No matter what your health and fitness goals may be—shedding a few extra pounds, training for a competition or just eating healthier—it is possible to dine out and still stay on track. Whether you’re grabbing a quick bite to eat at lunch or on a romantic date, eating clean on-the-go can become second nature. Just follow these eight guidelines and you can “have your cake and eat it too.”
1. Preview the menu ahead of time.
Looking at the menu ahead of time isn’t always possible, as sometimes decisions are made on the fly. If you know where you are dining, pull up the menu and look for healthy options. Many restaurants have added lighter-fare options that typically have less sodium and fewer calories than the rest of the menu. And many restaurants have started to provide the nutritional information for their dishes, which can help you make an informed decision. Choosing your meal sitting down at the table mitigates any lingering temptation to make a split-second slip-up.
2. Keep it simple with protein and veggies.
A great rule when eating out is to stick with protein and veggies—a salad with grilled meat, an omelet with sliced tomatoes, or a main course with double veggies, for example. Make substitutions, as necessary, to make your meal a little healthier, such as switching out the French fries or loaded mashed potatoes for extra vegetables. You can even ask your server to steam the veggies as sometimes they can be doused in oil or butter. Always aim to have at least half of your plate full of vegetables—not only are they loaded with nutrients, but the extra fiber will help keep you feeling full.
3. Opt for calorie-free beverages.
The calories from sugary and alcoholic drinks add up quickly without providing a sense of satiety. It is easy to lose track of consuming calorie-loaded drinks in a restaurant, as refills appear to be limitless. One of the easiest ways to make eating out healthier is to stick with water or other calorie-free beverages such as unsweetened tea or black coffee. Ask for lemon for a little flavor or a little cream for your coffee. Going the extra mile? Keep stevia packets with you to add to your coffee or tea.
4. Ask for your dressing and sauces on the side.
From my personal experience as a waitress, I witnessed first-hand how a nutrient-packed salad with tons of veggies could be transformed into a fat- and sugar-coated mountain. Someone who started out having the best intentions a healthy salad may have been better off ordering the burger once the condiments took over the salad. When ordering a salad, be sure to read through the ingredients and get rid of ones you can live without, and always ask for your dressing on the side as a way to control calories.
5. Forgo the bun.
If you’re ordering sandwiches or burgers, you can easily cut back on the carbs by eliminating or reducing the amount of bread you consume. Replace the surplus of bread with extra vegetables, thus increasing your vitamin and nutrient intake while adding flavor to your sandwich. Another great option: Have your sandwich or burger served in lettuce, which can be a great substitute for the bun.
6. Don’t forget the to-go box.
The portion sizes of average dining out meals tend to be more than enough for one person. Instead of overindulging from the start, why not ask for a to-go box at the same time your food is delivered? This allows you to pack up half of your meal for your next one. This technique saves you some calories and helps keep you from feeling stuffed.
7. Make a choice: booze or bread.
Let’s be honest, not all of us are training for a bodybuilding show or Olympic meet, so we don’t have to be 100 percent perfect all of the time. On the other hand, it is important to keep things balanced and in moderation. If you are going to indulge beer, wine or a drink, forgo the pre-meal bread, and vice-versa. By choosing one or the other, you experience a bit of an indulgence without completing overloading on calories.
8. Split dessert.
Moderation is key for sustainable health, so if something is calling your name on the dessert menu, you don’t have to tap into all of your willpower to say no. Instead, why not split a dessert with those at your table? This allows you to satisfy your sweet tooth without overdoing it. You don’t have to get dessert every time you dine out, but when you want it, there is no reason why you can’t have a little.
By Kelley Vargo
Kelley Vargo, MPH, MS, CSCS, ACE Health Coach is a recent graduate of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University where she received her MS in Exercise Science with a concentration in Strength & Conditioning and her MPH in Communication & Marketing. Ms. Vargo has contributed content to Discovery Health as well as the ACE Fitness Journal. She is a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Delta Omega Public Health Honors Society, and a Metabolic Effect Instructor. She enjoys sharing her passion and energy with others, helping them create healthier and happier lives. Follow Kelley on twitter @kelleyvargo or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.kelleyvargo.com.