at the same time, these tips can further that 20%. Usually going into a restaurant, you already have a general idea of what you are going to order, whether it be that juicy steak, yummy burger, or a McAlister’s Choose 2. Let’s take a look at how we can modify these meals just a bit to make them healthier, yet still delicious. There are three major tips that you can use when eating out: portion control, simple swaps, and taking control of the appetizers.
The most obvious and easiest tip to implement is to portion control your meal. There are five main food groups most meals incorporate: protein, carbohydrates/grains, vegetables, fruits, and fats. When you think of protein the serving size is usually the size of your fist, so think of that 12oz sirloin you would usually get from Texas Roadhouse. If you ate half of that, you would be eating around the correct serving size, plus you would get a second meal out of it, which also saves you money. I’m sure you have heard the saying “your eyes are bigger than your stomach”. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to signal that you are full, so giving yourself time to allow your body to feel full before continuing to eat a larger portion, can go a long ways. When dining in, ask for a to-go box when the meal is served, and go ahead and place half in the box before you start eating. (Or ask the kitchen to do this for you, most of them don’t mind at all).
The next tip that is doable and can make a big difference is making simple swaps. You can still order your desired entree and then do some simple swaps to your side dish. For example, order a salad with dressing on the side, instead of French fries, or choose the steamed broccoli instead of fried okra. You can also see if the restaurant has a leaner variety of your favorite entree. For example, a turkey or bison burger instead of the usual ground beef burger, or grilled chicken instead of fried. Also, instead of a lot of calorie laden sides or toppings, try to get more of your vegetables and/or fruits in for the day. For instance, instead of a loaded baked potato you could pick a baked sweet potato or instead of the macaroni and cheese at McAlister’s, you could choose the fresh fruit cup. Just by doing these simple swaps, you will cut back some unhealthy fat and caloric intake, making your meal a healthier option.
The last tip I have is what I personally struggle with….you go to a Mexican restaurant and get the endless supply of chips and salsa, or the warm, delicious bread at the Italian restaurant. Before you know it, you are full before the main meal even comes out! You have a few options here: ask your server to wait and bring them out with the meal, enjoy some beforehand but portion a serving out and count them as one of your sides, and/or don’t take the refills when offered (I know, I know, the never ending chips are the bomb, but they can add up basket after basket full). These are all also an easy way to use portion control and allow yourself time to better sense your level of fullness.
Going out to eat can allow for a much needed break in the kitchen, and it can be fun and relaxing to sit back and enjoy the company of family/friends while someone else is doing all the work. With these helpful tips you can also maintain your desire to eat healthier and also feel good once the meal is over….after all, how fun is it to be stuffed and miserable once you are finished eating!
Let me know if you have any helpful tips to make eating out healthier, or if you try any of these let me know how it goes.