If you are watching calories, have dietary restrictions or food intolerances/allergies, dining out can be a challenge. The pros of dining out are that restaurants, casual dining (fast food) venues, and delis are convenient for fast meals and/or socialization. The cons (calorie overload, mega portions, sky-high salt, food triggers) may make it hard to maintain a healthy, balanced, or safe diet.
Here are some ideas to help you make appropriate choices when you dine out without compromising calories or health:
- Check the online menu before going to decide what will work. If necessary, call in advance to ask about dietary or health concerns you may have such as gluten-free options and cross contamination.
- Don’t make assumptions if you have concerns. Politely ask the server or chef a few simple questions: How are the vegetables prepared/seasoned? Is the fish/chicken/pork chop grilled, broiled, breaded, or fried? What is in the sauce or dressing? Is the soup base broth or cream? Has the food been marinated in any sauce? Has any food been coated or dusted with flour? Are mashed potatoes made with real potatoes?
- Pay attention to the nutritional information if it is provided. If it is not available but of concern, ask. The healthiest sounding dish on the menu may not be.
- Order water, low-fat or fat-free milk, or unsweetened tea to avoid high-calorie beverages.
- Ask for salad dressings, sauces, sour cream, butter, etc on the side so you can control the amount.
- Substitute fruit, vegetables, or a salad for a heavy or off-diet side dish.
- If gluten is allowed, ask for whole-wheat bread for sandwiches.
- Start with a veggie-packed side salad to help control hunger and feel satisfied sooner. Request no crackers, croutons, wontons, or cheese if any are of concern to your diet or health.
- Avoid appetizers either from the menu or those presented at the table (chips, breads, etc).
- Choose main dishes with lots of veggies, especially steamed veggies when possible.
- Order steamed, grilled or broiled dishes. Avoid fried or sautéed foods as much as possible.
- At a buffet, order an item from the menu instead going for the all-you-can-eat option.
- Opt out of dessert or request fresh fruit.
- Refrain from cleaning your plate if the portion is too much. Splitting with a companion or requesting a take-home box are always options. Take a minute to look at the plate that is brought to you and decide before taking a bite what you intend to eat. Another option is to ask the waiter to box half of your plate before bringing it to the table.
Dining out doesn’t mean your healthy eating plan has to stay at home. Nor does it mean that you have to stay home if you have dietary restrictions or food issues. Ask a few questions, make some smart choices, and your meal-out can be as healthy and safe as if you made it yourself.