Sticking to a healthy eating plan can be difficult if you’re not cooking and preparing the food yourself. We know that restaurant foods are often laden with salt, fat, and oils. After all, they’re what makes those gigantic, greasy, fried appetizers and out-of-this-world sweet treats at casual chain restaurants so popular.
If you travel for business, your lunch may have to be whatever you can quickly grab at an airport kiosk. Maybe you’re a parent who relies on restaurant dinners to relieve the burden of cooking for an on-the-go family. Whatever your situation, eating at restaurants for their quickness and convenience is just part of the American lifestyle.
Personally, I’ve had my fair share of unhealthy restaurant food and had to set aside some time to sit down and make a plan for eating out. By keeping some rules in mind, it’s possible to enjoy eating out and doing it in a healthy way.
First, get the facts before you walk in the door. If you have plans for a business lunch in a few days, take some time to visit the restaurant’s website and browse the menu. Identify items that would work within your plan – think high-protein, low-fat, low carbohydrate meals that will give you some nutrition. A half sandwich without the mayo and cheese served with a cup of low-fat soup or a side salad instead of fries is a great choice for a lunch combo. You should have an idea of what you’ll order before you walk into the door to eliminate ordering something random that sounds good, but might be overloaded with fat or calories without you knowing.
When you sit down in the restaurant, discuss healthy options with your server. They will likely know how the food is cooked, so ask them for their opinion on which dishes are prepared in the healthiest way. Don’t be shy about asking questions regarding how the food is prepared and what oils or how much salt is used. A side of vegetables could mean a side of buttery and salty vegetables. Ask if the chef can prepare the food lighter by using half the amount of oil or by steaming instead of frying. Also, some menus have special symbols for low-fat, vegetarian, and heart-healthy, so pay attention to what the restaurant has designated as healthier options.
Another go-to rule I’ve gathered is to send the breadbasket back ASAP. A tendency for some of us plant-based people is to jump for the bread, because we can usually be sure it’s vegan (in most cases). But, vegan or not, viewing this step as just having a few slices of bread before dinner can be dangerous. For example, just 2 slices of brown bread at Cheesecake Factory contains 88 calories and is made up mostly of carbohydrates. If you eat most of a loaf (if you’ve eaten this bread, you know a loaf is small anyway and it’s easy to eat 4 slices without thinking), you could be consuming several hundred calories before your meal even gets to the table. If you know the restaurant brings bread free of charge, send it back. You can’t eat it if it’s not on the table!
Lastly, when you place your order, ask for a box with your meal. Most people ask for a box at the end of the meal after they’ve eaten until they’re stuffed. Instead of waiting to see if you have leftovers depending on how much you can fit in your stomach, ask for a box to come to the table when your food arrives. Immediately place some of the meal in the box to be used as the next day’s lunch. Keep portions in mind and plan ahead.
Given our hectic, busy lifestyles, convenience is often necessary. Keep these rules in mind and you’ll find it easier and easier to eat healthily in restaurants.
By: Alexandra Evans