A professionally prepared meal that involves no shopping, table-setting, or clean-up? What’s not to like? For many of us, dining out is a special treat to get out of the house and try new flavors or cuisines.
But you lose some control when you’re not making your own food, and that can make it hard to stick to your healthy eating goals. We’ve covered off on restaurant dining hacks before, but wanted to put several more tried-and-true ideas on the menu.
How do the experts handle it? Enter Aramark Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Amanda Rose, who shares these tips for a better-for-you dining experience. Whether you’re headed to your go-to neighborhood joint or trying someplace new, her advice will guide you before, during and after.
You’re so looking forward to the company of friends or family (and a night off from dish duty). Set yourself up for success before you even leave the house.
Instead of: “I’ll have what she’s having …”
Try: Reviewing the menu ahead of time. These days, almost every restaurant has their menu posted online, so do your research. “Narrow it down to a couple of options,” suggests Amanda. “Choose meals you know you will enjoy, but that are on the healthier side.” This way, you won’t have to stress out over your selection when you get there. If you don’t see any options that will work for your goals, suggest a change in venue.
Instead of: Going
on an empty stomach …
Try: Having a healthy snack. Skipping meals to make room? That’s not the best idea, as it can lead to overindulging. Grab a snack an hour or so before to take the edge off. Amanda’s picks: “A cup of low-fat yogurt or string cheese—something with protein to sustain you.” Head on over here for even more snack-spiration.
Instead of: Waiting to quench your thirst …
Try: Drinking lots of water. “Hydrating before any meal is a great way to avoid overeating, as it fills you up,” Amanda explains. “To mix it up, try adding a lemon or orange wedge to your water for fresh citrus flavor.” Keep in mind that this strategy is twofold (in the best way). One, it’ll help you pass on the complimentary bread or chips. Two, it saves you from drinking too many of your calories. If you can, stick to water, diet soda, or unsweetened iced tea at the restaurant.
RIGHT THIS WAY
Everyone’s here, you’ve got a nice window table, and the menu is in hand. Remember: Your server can be your ally in the quest for smart eating.
Instead of: Going all in on an entrée …
Try: Splitting it with your companion. “This is such a great way to practice portion control,” Amanda says. Another option is to try family style, so everyone can sample multiple dishes! “You could also order a side or an appetizer as your meal to keep portions more reasonable,” advises Amanda.
Instead of: Sticking with the menu …
Try: Asking to customize. If your choice comes pan-fried or crispy, ask the server if they can make it steamed, baked or broiled instead. “For example, you know mashed potatoes are loaded with butter and cream,” says Amanda. “Let your server know you’d like a fresh vegetable instead, or a side salad with a splash of balsamic vinegar.”
Instead of: Letting the sauce be the boss …
Try: Asking for it on the side. Toppings like sauces, dressings and cheese can sometimes pack some serious calories. When it comes time to order, simply ask for them on the side. That way you are in charge of how much you use—and a little does go a long way.
DINNER IS SERVED
Ooh, and it looks so good! You’ve come this far. Keep up the good work with Amanda’s tips for truly enjoying your dining experience.
of: Wolfing it down …
Try: Eating mindfully. In other words, slow down!Take time to savor the flavors of this expertly cooked meal (and take note of ingredients or techniques you can try at home). “You’ll appreciate every bite, making it more likely that you’ll eat less,” Amanda points out.
Instead of: Eating until you’re stuffed …
Try: Quitting the “clean plate” club. “When you’re paying for a meal, it’s normal to feel like you have to finish all your food,” Amanda confides. “But when you recognize that you’re full, ask your server to take your plate away or box it up.” Great way to enjoy your meal twice.
Instead of: Staying for that slice of pie
Try: Having a more nutritious dessert. It’s easy to be tempted by the dessert menu at the end of a meal. (Hey, they put the display case up front for a reason.) “If you’re hankering for something sweet, see if there are fresh fruit or low-sugar dishes,” says Amanda. Take a look at the menu for something similar to our dessert-inspired smoothies for a naturally sweet, yet nutritious, finale.
Going out to eat is one of life’s simple pleasures. With Amanda’s swaps, you can keep your hard-won habits in check while enjoying the moment—with energy to spare for writing that glowing restaurant review.
Note: Since everyone’s health history and nutritional needs are so different, please make sure that you talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to get advice about the diet and exercise plan that‘s right for you.