Healthy Eating Out
While most of us understand the basics of a healthy diet, it can be difficult to follow the rules when someone else is cooking up dinner. Fast food chains, bakeries, even high-end restaurants, can look like a minefield for anyone watching their diet. Thankfully, these days most eateries are well-aware of diet restrictions and health-conscious foodies. In fact, with just a little effort, you can eat delicious and nutritious foods capable of satisfying any palate.
Location, Location, Location
The first step to eating out and staying healthy involves choosing the right venue. If money is no object, a high-end steakhouse, seafood, or gourmet restaurant will be your best bet. Quality meats paired with fresh vegetables will leave you feeling full and satiated while also helping you avoid fat-laden fried foods or carb-heavy pasta dishes. Many ethnic restaurants, including Mexican, Thai, and Asian cuisine, include healthy vegetarian options and many main dishes and sides loaded with fresh ingredients. Delis, sandwich shops, and even food trucks are also fantastic alternatives, especially if they serve up options that include lean protein, low-carb, or vegetarian options. Finally, while fast food should always be your last resort, many chains now include calorie counts on their menus, which can help you zero in on low-cal options.
Survey the Landscape
Once you decide on your location, make sure you take a moment to preview the menu. By researching the restaurant online, you can plan your meal in advance, making it easier to make the right choice. It can also be helpful to place your order first to avoid being influenced by your dinner companions. When everyone else at the table is munching on pizza or French fries, it can be hard to order a salad.
Ask the Experts
Waitstaff know the menu like the back of their hand, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when you can’t decide. Not only can staff point you towards the healthier items on the menu, they can also provide suggestions for substitutions and modifications, like dressing on the side or a burger without the bun. Sometimes, an appetizer or side dish can be as satisfying as a main course or work well when paired with another smaller option. Don’t be shy, just make sure your requests are reasonable.
Pay Attention to the Details
Whether you are paleo, or gluten-free, or just looking to avoid unnecessary starches or sugars, when it comes to staying healthy, the devil is in the details. Many times, simple substitutions can transform an entree. Swap potatoes for sweet potatoes, or ditch the bread and ask for steamed veggies. Choose steamed or grilled food over anything fried or drenched in sauces.
It’s also important to avoid sugar whenever possible. Skip dessert and sodas and drink water or unsweetened tea instead. If your entree is larger than expected, split it up and ask the server to put one half in a to-go container. Finally, remind yourself that you do not have to eat everything placed in front of you. It’s perfectly acceptable to leave uneaten food behind or ask for a doggy bag.
Don’t Focus on Perfection
Balancing health and happiness can sometimes seem impossible. Remember that no-one expects you to be perfect. There’s power in moderation, and if you decide to eat a “cheat meal,” or succumb to another slice of pizza, don’t dwell on your failure. Instead, treat yourself gently and remember that one bad meal won’t ruin your day or even matter in the long run as long as you aim for consistency. We are only human in the end, and sometimes that means snacking on steamed broccoli or saying yes to a slice of pecan pie.
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