Eating out is a great way to catch up with friends and family while enjoying delicious food that’s been cooked by a professional. But if you’re watching what you eat or are struggling to figure out what to order at a restaurant on a diet, there are some easy ways to eat healthy even when eating out.
Believe it or not, eating out while on a diet doesn’t mean avoiding all carbs and sugars — it’s more a matter of figuring out how much of each you should eat per meal. Dining out has been shown to lead to people making unhealthy food choices and even overeating. The fact that most restaurants want to give patrons delicious food in large portions can make eating a simple dinner in a restaurant a giant hurdle for your plans to eat healthier.
If you love eating out and love to stay healthy at the same time, here are 10 easy-to-follow tips for eating healthy when eating out.
1. Plan Ahead
In this modern age, almost all restaurants provide their menus online, so one of the best tips for healthy when dining out is to plan ahead. Decide what you’d like to order before you even get to the restaurant and then make sure you order before the rest of your party.
Waiting to order after your friends or family can subconsciously affect your choices and even lead to making snap decisions that are contrary to your health goals. If you order first, you’ll be less tempted to add on any impulsive and unhealthy items to your meal.
Facing a large menu full of options can be very overwhelming, but the lively atmosphere of most restaurants coupled with the aromas of delicious foods can distract you and lead you to make decisions you may later regret, so plan ahead and get your order in before you have the opportunity to suddenly change your mind.
Planning what you’ll order ahead of time also prevents you from making impulsive decisions that are counterproductive to your health goals.
When you’re deciding on what to order, make sure to keep your health goals in mind. Eating healthy when eating out means more than planning what to order before getting to the table — you should also make sure you’re ordering food that fits in with your diet.
See how the food has been prepared and look for foods that have been steamed or grilled rather than fried. And tomato-based sauces tend to be healthier than creamier ones, so keep that in mind if you’ve got a craving for pasta.
If the menu mentions it, check out how much sodium and fat are in your options, or double-check with the staff at the restaurant before you order.
Don’t be afraid to request advice and assistance from the restaurant staff to help you make the healthiest choices for you.
2. Substitute for Healthier Sides
If you’re going to a place where there’s no way out of picking a high-calorie meal, see if you can substitute some of the food for healthier choices. Including more vegetables in your diet is always a smart move when it comes to eating healthy.
See if you can substitute the listed side with a salad or vegetables. And if substitution isn’t an option, consider getting an entree salad. These salads tend to be bigger and more filling than side salads and you can often choose a protein to have on top, such as grilled chicken.
If you opt for a salad — side or entree — request the dressing on the side rather than on top. Salad dressings tend to be high in unhealthy fats and sugars, so asking for them on the side allows you to have control over how much you put on your salad.
3. Snack Before Leaving
Your parents probably warned you against snacking before dinner lest it spoils your appetite, but when you’re eating out on a diet, staving off some of the hunger can be a good thing.
Just like it’s recommended that you don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, you should avoid going to a restaurant while overly hungry. The desperation from feeling starved can lead you to order too much unhealthy food or overeat at the restaurant.
Having a small, healthy snack before leaving your house is a great way to fill you up just enough so you don’t overboard during your meal. Snacks like a cup of yogurt or some crackers with avocado are great, light snacks that are both healthy and not too filling.
4. Skip the Bread and Start With Soup
If snacking beforehand isn’t an option and you arrive at the restaurant feeling famished, start with an appetizer of soup or salad. This is a great way to fill up a little bit before your main course so you don’t end up overeating.
Having soup before a meal has shown to reduce overall calorie intake by 20% — and the choice of soup doesn’t matter, either, because it’s all good.
Having either soup or salad before your entree is also a great way to avoid filling up on pre-dinner bread, which is not at all as dense in nutrients as vegetables are.
Though any soup of the day will help, if it’s a vegetable-based soup, it’s a win-win because it’ll give you all the nutrients you need plus fill you up a little as well. You can even have a little bit of bread to dip in your soup if you really want those carbs.
5. Share the Entree
Portion sizes in American restaurants are known to be much larger, so if you’re looking for healthy tips for eating out, splitting your entree is one of the best. Sharing the entree allows you to eat only as much as you need to eat without feeling obligated to clean your plate. Just scoop out the amount you believe is right for you and share the rest with one or two friends.
If you’re eating alone or no one wants to share with you, ask for a takeout box and divide up your plate the same as if you were sharing, but put the extra food into the box to take home. This can make a great lunch to take to work the next day or even part of your dinner the following night.
Double up on Appetizers
Another healthy eating out option is to order two appetizers instead of one entree. The appetizers are already smaller, controlled portions, so you’re less likely to overeat, even if you do clean the plates.
