Written by Zac Zuspann - Precision Nutrition L1, NASM Nutrition Coach
COMPLETE NUTRITION'S Guide to Staying on Track When Eating Out
We love our restaurants. According to the National Restaurant Association, Americans eat about 24 percent — almost one quarter — of their meals away from home. WE MUST LEARN TO SURVIVE (and still thrive) AT RESTAURANTS!
Restaurant food is meant to look, smell and taste great, and that means nutrition can sometimes fall by the wayside when menus feature main dishes drenched in butter or rich sauces, salads with creamy dressings, and few whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Try these strategies for enjoying a meal out while sticking to a healthy eating plan.
Get to know the Menu and decide before entering!
These days, you can find healthy foods almost everywhere. The trick is to know what you're getting into before you get to the restaurant and are tempted by enticing menu descriptions. Many restaurants have their menus online — some with nutrition information readily available. You'll be able to choose the destination with the healthiest options, and go into the eatery ready to order the best meal and ask for substitutions where necessary. If you wait until you walk in without a predetermined decision, your senses are overwhelmed with delicious signals that can overtake your willpower!
Don't go overly hungry
You sit down starving, and before you know it you've scarfed down several pieces of buttered bread before your main meal arrives. If you're ravenous before you leave for the restaurant, grab a small snack such as a piece of fruit.
Don’t drink your calories!
Try your best to get used to drinking water as your main beverage. Drinking water will slow you down from eating your food too quickly and will save unnecessary calories from other drinks.
If you must order an alcoholic drink, try to avoid margaritas, piña coladas, and other exotic mixed drinks. They include sugary add-ins that add tons of calories and processed sugars and flavors.
Instead, order a glass of wine, a light beer, a vodka with club/diet soda, or a simple martini. These options will be better for your healthy eating goals!
Start with a salad
Think eating healthfully is all about what you can't eat? NOPE! Focus on what healthy items you can add to your meal instead of only what foods to avoid. Start every meal with a side salad and a healthy dressing on the side. This will help avoid overeating as well as provide some great nutrient density!
Split It or Box it EARLY
Portion sizes at most restaurants are generally 25-50% bigger than suggested sizes. The way that the food is prepared makes it extremely difficult to stop once you start. You can solve this by splitting an entree with someone else. This may also allow you to enjoy the entree you truly want while controlling your portion size naturally.
This is a great method for dessert as well! In fact, one dessert for the table is the way to go!
If you do not want to split your food with someone, ask for a to go box as soon as your food is brought to the table! The box is now RIGHT THERE for you to put ½ your meal in right BEFORE you take a single bite!
Ask, Ask, Ask
Don't be afraid to ask your server to help you healthy-up your meal. For example, you could ask for a salad or veggies in place of the usual fries or chips with a meal. You can also ask for items to be prepared with less oil or cheese or baked instead of fried. Ask your server to take the bread basket or the chips.
PROTEIN IS KEY FOR A MAIN DISH!
Lean protein is nutrient dense and fills you up MUCH faster than empty carbohydrate based dishes leaving you far less likely to overeat. Meat has a ton of protein and, when lean, is a great idea to order. When ordering meat, pick leaner cuts of beef (great options include flank steak, skirt steak, tenderloin, sirloin, or filet mignon).
When in doubt, chicken is another great high protein, low fat option, particularly chicken breast.
Double or Triple the veggies for side dishes
Often, a side of vegetables in a restaurant is really more of a garnish, not a real serving. When ordering, ask for double or triple the normal serving of veggies, and offer to pay extra (more often than not, you won’t even be charged). You could also look to the Sides portion of the menu to see what options the restaurant has available.
A big problem with veggies is that they get cooked in a ton of butter so make sure to ask that the vegetables NOT be cooked in butter when you order them. This is an easy way to escape unneeded fat and calories.
Look for keywords
Words on the menu that are giveaways for SUPER HIGH CALORIES and what to avoid. Here are some examples of the most common culprits:
Dishes with these words tend to have a lot of hidden fat and salt.
Instead, look for menu items with words from the following list:
Do your best and move on
Eating out is fun and a big part of our culture. If you go off the rails for one meal while celebrating with family or friends, LET IT GO AND MOVE ON. One meal does not need to send you into a downward spiral! Do your best to make good choices and then move on!