It is possible to enjoy a meal out without going overboard and ruining your healthy eating habits. One of the best pieces of advice I can offer is to do your homework before you leave the house. There is currently a good amount of restaurant nutrition information available online. If you have a few restaurant meal favorites, check out those specific restaurants’ Web sites so that you are a more informed consumer.
When it comes to ordering off the menu, stick to the basics. You have a better idea of the nutrition you’re getting when you order simple items like grilled chicken or fish, steamed veggies, and a baked potato or sweet potato with toppings on the side. Another good option is salad with grilled chicken or fish with dressing on the side. You should pay attention to the addition of high-fat salad toppings like bacon, croutons, heavy cheeses, and fried noodles or tortilla chips or strips which can negate much of the positives of a good vegetable-based salad.
Monitoring your hunger and fullness cues is another way to keep your eating in check while dining out. On a scale of one to 10 with 10 being “miserably stuffed and in pain” and one being “starving, irritable, about to pass out,” rate your hunger and fullness level before and after meals. Your goal is to stop eating at about five “perfectly satisfied,” before you get to six “slightly overeating” or seven “starting to feel uncomfortable.” In other words, we shouldn’t have to wear our stretchy pants to go out to our favorite restaurant. In addition to paying attention to hunger cues, I encourage you to eat mindfully. Slow down. Chew your food well, and focus on enjoying each bite. It isn’t a race to finish, and you don’t have to clean your plate.
Beverages can sneak extra calories into a meal out. Limit high-calorie beverages whenever you can. Each 12-ounce glass of sweet tea or soda adds up to 150 extra calories. And many restaurants are really good at providing plenty of free refills. Don’t drink your calories. Stick to water or unsweetened iced tea. If you choose alcohol, try to limit it to one drink, and be sure to also have plenty of water.
I truly believe you can find a relatively healthy meal at most any restaurant if you make smart choices and watch portion sizes. At Starbucks my favorite go-to meal is the Perfect Oatmeal. With all the toppings, it has only 390 calories and packs seven grams of fiber. Panera has many good lunch options, but be careful with portion sizes. Select a half-sandwich paired with a salad or soup. My pick at Subway is a six-inch sandwich on wheat with vegetables paired with baked chips. If pizza is what you’re heading out for, go with a couple of slices of thin crust with lots of vegetables and a side salad. At most steakhouse-type restaurants you can select an entrée of grilled chicken or grilled salmon plus baked potato (toppings on side) and steamed veggies.
Be an informed consumer and you can eat well, no matter where you are.
Angie Tillman is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and director of the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center.