Contrary to what some of my clients might assume, I love going out to eat at restaurants! I love the atmosphere, the wide variety of foods on the menu, the memories made with loved ones, and the convenience of not having to cook at home. But as we all know, restaurant meals are often significantly less healthy than those prepared in your own kitchen. Restaurant foods typically have more salt, oil, saturated fat, sugar, and calories than homemade versions of the same foods. And it’s not only the nutrient content of restaurant food that’s a concern. Most restaurants serve genetically modified foods among other not-so-ideal factors.
But who wants to give up going out to eat? Good news! You don’t have to because I’ve curated my best tips to order healthy options at any restaurant.
Go for Greens
Whenever I go to a restaurant, I check out the green options first. To start, look for salads topped with fresh veggies and organic protein. If a salad isn’t doing it for you, then look for other ways to up the veggie game in your meal. For example, order a vegetable tray instead of bread for an appetizer. If the restaurant doesn’t offer a vegetable tray, ask for veggie sticks instead of chips or crackers with any dip on the menu. Most restaurants can accommodate that! Then, if you’re craving a juicy burger, ask to switch out the bun for a bed of lettuce with tomatoes, onions, and avocado. As a simple hack, try replacing as many simple (white) carb options with veggies. For some inspiration on what veggies to ask for, check out my article on eating the rainbow!
Plan Modifications in Advance
It’s always a good idea to peruse the menu online before dining at the restaurant to plan any modifications you might want. I typically modify my meals by asking for salads without cheese, subbing out the chicken for tofu, and dressing on the side. I prefer to ask for a dressing made with either olive oil and vinegar or oil and lemon juice. But, I have a clever tip for a salad dressing if you prefer something heavier. Ask for the sauce on the side, and then take about a tablespoon of drinking water and mix it with the dressing. Then, dress the salad yourself. This way, you’re still getting the flavor of the dressing without a lot of the extra junk. Protip: this works very well with caesar salads which are often high in saturated fat and sodium. I also like to know if there are organic options that I can choose from instead of the default GMO choices. And I always call restaurants ahead to get a pulse on their willingness to accommodate modifications.
Or Japanese. Or Indian. Opt for cuisines that offer varieties of vegetable dishes like Mediterranean salads and mezze platters or delicious, gut-healthy kimchi. When choosing a restaurant, I always think ahead to what that restaurant will offer. Japanese is a go-to for me because I know there will be a lot of fresh produce and vegetarian options. Indian food is always great because there are numerous lentil-based dishes and vegetarian sides (though be conscious of cream and dairy!). If you need help finding a healthy restaurant, check out the fantastic resources at CleanPlates.com.
Sides, Sides, Sides
Sides are my favorite thing to order at restaurants. Sometimes, I can make my entire meal from the sides. Many people forget about this part of the menu, but I’m telling you it’s a game-changer! For example, if I’m going out to breakfast, I can order half an avocado, oatmeal with almond milk, AND a bowl of fruit all from the side menu. I mean, how cool! You can load up on veggies at dinner by ordering steamed spinach, roasted mushrooms, and grilled asparagus. The options are endless! Just be sure to request butter-free versions of the sides whenever possible.
Skip the drink and choose water instead. You can easily cut excess calories and sugar by selecting water as your beverage. And, water doesn’t have to be boring! You can ask for a side of lime, lemon, or even orange slices to squeeze into your ice water. It also helps to drink a glass of water before digging into your meal. Water can make you feel full and prevent overeating. In fact, research shows that drinking 2 cups of water before eating can decrease calories consumed by 13%. This tip is a no-brainer since your drink usually arrives before your food!
And disregard the notion of perfection. If you’re going out to eat in moderation, it’s okay to throw caution to the wind from time to time and just enjoy. For example, even though I try to limit my alcohol intake, I love a good tequila-based cocktail on a Friday night at my favorite restaurant. Prioritize your desires and choose accordingly. If you are looking forward to dessert, skip the drink. If the cheese plate appetizer is calling your name, opt for a salad as your main course. But have fun and know that you can always get back on track tomorrow.
Once you get the hang of it with these tips, it’s not hard to navigate any menu and make healthier choices. But, you don’t have to do this alone. If you would like more help with eating healthy at restaurants, I invite you to schedule a one-on-one session with me! You’ll be a pro in no time.