Smarter, healthier choices when dining out

08.18.14 |

When you eat out at your favorite restaurant, what does your meal look like?

Does it start with an appetizer and a drink then continue with a savory entrée and some dessert? If you’re like many Americans, this is an accurate depiction of your spread. Restaurants lure us in with high-fat, high-salt offerings, and we’re powerless to their pull when we’re enjoying a night out with friends.

Statistically speaking, a recent study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago published on HealthDay found that when people eat out, they eat more—approximately 200 calories per day more! In addition, the study found that people who frequently dine out also consume more saturated fat, sugar, and salt, as well.

Add in the anecdotal evidence—the experiences we’ve all seen and contributed to at restaurants—and it’s clear that eating out generally does not lead to healthy dietary decisions.

So how do we buck this trend?

  • First, we need to recognize smart food choices in general. Whether you’re eating out or shopping for groceries, a low-glycemic focus on plant-based selections is important. And when you add meat, choose fish and lean meats like chicken breast and turkey over fatty, deep-fried options like French fries and processed chicken tenders.

    Don’t be afraid to ask your server about the contents of your meal, either. Ask them if your foods will be cooked in butter or smothered in salty seasonings, and politely request an alternative, like olive oil, if you find this to be the case.

  • Skip the appetizer. Unless you want to start off with a side salad (which is a great option as long as you don’t smear it in high-fat dressing), appetizers generally consist of blooming onions, potato skins, onion rings, and other deep-fried, high-calorie dishes such as calamari. You’ll only ruin your appetite and enforce poor eating habits by making one of these selections.
  • Ask for a box. You’re paying for the food, and there’s no rule stating you have to finish everything on your plate at the table. Take some of your entrée home, and finish it later. Generally, restaurant entrees contain way more calories than we truly need, so splitting them up into two meals is the healthier choice. As an added bonus, you get to enjoy your tasty treat twice instead of gorging on it once.
  • Eat out with likeminded individuals. Passing on your favorite appetizer is hard enough, but the temptation becomes almost impossible to resist if your friend has a plate of sizzling deliciousness right in front of him or her. When you eat out with friends and family members who think about food the same way you do and who actively seek to create optimal health in their lives, your job becomes easier, as well.

Try these tips the next time you go out to your favorite restaurant and let me know how they work. I’d love to know what you think of them, and I’d also like to hear any other strategies you’ve developed during your journey toward optimal health!