Most us still aren’t eating out as we did pre-pandemic. For those of us practicing newly acquired healthy habits, that’s probably a good thing. The aroma, atmosphere, and sometimes even the company all encourage indulgence. Still, with our work lives and family commitments, many of us have become expert at ordering meals for delivery or curbside pick-up. Perhaps ordering from home can actually work in our favor, because we have plenty of time to consider our choices.
Ordering a restaurant meal (in person or online) just takes a little pre-planning and thought. Warning: you may need to change your mind about a few things.
The best advice I ever got about eating out was to decide first whether this meal is a celebration or a substitution. Is it your birthday or just a Tuesday night? A celebration might mean my favorite food, a cocktail or (and?) a dessert, items that aren’t part of my everyday meal plan. They are every-once-in-a-while splurges.
For a non-celebratory meal, I try to find something on the menu that’s comparable in size to what I’d eat at home. But still tasty, of course. Some everyday examples: Lunch out might be a half sandwich and a cup of soup or side salad. Dinner could be a piece of broiled chicken, fish, or a small steak with rice and a vegetable.
Caution: The more meals and days you designate as celebrations, the longer it will take you to reach your goals. I’m just sayin’.
Here are other tips for eating out, in no particular order. One or two might be new to you.
• Know before you go. Most chain restaurants have nutrition info on their websites. Look up the menu on your computer or smartphone in advance. Decide what you want and order first. That way you won’t be swayed by your house- or table-mates.
• Salads aren’t always as friendly as you’d think. Creamy dressings and added goodies like cheese, nuts, bacon, croutons, and that giant, deep-fried tortilla shells can really add up. I’m not saying don’t eat them, just be aware. Italian dressing or vinaigrette are usually good choices. Order dressing on the side and don’t dump it all on at once. Dip your fork into a little dressing with each bite.
• Read the menu carefully. Danger words like creamy, cheesy, crispy, battered, breaded, and buttery alert you to higher fat items. Approach them with caution.
• Soups are usually a good choice, as long as they aren’t the creamy kind. Broth, bean, veggie based soups are great. Tortilla soup and posole are yummy choices at Mexican restaurants. Wor won-ton soup at a Chinese place is usually HUGE and filled with shrimp and other meats along with the stuffed won-tons. A full meal in a bowl. De-lish.
• Avoid restaurants known for huge portions. All-you-can-eat buffets are common here in Nevada. I have learned to manage them without trying to get “my money’s worth,” but they aren’t my first choice. If I have input on the restaurant, I’ll suggest somewhere I know I can get food I really like in reasonably-sized portions.
• Order ala carte. At Mexican restaurants (my fave) I love shrimp tacos, but the dinner is huge! So I just order the tacos without the rice and beans. Or an ala carte chicken tostada. And after the dozen chips I’ve eaten with salsa before my dinner arrives, I’m satisfied. Or I just order an appetizer.
• Order the lunch portion at dinner. It’s usually a little smaller.
• Try something new. Don’t always order what you always order. Try a veggie or turkey burger. Two dishes I’ve discovered at Chinese restaurants are Moo Shu (tasty veggies sautéed and wrapped in thin pancakes) or Lettuce Wraps.
• Share. Half of something yummy is still yummy and most likely, enough.
• If the bread basket or tortilla chips on the table is a real problem for you, move it to the other end of the table. Or decline it when it is offered, as long as your table-mates agree.
• Take half home to enjoy again tomorrow. I’ve heard of people who ask the waitperson to bring the box right away, but I’ve never done it.
• Slow down. Savor every bite. Put your fork down frequently. Drink more water. Focus on the conversation.
• Speak up, smile, and ask nicely for what you want. Broiled instead of fried, extra veg instead of potato or rice. Skim milk. No cheese. Dry toast. Eggbeaters. Whatever. Just mind your manners. Please and thank-you go a long way.
With a little planning and practice you can learn to manage and enjoy eating restaurant food without sabotaging your healthy habits. Do you have some tricks for eating healthier at restaurants? Please share.