Wherever I go, whenever I travel, whenever there’s a new place in town, I cannot wait to try it. Tell me that being a “foodie” hasn’t influenced my decision to study nutrition as an undergrad! My point here, is that as much as I love cooking and creating new recipes, I equally enjoy eating out and trying new dishes as well as revisiting my old favorites.
Food is the center of culture: in many communities/ethnic groups, and consequently, offering food or sharing a meal together shows that one is welcome in that community. Going to eat is often a social outing simply shared around good food. With this social benefit of going out to eat together, the concept of eating out often gets a bad rap – this is due to our food culture in the U.S., not you!
Why, though? Portions are often out of control, dishes are loaded with excessive calories, and the meal can get expensive pretty quickly. Keep reading to learn how to eat out with more intention and to hack the food system while enjoying good food and company!
Soda and other speciality drinks can be more than three dollars per drink which are high in sugar and extra calories before your meal even begins. The easiest solution?
Order a water.
Free drink, free refills, no calories, and helps your stomach and body prepare for the meal you’re about to enjoy! What if everyone is ordering drink, drinks though? I suggest ordering one and drinking it slowly to enjoy it and not spend more than you had initially planned on.
Though salads usually are thought of as “the healthier alternative,” as you’re getting greens and vegetables in, you’d be surprised to see that at some restaurants, salads can be higher in calories and saturated fat than some burgers. What? How? The dressing is usually the culprit. Solution?
Ask for the dressing on the side.
You are then able to control the amount you want to put on your own salad and you’ll probably find yourself leaving some dressing behind. Restaurants often give WAY more than the recommended serving size alots for.
3. Not enough nutrients for you?
Noodles & Co small spicy korean beef noodles with shrimp instead of beef and added broccoli 🙂
Many restaurants are accommodating and want to help make your meal the best way you’d enjoy it; it’ll bring you back in! After long tennis practices followed by weight lifting in college, my teammates and I would go to Noodles and Company to refuel. Now, not only does Noodles provide minimally processed fast food with fresh ingredients, they are one of the many restaurants happy to help customize your dish. After tennis practice, I would order a pasta dish (hello post-workout carbs), and in addition to whatever vegetables came with that dish, I would add broccoli and sauteed peppers for a few cents more. That way, you get even more vegetables and consequently, more nutrients, from your meal. Mac and cheese sounds really good? Spaghetti with meatballs? Chicken alfredo as a treat? Add some vegetables!
You will get to enjoy your favorite dish, but also enjoy the benefits of getting more nutrients in one meal. Yay!
4. Portion size too big?
If you go to other countries, and I’m thinking of European countries specifically, you’ll note that portions sizes are much smaller than that of ours in the US. This portion size isn’t your fault. But there are two different things you can do about it.
One: Share your dishes.
When you have someone to split your dish with, you’re eating half the calories, half the fat, half the grossly portioned size the restaurant often doses out. This alone will decrease your chances of overeating and getting a stomach ache, and you will likely not regret your decision to eat out. If you order dessert, too, ALWAYS share. 🙂 The other option is…
Two: Get a to-go box when you get your food and put half in the box.
Boom, two meals for one price and immediate portion control. This will prevent you from overeating from the start and give you another meal for the next day. Two meals for one price! What’s better than that!
Sure, a big burger is a treat for many to have as a “cheat meal” but what usually accompanies that? French fries, onion rings, you get it. If you want to opt to get some nutritional benefit from a meal like this,
Request a different side dish.
Swap french fries for steamed broccoli, onion rings for grilled vegetables, a cornbread muffin for corn on the cob. Most restaurants offer a variety of sides that you can pick from, only it’s up to you to make the change! Check out the menu of Famous Dave’s sides for example.
6. What comes on that?
As mentioned with dressing (see #2), restaurants tend to smother and load things on their meals such as mayo, cream-based sauces, barbeque sauces, alfredo sauces, mustards, ketchup, butter, or other unwanted or unnecessary additives. The solution?
Ask what comes on the meal you’re about to order.
The clears up any confusion, alerts you to any potential allergens, and gives you a heads-up as to what you’ll be consuming. If any of the ingredients listed are not something you want, as if you can skip that item, like the salad, ask for it on the side, or request a healthier alternative. This way, you are eliminating unnecessary cals or fats or sugars, and YOU are controlling how much you put on your meal.
*Bonus tip, my brother’s tip is to skip mayo and add avocado. You get the creaminess you desire [on a sandwich] without the processing, fat, and calories, and you get healthy (monounsaturated) fat from a plant source – woo!
7. Protein source?
Grilled or crispy? Chicken, steak or pork? Broiled or fried fish?
We’re often faced with a lot of options when it comes to choosing a protein source; especially at restaurants. Solution?
Choosing a lean, grilled or broiled protein source.
Choosing grilled chicken, black or pinto beans, roasted turkey, dishes with lentils or peanuts (legumes), or those with nuts such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts give you the leanest, and minimally processed protein sources. Avoid fried foods. Though they are better than nothing, they offer minimal nutritional benefits and pose potential health risks if consumed all too frequently.
8. What’s fresh?
Restaurants are often proud to disclose what they have on-hand. Some restaurants have partnerships with other local companies and will disclose where they get their honey, eggs, chicken, and produce from. If you’re looking for a healthier option when you go out to eat, eating at local, independently-owned restaurants are more than likely going to offer you higher quality ingredients and more flavor in your food.
Now, if you are enjoying a meal that’s a treat or going out is a treat for you, don’t feel guilty about your food choices. If you go to a specific restaurant a few times a year and go there specifically for their homemade baked mac & cheese with breadcrumbs (my weakness) and Moscow mules, don’t make food swaps. Enjoy your meal. What you can do is also get a water to drink with your favorite cocktail, and bring half of your mac & cheese home so you don’t eat too much, and you have more to eat later. Never follow a “diet” that deprives you from indulging every once in a while. Eating your favorite foods (though they might not fit into your every day “diet”) is good for the soul – trust me! As long as we aren’t eating this way all the time.
With that, I thank you for reading and I hope this helps when you choose to eat out at your favorite restaurants, trying new ones, and when you travel!