How Can I Eat Healthy When Eating Out?
How to Eat Out (Without Blowing Your Nutrition Plan)
You might be wondering if it is possible to eat out without blowing your nutrition plan? The answer is YES!
There are no bad meals, just bad diets as a whole.
If there are twenty-one meals (breakfasts, lunches and suppers) per week, even if two of them were total nutritional disasters you would still score over ninety percent on your diet if the other nineteen meals were reasonably healthy. Funny enough, I rarely meet people that look at the big picture of their total diet like this. What is your score this week out of twenty-one?
If you are like me and only eat out occasionally, find freedom in enjoying whatever you want. If, however, you eat out regularly for lunches at work, or quite a few suppers per week, it really is key for your health to be mindful of your choices.
What makes eating out challenging?
- Someone else controls the menu, quality of the food, and cooking methods.
- Larger portions than we have at home, or than what our body needs, may be served which can contribute extra calories.
- Meals are often high-fat to contribute flavor, but as a result, can substantially increase calories. Often higher amounts of saturated and trans fats are used which are negative for heart health.
- Restaurant and fast food meals are usually high in sodium. In some cases, one meal may have more sodium than is recommended per day for health.
- While carbohydrates are essential nutrients and certainly don’t need to be eliminated for health and overall healthy weight management, often bigger portions than would be optimal for those struggling with their weight and diabetes, are served. Big portions of starchy foods such as bread, pasta, or rice, and large bottomless cups of pop are cheap and consumers perceive large volumes as good value.
- Often meals are low in higher-fiber choices such as whole grains and vegetables and fruits, all of which are good for long-term health.
Watch my previous archived TV interview from Global Morning News about healthy choices when eating out:
If I eat out often how can I make healthier choices when eating out?
Consider the S’s of eating out:
- SELECT the “right” place. This is a place that firstly offers healthy choices and secondly a place you are willing to make these choices.
- SCAN the website in advance. Most fast food outlets and franchises post nutrition data about their menu on their website. Check out your favorite choices and compare other options.
- SAY what you would like! You have more choice than you think; all you have to do is ask. Think of the menu in a restaurant like a grocery list of all of the items to choose from.
- SAUCES & SPREADS on the side or skip. Reducing dressings, mayonnaise, butter or margarine can substantially decrease calories and saturated fat in your meal. It is always better for you to add these yourself so you can control the amount needed for taste and enjoyment.
- SUBSTITUTIONS? Most places offer choice in your sides such as salad, soup, or steamed veggies in place of fries.
- SHARE with a friend. This is a good way to eat less of indulgent choices but still enjoy a taste.
- SUPPLEMENT part of the meal? Try buying part of your meal at breakfast or lunch and bringing harder to find or more expensive items such as a fruit or raw veggies.
- SMALLER options? In restaurants, go for an appetizer-size rather than meal-size or try a half-order instead of a full-order.
- SAVE some for later. Take some home for tomorrow or if you often tempted to overeat, ask for half your restaurant meal to be packaged up before it even arrives.
- SLURP sensibly. Think about what and how much pop, iced tea, wine, beer and cocktails you are drinking.
- SNACK before. Nibble on something nutritious before you eat out to avoid getting too hungry and overeating.
- “SPEND” soulful foods wisely. Budget soulful foods chosen exclusively for taste and enjoyment, rather than nutrition, just like you manage your cash flow. Splurge on your favorites and save on others that are less important to you.
When to be flexible
When it comes to eating out I personally live by the following philosophy or mantra:
“When on your own eat your best, for social fun have the rest.”
It is more difficult (and certainly less fun) to make really healthy choices with your family on Friday pizza night, when going out for lunch with coworkers or for date night with your sweetie. When you are on your own go for the nerdy nutritious choices. This means for your everyday workday breakfast, mid-afternoon snack on-the-go, eat your best. When you are eating socially, have some fun, be flexible, and go with the flow. This is the time to enjoy soulful foods like chips and chocolate chosen exclusively for taste and enjoyment. You can eat anything, just not everything – it is about being intentional about your choices.
What about you? What are some ways you have found you can be successful when it comes to eating out and managing your health? Leave a note in the comments below as I’d love to hear from you.
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About Andrea Holwegner
CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker
Andrea the «Chocolate Loving Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more