With a little bit of planning, you can enjoy eating out and still eat healthy. Without a plan, however, it’s all too easy to find you’ve eaten your way through a day’s worth of calories in one meal!
Here are three simple strategies to help you enjoy a healthy dining out experience:
Strategy #1 – Choose a Healthy Destination
This one may seem obvious, but it makes healthy eating much easier if you select a restaurant that caters to it. Restaurants such as Aubergine, Blue Lemon, or CoreLife Eatery all cater to a healthy eating lifestyle.
HOWEVER, even if you’ve selected a healthy eating destination, your work is not done; you can’t throw the healthy eating principles out the window and order the cheese bread and desserts just because the restaurant is on the approved list! See Strategy #2:
Strategy #2 – Manage the Menu
Many restaurants have some or all of the building blocks to form a healthy, balanced meal, but it’s up to you manage the menu and customize your meal as needed.
Example 1: Chipotle
Take Chipotle, for example. They have lean protein (chicken and steak), lot’s of complex carbs (black beans, fresh salsa, grilled vegetables, etc.) and healthy fats (guacamole/avocado).
They also have stuff like flour tortillas, rice and fountain drinks that we want to avoid! So, order the “burrito bowl” which doesn’t include the tortilla (white flour), substitute the rice with grilled vegetables, select a protein (such as the chicken), add guacamole, then load it up with fresh vegetables and fresh salsa (and water for the drink, right!) and enjoy a healthy, filling meal!
Example 2: R&R BBQ
OK, let’s make it a little harder, suppose everyone wants to go to a BBQ or a burger place, can you follow the crowd and still enjoy a healthy meal? Let’s see how we can apply healthy eating principles at R&R BBQ:
At R&R we have plenty of protein options to work with. Adding fresh, healthy, complex carbs will be trickier since most of the sides are fried, contain processed white flour (such as he mac and cheese) or are potato based (such as the mashed potatoes or french fries).
Our two best bets in order are: 1) the salad with the brisket, chicken or pork (hold the croutons!) or 2) go al al carte and get a protein plus the coleslaw and smoked baked beans (though not ideal because of the sugary sauce–eat sparingly). Hold the dinner roll and hush puppies. Also go easy on the BBQ sauce which contains more sugar than you might guess.
Getting some healthy fats in this meal will be a challenge. The coleslaw likely contains a little from the eggs in the mayo but we may have to go without this time or grab some almonds from the car (you’re keeping them there for a healthy snack, right?)!
Example 3: JCWs
How about the burger place, JCWs? You might think the obvious answer is to go with a salad such as the turkey and ham or broiled chicken (with no croutons!). But, there are challenges here: most salads you find at burger places are 80% iceberg lettuce which isn’t filling and contains marginal nutrients compared to spinach and darker leaf lettuces.
So, while you’ll not directly compromise a weight loss goal choosing the salad, it doesn’t include enough healthy carbs or fats to keep you full for very long which means you’ll want to be ready with a good afternoon snack or a meal supplement (see strategy #3).
Another option is to order the Big “C” Cheeseburger or grilled chicken, prepared open face on a wheat bun or in a lettuce wrap and ask them to add Avocado. The avocado will add healthy fats and help you feel full longer. But, as with the salad, you’ll still be short on healthy, fibrous carbs and will need to get them elsewhere.
See more restaurant-specific recommendations…
Strategy #3 – Carry Natural “Supplements” with You
If you’re able to plan ahead even just a little for dining out situations, a simple strategy for augmenting some of the scenarios described previously is to bring along a few healthy natural “supplements” that you can add to your restaurant meal or eat in the car afterward as a snack.
Take the JCW salad scenario. You could bring an orange (healthy, fibrous carbs) and a small bag of almonds (healthy fats) with you to eat with the salad. Doing this would provide a more balanced meal, a greater breadth of nutrients, and keep you feeling full longer.
Unfortunately, many fresh, healthy options don’t transport or store well, but some do OK:
Strategy #4 – Reduce the Impact of Bad Carbs
OK, sometimes you just aren’t in a position when eating out to piece together a nicely balanced, healthy meal. For these occasions, many of us carry in my purses or keep in our cars a small bottle of Carb Blocker.
When taken a few minutes before a particularly starchy meal (think french fries or white flour pasta), it can help minimize the negative impact of these less-than-ideal situations on your health and weight-loss goals by reducing your body’s insulin and fat storage response to starchy, high-glycemic carbs.