Going to restaurants is a part of many people’s lives. And between oversized portions and not-always-nutritious ingredients, it can be a challenge to eat healthfully at restaurants. But it can be done! Here’s how you can set yourself up for success when dining out:
Before You Go
- Do your homework. Review the menu online to help make better decisions when it’s time to order. Many restaurants even show nutrition and ingredient information so you can know exactly what you’re ordering.
- Think ahead. Imagine the meal that suits you best, and seek it out. Maybe a big salad with veggies and lean protein, or grilled fish with broccoli and wild rice meets your needs. When you see the menu, you can find a meal that best matches what you’re looking for.
- Eat normally. Staying balanced throughout the day is a smart strategy, even when you’re preparing for a bigger-than-normal meal out. Do not skip meals — that just sets you up to be overly hungry when you sit down at the restaurant.
- Have a snack. It may seem surprising, but a small snack like a piece of fruit or veggies and hummus an hour before the meal can keep your energy stable. This way you are more likely to make healthier choices when you order.
- Bring what you need. If you have diabetes, bring your meter and any prescribed mealtime medications to help manage your blood sugar.
At the Restaurant
- Avoid calorie traps. Drinks, starters, bread, and dessert can all add up in calories and carbs. And that’s not even counting the entrée. Plan ahead for the treat that you like best. Choose one, enjoy it, and keep the rest off of the table.
- Limit your alcohol. Not only does it add empty calories, but it can also cause you to have less-than-ideal judgment. If you drink alcohol, limit the amount — aim for no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women.
- Be portion smart. One restaurant order can be two or three times bigger than the amount in a normal serving. Eyeball the portion you’d typically eat at home — with your own plates in mind. Pack up the rest to bring home as leftovers.
- Order creatively. There are no rules when it comes to ordering, so don’t be afraid to request the amount of food that is right for you! Share an entrée with another person, make your meal a salad and an appetizer, or choose an item from the kids’ menu.
- Go off-menu. All food items can usually be prepared using lower-calorie cooking methods. Ask for salad dressing and sauces on the side. Or save calories and skip them altogether! Request light or no oil on veggies and pasta dishes. Look for items on the menu that are baked, grilled, broiled, roasted, or steamed. And if you don’t see an option, see if you can get that crispy chicken salad with grilled chicken instead. It never hurts to ask!
- Balance your plate. Aim for half your plate to be filled with non-starchy veggies, ¼ of your plate with a fist-size portion of carb sources like brown rice or sweet potato, and ¼ of your plate with lean proteins like fish, tofu, or chicken.
- Break between bites. Put your fork or spoon down after each mouthful. Chew thoroughly, have a sip of water, and avoid reloading your utensil until you have swallowed your current bite.
- Slow down. Follow the pace of the slowest eater at the table. There’s no race to finish!
- Leave some on the plate. Go into the meal with the mind-set that you will be served more food than you need. Plan to leave some behind or take some with you.
It’s okay to splurge on a meal out from time to time. But since restaurants have become such a common part of our lives, it’s best to not treat each one like a special occasion. By planning ahead and being prepared to make healthy decisions, you’ll be able to dine out and stick with your wellness goals!