Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and there is something even more special about eating out with friends and family (it’s a bonus that you also don’t have to do the dishes!). Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and there is something even more special about eating out with friends and family (it’s a bonus that you also don’t have to do the dishes!).
That being said, it can be difficult to know what exactly is going into the food that you don’t personally make. Often, restaurant portions are packed with enough calories to cover two or three home-cooked meals, and so frequently eating out is often seen to counteract other healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices.
However, that doesn’t always have to be the case. With these tips and tricks up your sleeve, you will still be able to join your loved ones for a meal without throwing a calorie bomb into your diet plan.
1. Do your research
If you are serious about eating healthy and maintaining your waistline while dining at restaurants, then your preparation must begin before you even sit down. In fact, choosing where to eat can make a bigger difference than you might expect. Not all cuisines and styles of food are the same degree of healthy. For example, a Chinese restaurant in Dubai is a very different ballgame from a custom salad joint.
If possible, select a place that offers a low-cal menu, or opt for a slightly more upscale restaurant where portion sizes are often smaller. Once you have decided on a restaurant, take a look at the menu online; this allows you to pre-plan your meal to avoid temptation when you arrive.
Being around and smelling delicious food when you are starving is also a sure-fire way of making bad choices. Eliminate that problem by making a reservation so that you are guaranteed a table when you arrive.
2. Hack the menu
It’s important to know your way around a menu and to pick out your best options. A good starting point is to ask your server — they are there to help you after all! Ask him or her what they would order if they wanted the healthiest thing on the menu. They may suggest something you didn’t consider before, and they also know how the kitchen can make a dish healthier by adding and subtracting ingredients.
While browsing the menu, be alert for words that indicate a fatty, high-calorie dish. Anything that is described as creamy, buttery, breaded, stuffed or smothered is guaranteed to be unhealthy, meaning you should stay far away from it!
3. Soup and salad are your new favorite combo
Every time you eat out, get in the habit of ordering a salad to start. Loading up on healthy fiber at the beginning of your meal sets the right tone for your dining experience. By eating a healthy salad prior to your meal, you will be able to ignore the bread and begin to fill yourself up before your main course arrives.
However, make sure the salad does not come covered in a creamy dressing (instead, ask for simple oil and vinegar), and also ask for no cheese and croutons.
If you are not in the mood for a salad, a broth-based soup is also a fantastic choice for an appetizer. Soups that are made with either chicken or beef stock will fill up your stomach, and the veggies and lean meat provide you with healthy and nutritious calories. Pro tip: Order a simple salad and a broth-based soup as your main meal and you will have a low-cal yet filling and delicious restaurant meal!
4. Water is your best friend
You know that sodas are bad for your health, but you may not realize that they are also dreadful for your waistline, as they are filled with empty calories. Just because it is a liquid, doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting your calorie count!
If you order a large, regular cola (approximately 32 ounces), then you may be consuming 310 calories from the drink alone — an amount that is almost as much as a double-patty hamburger. But it isn’t just cola; a glass of orange juice can have 170 calories and 37 grams (or about nine teaspoons) of sugar.
With 0 calories and incomparable health benefits, water is without a doubt your best friend. Many times when you think you are hungry, you are actually just thirsty, so alternate bites of your food with large gulps of water.
5. Practice portion control
Research shows that restaurants serve portions that are triple what is recommended, so save yourself from overeating by asking for a to-go box as soon as you receive your meal. Put half (or even 75%) of your dish in it to take home as leftovers. That is tomorrow’s lunch sorted!
Eat the lowest calorie portion of your meal first (probably the vegetables), so you eat as many of the healthy nutrients as possible before you move on to the higher-calorie sections of your plate.
In addition to alternating bites of food and big gulps of water when you are eating, another pro tip is to put down your fork after every bite. Eating quickly is a fail-safe way to overeat, as you don’t give yourself enough to time to evaluate your decreasing hunger level. When you are no longer hungry, cover your plate with a napkin or douse it in salt to ensure that you cease consuming.
6. Stay away from these things…
- Bread and butter, chips and salsa — these duos are discouraged if you want to eat healthy at restaurants. By consuming these freebies on the table, you are easily adding hundreds of calories to your meal. Save yourself the torture by immediately telling your server that you don’t want them, or sending back any free table service that arrives.
- If you order turkey, chicken, or duck and it comes with the skin, take it off before eating! While it may taste good, the skin comes with lots of calories and saturated fat.
- When ordering meat, remember that not all cuts of meat are the same. Skinless chicken breast is far healthier than chicken thighs or legs. Similarly, top sirloin, tip side steak, and bottom round are far better for you and your physique than prime rib.
- Unless it is a fruit platter, stay away from the deserts that restaurants offer. Even a small piece of pie or cake can add an extra 400 calories to your meal! Instead, pop a mint to signal to your taste-buds that you are done eating and waltz home feeling good about your food choices.
7. Embrace these things…
You know what the unhealthy terms to look out for are, but it is also important to recognize the healthy terms. Grilled, steamed, boiled and baked all indicate that a dish was prepared in the healthiest way possible. Even if they are labeled in this way, request that no butter or sauces be used in the preparation.
- You can never have too many vegetables! Ask your server to double or triple the amount of vegetables on your plate, or exchange them for less healthy sides that already come with your meal. Even if there is a slight up-charge, it is worth it for your long-term health.
- Seafood is usually a great healthy option. As long as it isn’t fried or sauteed, order the fish! And again, remember to ask for it to be cooked without sauces or butter.
- Spices! Eating healthy doesn’t mean eating bland food. Liven up your vegetable dishes with paprika, chili powder, garlic salt, and lemon.
All in all, wanting to eat healthy doesn’t mean you have to avoid restaurants like the plague. If you memorize these tips and tricks and put them into practice every time you dine out, soon enough, making healthy choices at restaurants will become second nature to you.
When you realize you can eat out and maintain your health and wellness goals, you won’t mind skipping the bread and butter and doubling up on vegetables. After all, we feel good when we eat right, and these tips and tricks will ensure you are eating the best. To eating!
Kumar Samtani is the co-founder of MenuPages.ae. With an educational background in Industrial & Operations Engineering from the prestigious University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Kumar’s expertise lies in process improvement & operations management for all types of organizations. He is also an experienced entrepreneur with business interests in consumer goods, hospitality supplies & real estate.