Many of my clients assume eating at restaurants is forbidden if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle, but that’s simply not true! I love dining at restaurants, admiring the atmosphere, trying new items on the menu, and socializing with my friends and family over delicious food (that I didn’t have to cook myself!). The biggest problem with eating out is the lack of control over food preparation. Many restaurants serve foods higher in salt, oil, and refined sugar than meals prepared at home.
Luckily, I’ve gathered my favorite tips and tricks to stay healthy while eating at restaurants so you can enjoy yourself while sticking to your health goals!
1. Visit healthy restaurants
This may sound obvious, but health-focused restaurants are often overlooked! Many trendy healthy restaurants are popping up all over the country that use farm-fresh ingredients and choose to forego concerning ones. I love visiting these spots because I not only feel good after eating there, but I always love supporting businesses with a meaningful mission for health. Plus, it requires much less planning on my end. Do your research on healthy restaurants in your area and try them all!
2. Do your research
Look up the restaurant beforehand and take a peek at the menu. Does it offer sauteed vegetable sides and healthy protein options? If you’re vegan, does the restaurant offer ample dairy-and-meat-free options? If the digital menu is unclear, I encourage you to call the restaurant and ask some questions. It’s essential to know what your meal options will look like so you aren’t forced to make unhealthy choices in the moment.
3. Skip the extras
The complimentary bread basket looks ravishing, but it’s an extra that increases inflammation, contains gluten, and isn’t necessary. I always regret indulging in the free chips or bread because I’m not as hungry for my main meal, which is almost guaranteed to include more nutrients. Extras like bread, chips and salsa, and various dips typically lead to consuming more calories than necessary.
4. Hot sauce in your bag, swag
Let’s talk about the condiments most restaurants offer. Most restaurants’ condiments, like hot sauce, ketchup, and salad dressings, are processed and full of oils, sugars, and artificial additives. A simple solution to avoid these calorie-rich sauces is to bring your condiments! I know it may sound crazy to some, but bringing your own condiments is a simple solution that cuts out unhealthy additives and excess calories. Many healthy brands offer to-go packets of sauces that I store in my purse, so I’m always ready to spice up a restaurant meal.
5. Dress your salad wisely
If you didn’t bring your salad dressing, don’t worry! Ask the server if they make their own dressing or buy it. Make sure to ask what is in the dressing if they make their own. When in doubt, ask for lemon, olive oil, and vinegar to dress your salad. It tastes delicious, contains powerful plant compounds, and is undoubtedly lower in calories than store-bought options!
6. Don’t go hungry
Eat before heading to the restaurant. I’m not encouraging you to eat two meals. But a nutrient-dense snack like chopped veggies or a Super Seed Bar can be the perfect thing to take the edge off and dissuade you from ordering unhealthy or overeating at the restaurant. Have you ever been grocery shopping while hungry? I know I have, and I always buy more than I need. It’s the same situation at a restaurant. Going to a restaurant hungry will result in ordering higher-calorie foods, indulging in the bread basket, and feeling stuffed.
7. Simple is best
I always tell my clients to choose a simple piece of broiled or grilled protein instead of something breaded or fried. The preparation of the food matters! Breading adds unnecessary calories, and frying adds saturated fat. Aim for a meal containing butter-free sauteed or steamed veggies paired with a simple serving of protein. Skip any additional sauces and use your pre-packed salad dressing instead. Did you forget your own sauce? No worries; ask the server if they can provide a little organic olive oil or a lemon wedge for you to squeeze over your dish for flavor.
8. Modify everything
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for modifications to your meal. If you see something on the menu that looks good but needs a few tweaks to be perfect, ask for it! The servers are used to people asking all sorts of questions! For example, I often ask for no cheese and extra avocado on my salad instead. You can ask for what you need while still being kind – I promise that most restaurant staff never mind.
9. Substitute sides
Speaking of modifications, don’t be afraid to substitute the sides. If I order a veggie burger, I’ll ask for a green salad as a side instead of the french fries noted as the default option. Most restaurants will be happy to switch out a baked potato with all the fixings for sauteed spinach and green beans. Just ask!
10. Go gluten-free
Many restaurants are starting to offer gluten-free menus, and I’m so here for it! It’s always great to see what gluten-free items the restaurant offers before deciding on your meal. Although gluten-free options like fried shrimp aren’t great, other dishes, like a broiled piece of salmon with roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli, are nutrient-dense and delicious. Some of my favorite common gluten-free swaps include crushed almonds for bread crumbs, vegetable noodles for pasta, coconut aminos for soy sauce, and leafy greens for burger buns (this last one will save you a bunch of calories and provide added nutrients as well!).
11. Inquire about cooking oils
Most restaurants use an inflammation-inducing oil like canola or vegetable oil. It is perfectly acceptable to ask if they can prepare your meal in avocado oil instead. If you don’t feel comfortable asking, go ahead and stick to broiled or steamed items. Olive oil is an excellent substitute for items that aren’t ultra heated, too.
12. Go splitsies
If you are anything like me, you are no stranger to menu anxiety. Especially when trying a new restaurant, I get overwhelmed with all of the options and want to sample everything on the menu. While ordering numerous dishes is fun, it also typically leads to me overeating and feeling like crap. That’s why I often invite my fellow diners to split several items with me. We all get to experience different dishes without overdoing it.
13. Cuisine type matters
Cuisines like Greek, Japanese, or Indian offer lots of plant-based dishes. I love visiting Japanese restaurants because they typically offer numerous veggie-forward dishes and vegan options. Indian restaurants always have lentil-based stews, and Greek establishments will most likely offer a mezze platter. CleanPlates.com is a fantastic resource you can use to find healthy restaurants wherever you may be.
14. Drink wisely
Sneaky empty calories are hidden in beverages. I always order still water, sparkling water with citrus, or unsweetened iced tea as a drink with my meal. These are great options that are healthy, hydrating, and contain few calories or additives. Ask for lime or lemon wedges to make the drink more exciting.
15. Enjoy yourself!
Even if you can’t implement all these tips perfectly, I want you to enjoy yourself while eating out. Nothing is worse than stressing about what you’re eating when with loved ones. When all else fails, do your best, then let go of control. Remember, you can always get back on track afterward!
I hope these tips help you navigate eating out at restaurants while still enjoying the atmosphere, food, and company. If you’re looking for more healthy eating tips while on the go, I invite you to schedule a one-on-one session with me!