Tips for Eating Healthy When Dining Out
Current research supports the importance of diet to our overall wellness. We now know more than ever about the huge role food plays in our immunity, risk for disease, genetic expressions and mental health. As we transition into summer, changes in our daily routine (think: school’s out!, BBQ’s, holidays, extra time spent with family and friends) might throw us off track. Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks to eating out that can help support your journey and continue to promote overall wellness.
In my clinic and when I meet with members at VillaSport, one of the first things that come up is how to navigate times when you don’t always have control over the food options to choose from. When it comes to selecting what to put on your plate when dining out, there are some things to consider. Here is an example of what an ideal plate looks like:
The first thing I usually suggest is to look up the menu online prior to heading to the restaurant. This helps you prepare what to order. If it’s a potluck, bring something that fits into your meal plan. Try your best to avoid arriving to the restaurant or party starving (just like you don't want to grocery shop hungry!). Have a handful of nuts and some apple slices to help curb the hunger. Once you get there, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Skip the bread and butter.
This is where the light snack prior to your meal comes in handy!
2. Get as many servings of veggies as possible.
Order a salad first with dressing (some type of vinaigrette) on the side. This way, you may be able to finish your dinner for lunch the next day, and this ensures you get a couple more servings of veggies. Remember, one serving of vegetables is equal to 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked. We are aiming for 10 servings a day, but it is less for fruit. You can also bolster your meal by asking to add spinach and tomatoes to anything! When I order a taco salad, I ask them to add fajita vegetables (sautéed dry) and spinach. Another tip, get avocado slices instead of guacamole.
3. Split your dinner with someone.
Both of you order your salad (or a broth-based soup) to start, and then split the entree.
4. Avoid added fats.
Look for items that are grilled, poached (in water, not cream sauce!), broiled, steamed, braised, baked or roasted. These will be less likely to have added fats during cooking. Many places will finish the steak and fish with butter, so you can ask that they leave this off, ask for the butter on the side, add just a little to taste or skip it all together. Make sure it’s butter, not margarine!
5. Focus on the rainbow.
You can always ask for a side of steamed vegetables in place of a starchy side (read: fries, mashed potatoes, mac 'n cheese, onion rings, tots, rice - you get the idea!) because starch = sugar and we are trying to get higher amounts of nutrients in our foods! Try and view your meat portion as more of a condiment than the main event. Focus on the rainbow...how many colors can you get on your plate?!
6. Hold off the salt.
You can also mention to your server to please have the kitchen hold the extra salt as some chefs choose to finish a dish that way. Then make sure once your meal arrives, you pass on adding the salt yourself! And watch the condiments - soy sauce has SO MUCH sodium! The goal is to keep your daily intake to less than 2,500mg - that's basically only ONE teaspoon. Just sayin'.
7. Watch those liquid calories!
Opt for water (flat or sparkling), unsweetened iced tea, herbal tea or coffee (sans excess cream and sugar - no creamers! I know, I'm so mean).
8. Have a dark chocolate or eat less dessert.
Have a bar of dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao) waiting for you either in the car or at home and enjoy that for dessert. Or skip looking at that part of the menu all together! But if you must, then order a kids' size or split it with someone. Better yet, split it with someone then split your portion and take the rest home for dessert the next night!
9. Check the nutrition info.
Chain restaurants with a certain number of locations are required to show you the nutrition information of their food on their menu, so be aware that you have this as a potential resource as well.
What is also important is to change the conversation around food. When you choose the healthy options, other people (and if you have kids, they do too) notice and might ask you questions. Engage them! Share what you know! The more we can share what we have learned about how to eat and why, the more we can support our community!
Making important choices around your food on a daily basis is essential if you wish to be in optimal health. If you have questions or if you are interested in more information regarding your diet and nutrition, you can contact me at email@example.com.
Our contributor, Megan Gardner, is the staff nutritionist at our club in Beaverton, Oregon. Megan holds her Master’s of Science in Clinical Nutrition and is a Certified Nutrition Specialist. Outside of VillaSport, Megan keeps a private clinical practice and is a care team affiliate with naturopathic physicians. She can be reached for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.