Mar 23, 2015

14 Tips for Eating Healthy at Restaurants

Metro Detroit Mommy Blogger Theresa Walker - BeachBody Coach

One of the biggest hurdles when you are making a lifestyle change is eating out.  As they say, you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet!  Even though going out to dinner is a great opportunity to make it your cheat day, sometimes there are weeks we have several meals planned that are “out”.  In which case, you may need to find some healthier options on the menu.  Here are some of the best tips I’ve found that help keep the waistline in check:

  1. Drink water, skip the drinks.  If you know your meal is going to have extra calories you may want to hold off on the liquid calories.  Rule of thumb is that the more ingredients in a cocktail, higher the calories, an 8oz long island averages at 750, a 10oz margarita around 550!  If you can’t resist a drink, a good idea is to skip the appetizer and dessert.  Better drink options are a simple rum and diet coke (100 cals/8oz) or 8oz Mojito averages 200.  Other good ideas are wine, 5oz averages 125 cals or light beer.  Many restaurants also have “skinny cocktails”.  If you don’t see that option, ask the bartender!  Or, just get unsweetened ice tea or a coffee.
  2. Skip the bread.  Especially if you are ordering pasta or pizza, save the calories for your meal.  Or, if you can’t resist, have a half of the roll or sometimes just one bite will satiate your tastebuds.  Skip the butter.
  3. Do your homework BEFORE you choose the restaurant.  If possible, research options and choose a restaurant that has something that you will enjoy and NOT feel deprived; yet doesn’t blow the budget on calories.  Some restaurants have many more healthy options than others.  Don’t set yourself up for failure, why go to Red Robin if you know you can’t eat a salad while watching others eat burgers?  Instead find a place that has a delicious looking salad, or a yummy chicken dish.  If you don’t have a choice in where you go, go to the restaurants website and look at the options.  Many national chains have nutritional info right on their websites.  
  4. Decide what you will eat BEFORE you get to the destination.  This solves the dilemma when you get there and are faced with many tempting dishes to choose from.  It’s also much easier to stop and think at home before making a fast decision.  You are more likely to come up with something that will satisfy you and be a healthful choice.  You'll find once you get it into your head what you will be eating, you will look forward to it.
  5. When checking nutrition, make sure to not only look at calories, but fat, sugar and sodium.  You might have a choice between something at 500 calories and 700, but 500 could have 40g of fat while the 700 has 25g
  6. Some general rules of thumb: Grilled/broiled/baked/roasted/steamed, not breaded/fried/battered/glazed/smothered.  Red sauce (marinara) on pasta, not white (alfredo).  You can ask for light on the sauce, or even sauce on the side.  I’ve been to a lot of places where my meat is dripping in sauce, unnecessary!  Go light on the cheese or skip it.  Chicken and fish are generally lighter vs. red meat or pork, but watch how they are prepared.  Broth based soups are better than “cream of” or bisque soups.  Watch out for hidden calorie pits on salads: nuts, cheese, dried fruit and of course dressings.  These things are ok, in moderation, just be mindful they are high in calories.  Brown rice or anything whole grain vs. white. 
  7. Get all sauces or dressings on the side!  You will often find you don’t miss the sauce.  For instance, I’ve seen sandwiches on a menu that have BOTH mayo and pesto!  One is usually fine, and of course if you spread it, you can control how much goes onto the sandwich.  Ranch, Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Caesar are highest in calories, any sort of vinaigrette or Italian is half the calories.  DIP your lettuce in the dressing, don’t pour!  You’ll save calories, unless you are drenching it. 
  8. Don’t forget you can ask the server to customize!  PF Changs offers the option to prepare in a broth vs. oil.  If it’s breaded, you can ask for grilled, sauce on the side, no butter, brown rice instead of white.  You will be surprised at how accommodating restaurants can be. 
  9. Order your sandwich on a lettuce wrap instead of a bun.  Or take the top half of your bun off.  Skip the cheese, add some pickles, onions, tomatoes.  Mustard has only 5 calories, a lot less than ketchup or mayo.  Ask for an extra pickles, they are zero calories and will help fill you up. 
  10. Share a meal with a friend or partner then add a soup or salad.  If you get dessert- share.  If you don’t have someone to share with, ask for half boxed up before it comes out to you, you won’t be as tempted with it out of sight.  And chances are you’ll find you are full anyway. 
  11. Start your meal with veggies!  If you get a veggie and hummus plate for an appetizer, or a salad to start, you are already filling up your stomach with something good for you!  All the less room for your next courses. 
  12. Don’t go out to eat starving!  DON’T SKIP meals during the day just so you can “save up” for dinner!  You are messing with your metabolism and it isn’t going to work.  Plus, when you get to dinner you are going to gorge.  Many nutritionists recommend in fact eating a small handful of nuts before going out.  If I know I won’t be getting a veggie when I go out, I make sure to have a big serving before I leave.  For example- if I’m just having burgers and fries and don’t want to pay for a side salad, no worries, I’ll just have them at home!  Again, you will be filling up on good stuff, less room for higher-calorie foods. 
  13. Beware for hidden calorie pits hiding as “healthy options”.  Many times I’ve looked over nutritional info and tried to guess what will be healthier- fish taco’s or a burger?  Turkey burgers are always better than ground beef right?  Or zucchini fries vs. potato.  And of course a SALAD would be better than a chicken pita.  NOPE.  In all of these cases I’ve found the opposite to be true!  Just because it’s fish doesn’t mean it’s not breaded, cooked in oils, dripping in mayo-based sauces etc.  And turkey burgers are usually very comparable to a ground beef burger, rarely do I see it much lower in calories to make it worth my while.  (I do enjoy turkey burgers though!)  Any sort of “veggie fry”, is going to be breaded and cooked in oil, not worth it.  And even salads, as I’ve said, can be dripping in dressings and topped with so much bacon that it’s higher calories than a sandwich.  That’s why it pays to research before going out. 
  14. Eat only until you are full.  In fact, STOP eating before you feel over-full.  Don’t force yourself to end with a “clean plate”.   There is nothing wrong with taking some home.  Or, some restaurants will give you a half order if you ask. 
Hopefully some of these tips will make it easier for you to make healthful choices when eating out.  You don’t need to be perfect, ENJOY a great meal out!  But making even just one small change and skipping the pop (and several refills) can save you a lot of calories, or finding a low-cal dressing you enjoy.  These all add up over a week, month, year!

Theresa Walker 
Theresa is a wife and stay at home mother of 2 energetic boys, DJ (8) and Aiden (5). She has a bachelors in Communications and prior to being a mother she worked at Better Investing magazine in advertising and as a Corporate Account Manager. These days she is fortunate enough to spend time with her boys checking out all of the local fun there is to be had. She and her family love to travel. She is also active in a large online mom's group through Facebook that she started called Planet Mom. She enjoys being active and one of her proudest accomplishments was running the Detroit Half Marathon as well as the Romeo to Richmond Half. In her free time you can find her running or biking through Stony Creek. Or curled up on a couch with a good book and her cat in her lap. She recently became a BeachBody Coach, so that she could share her love for health and fitness with others to help them reach their personal goals. You can find her Facebook page at Inspired Health & Fitness. She considers herself a "Fit Foodie" and loves trying new recipes, experimenting and new restaurants around town. She hopes she can share some of her tips for healthy eating and exercise for busy moms and Metro Detroit Mommy Fans.

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