You can even request only half the portion size of an entree, which will allow you to stay within your diet goals without needing to take home a doggy bag or find someone to eat the other half with.
If you find you have any food left over anyway, there’s nothing wrong with asking for a to-go box and saving the food for later.
6. Limit the Alcohol
When it comes to what to order at a restaurant while on a diet, sacrificing what you love isn’t always mandatory.
A nice glass of red wine or a signature cocktail is great with any meal, especially when you’re out with friends and celebrating. However, even a glass of red wine can add unnecessary calories to your meal. Smaller portions work well when it comes to alcohol too, as do requests for substitutions.
If you’re a fan of wine with dinner, ask for a smaller glass than usual so you’re not having as much. If cocktails are your drink of choice, see if it’s possible to replace the regular soda with a diet version or with a natural fruit juice instead.
7. Drink Lots of Water
The one thing you never have to limit even when on a diet is your intake of water. Drinking it before a meal will help you feel full so you’re less likely to overeat, and drinking it throughout your meal will do the same while also hydrating you.
Replace your soda or other sugary or sweetened drinks with water for double the benefits. Since water has zero calories and is essential for a healthy body, it’s a much better and healthier option for people looking to improve their eating habits. Drinking water, especially in place of sweetened drinks, will reduce your intake of both calories and sugars.
Additionally, we’re often just thirsty when we feel hungry. Most of us don’t get as much hydration as we need and our body alerts us, but we often mistake thirst for hunger. The next time you’re feeling hungry, especially after having just eaten, try drinking a glass of water and then check back in with yourself after 15 minutes. Chances are, your “hunger” will suddenly have been satiated.
8. Avoid Buffets
They may seem like a great deal for your dollar, but buffets are the easiest way to lose track of your diet plans. When it comes to healthy eating out options, buffets are not it.
The fact that you cannot decide what to order ahead of time coupled with the fact that the sight of tons of delicious food can be overwhelming — especially if you’re famished — and makes buffets the hardest way to stick to a diet. Plus, humans are notorious for being awful at correctly gauging portion sizes, so buffets can be an overeater’s nightmare.
However, if you have no choice but to go to a buffet, don’t worry — there are still some tips for healthy dining out that you can use. The main one is to order off the menu if the option exists.
One of the best tips for healthy dining out at a buffet is to just use a smaller plate. Your eyes may deceive you in terms of portion size on a dinner-sized plate, so opt for a smaller plate to fill up and control your portion size.
If you do opt for a regular-sized plate, plan to fill half or more of it with vegetables. Vegetables like spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, and carrots are healthy enough and low in calories so you can eat more of them than you could something carb-heavy, like potatoes.
9. Eat Slowly and Mindfully
If you’re familiar with meditation and mindful living, then the concept of mindful eating won’t be new to you. Mindful eating entails truly savoring and appreciating every part of your meal. From the aroma to the different flavors mixing to the feelings and thoughts that come to you as you eat, mindful eating encourages you to be aware of all of that and more.
Mindful eating inevitably means eating slowly because you cannot take the appropriate amount of time to properly savor and acknowledge everything about your meal if you’re scarfing it down. Slowing down your eating is an excellent way to eat mindfully as well as learn to listen to your body.
It usually takes about 20 minutes for us to recognize that we’re full, so making time in between bites helps prevent overeating. Putting utensils down between bites and chewing a little longer than you usually would are two ways to practice eating slowly and mindfully.
10. Skip the Dessert
It may seem blasphemous not to polish off a delicious health-conscious meal with a treat for dessert, but you may be better off without the high-sugar and high-calorie cakes and pastries.
Instead, try coffee instead of a traditional dessert. You’ll be cutting down on added sugars while still gaining some of the benefits of coffee, including its essential nutrients and its fat-burning ability. Coffee without any added sugar or cream is ideal, but you can gauge how much or how little of either will work best with your diet plans.
If completely skipping dessert is not an option for you, try healthy eating out options like a bowl of fresh fruit or low-fat frozen yogurt. Remember to keep the sugar away from both your fruit bowl and your coffee, though.
Have Your Next Meal at Chisholm’s American Beef and Ale House
Enjoy traditional American fare with a modern twist, made with local ingredients that are fresh from the farm.
Eat at the bar while watching a game on one of our TVs and enjoying our wide selection of beers, wines, and signature cocktails, or enjoy a family-friendly meal in our spacious dining room. We also offer a private dining room for parties and corporate events. We offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as fun events that encourage you to “be part of the herd” and ensure you have an enjoyable night out.
Chisholm’s American Beef and Ale House invites you to revisit the revival of the classic ale and chop house and enjoy a traditional American meal. Don’t wait — make your reservations today.