Eating out at restaurants with friends and family can be a true pleasure. It can be so nice to be able to be out and about, enjoy special food and the company of others, and, let’s not lie, it sure is nice to have a break from meal prep, cooking, and doing the dishes!
If you’re on a journey to renewed health or fat loss, however, you might occasionally worry that social gatherings and eating at restaurants might “ruin” your progress. I’m here to reassure that with a mindful approach, this does not need to be the case!
To help arm you for success, I’m thrilled to share my top tips to help you make healthier choices when eating out as well as some of my favorite healthier picks from different types of restaurants.
And don’t forget, the best way to get better at making healthy choices at restaurants is to *practice* making those choices. Get out of your comfort zone and experiment with these tips! You can absolutely do this.
CBJ General Tips for Eating Out
- REVIEW THE MENU BEFOREHAND
If you have a “plan” to eat out and know where you’ll be going try to review the menu as soon as you can. That will help you plan all other meals & snacks around the meal being eaten out and also help you focus on not only what you’d like to order, but how you can fit it into your wider long term health goals.
Pro Tip: Be sure to think about the other caloric aspects of the meal you’ll encounter when planning ahead such as chips/bread, alcoholic beverages, appetizers, dessert… how can you prioritize what you want the most?
- WHAT TO ENJOY AND WHAT TO SKIP
Prioritizing your food choices are a must. Remember, while you “can” enjoy any food and make it part of a balanced lifestyle, you most likely “can’t” have everything at once without consequences. Decide ahead of time what you will enjoy and what you will skip this time! Clarity is key to success.
If you are macro counting, be sure to pre-track your “treats” ahead of time so you can account for wanting to have a glass of wine or dessert etc.
- DON’T ARRIVE STARVING!
While it might be tempting to skip meals or snacks before the dining out occasion, this can often backfire when you find yourself starving and unable to make balanced decisions when you arrive at a restaurant. Moderate your hunger by eating balanced throughout the day so you don’t arrive starving and are able to wait for your order rather than wolfing down bread and chips. That being said, you can focus on high volume/low calorie foods earlier in the day to help balance your overall caloric intake for the day (think: a protein smoothie or big salad with lean protein for lunch).
The key is to plan and set yourself up for success!.
- DRINK UP
Before Your Meal: Be sure to get your fluids in before and during your meal and order water, unsweetened hot or iced tea or coffee, or sparkling water w/ lemon or lime – especially if you’re planning to indulge on an alcoholic beverage!
Alcoholic Beverages: If you do indulge in alcohol…enjoy a gin or vodka & soda w/ lots of fresh lime, lite beer, white or red wine, etc…be sure to exercise portion control as most alcohol has “empty” calories and is a source of sugar.
After Dinner: Have a cup of coffee or tea instead of dessert after the meal.
- SLOW IT DOWN
Like with any meal, staying mindful and eating slowly is key in knowing when you’re body is satisfied. When eating out, it can be easy to be distracted by the social and physical environment so try to pause occasionally and check in with yourself. Using a cue such as putting your fork down between bites can be powerful in it’s simplicity as a reminder to slow down and enjoy your food!
If the meal is a celebration, focus more on the social aspect of the your dining out experience verses the food experience.
- ORDER WISELY WITH THESE TRICKS…
Check out the appetizers – there are often great simple protein and vegetable options available there!
Choose soup or salad as a starter.
Ask for sauces or dressings on the side.
Choose broth, stock or tomato based vs cream based soups & sauces.
Choose a baked potato or extra veggies over French fries.
Focus on foods that are steamed, grilled, roasted, poached rather than fried or crispy or sautéed.
Choose foods that you may not often or ever prepare. If you often cook chicken at home often, opt for something like fish or pork.
Choose anything that is chopped and diced by someone else. It’s nice to fully enjoy someone else’s work in the kitchen!
If you “plan” to indulge on dessert, first, make sure it’s something you truly enjoy. Additionally, sharing is always a wonderful option. This is the easiest way to taste something decadent yet, exercise portion control, and enjoy.
CBJ RESTAURANT PICKS BY CUISINE
Enjoy: Sashimi, Sushi Rolls (avoid fried and cream cheese options), Miso Soup, Edamame, Mixed green salad with carrot ginger dressing
Limit: Deep Fried Options (often labeled Agemano, Tempura or Katsu), Teriyaki Sauce (high in sugar),
Tips + Tricks: Mix and match to balance out your meal! For example, order one roll of sushi (about 6 pieces), a few pieces of sashimi and/or edamame to boost protein content, and a mixed green salad with carrot ginger dressing. Order any sauces on the side.
Enjoy: Tandoori Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala, Raita, Vegetable or Meat Shish Kabab
Limit: Samosa, Pakora, Coconut milk or cream dishes
Tips + Tricks: Choose one carb option to add to your plate with a protein dish and add a vegetable side dish
Enjoy: Hot and Sour Soup, Wonton Soup, Steamed Spring Rolls, Terriyaki Chicken Skewers, Steamed Veggies, Stir Fries, Bok Choy, Steamed shrimp or chicken dishes
Limit: Fried egg rolls, General Tso’s Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken, rich sauces like hoisin or sweet and sour sauce
Enjoy: Thai Spring Rolls (not fried), Soups (broth based vs coconut), Thai Salads, Chicken Satay
Limit: Fried options, coconut milk dishes and peanut dipping sauces
Enjoy: Caprese Salad, Minestrone Soup, Fish & Mussels, Bruschetta, Whole Grain Pasta, Meatballs
Limit: White or Garlic Bread, Cream Sauces like Alfredo, Creamy Dressings like Caesar
Tips + Tricks: Go easy on sauces and oils. Skip the bread. Substitute veggies wherever possible. Give soup and salad a try verses a loaded pasta.
Enjoy: Fajitas, Fresh Fish, Tacos, Ceviche, Taco Salad, Tortilla Soup, Black or Pinto Beans, Guacamole, Salsa
Limit: Fried Items such as Chimichangas, Loaded Nachos, Hidden calorie toppings such as: Sour cream, Cheddar Cheese, Chips, Refried Beans (which in most restaurants are made with lard!) and Queso.
Tips + Tricks: Watch out for the hidden calories in the toppings. Choose a protein and limit toppings to veggies, salsa, and guacamole.
Enjoy: Couscous, Hummus, Tzatziki, Dolmades, Chickpeas, Greek Salad, Grilled Chicken, Falafels, Lamb Kabobs
Limit: Pita bread, Red Meats, Refined Grains
Tips + Tricks: Find a grilled meat or fish with plenty of vegetables on the side. Skip the Baklava if it isn’t made in house. If it is, then be sure to share!
Enjoy: Lean cuts of beef and pork, House Salads with vinaigrette, Fresh Fish, Grilled Chicken, baked potato, and non-creamy veggies.
Limit: Creamy salad dressings, Fried Appetizers such as pickles or onions and anything “Loaded” such as potatoes, soup, and burgers
Tips + Tricks: Substitute French fries with a baked potato and veggies. Choose fewer less cuts of red meat such as sirloin and grilled pork chops.