Restaurants can be your best friend. They are always there when you need them and they give you everything you want and more. Refueling our bodies is a necessity and many of us simply do not have the desire or time to put forth the effort into preparing our own meals. Restaurants provide the perfect solution: we can walk in, plop down, order exactly what we are craving and our wish is brought to life within a matter of minutes – all while we’re chipping away at our hunger with complimentary appetizers.
Let’s not count our blessings too soon. Restaurants are notorious for creating meals that appeal to our taste buds, but not necessarily our bodies’ nutritional needs. We must outsmart the standard restaurant menu. In order to make healthy decisions, we have to educate ourselves on what to avoid and what to gravitate toward. Use these 20 tips to help you make the right decisions:
When ordering beverages…
1) Opt for water: Keep your body hydrated. Water satisfies the feeling of hunger and it’s beneficial for your body in more ways than you can imagine.
2) Liquids are not freebies: Don’t forget to count the caloric intake of your beverage, which can range from 0 – 1,000+ calories. Steer clear of alcoholic concoctions and dessert-inspired creations.
3) Free refills can be expensive: Water is always your best choice, but if you splurge on a soda or artificial fruit juice be mindful of how many times your cup is refilled. One is already more than enough.
When ordering appetizers…
4) $0 does not mean 0 calories: Simply because bread and chips are free does not mean they are calorie-free. In fact, these are usually mindless, empty calories with no nutritional value.
5) Pass the bread: If a restaurant does offer complimentary appetizers, ask them to take it away. It will reduce the temptation to start mindlessly snacking while waiting for your meal. DID YOU KNOW? One bread stick has approximately 150 calories. Eat three of these and you can quickly pack on 450 calories to your meal!
6) Be prepared: Do not enter a restaurant starving. You will fill-up on whatever arrives first and potentially overeat. Bring a handful of raw nuts or fresh fruit to snack on in lieu of appetizers. Tip: A perfect portion of raw almonds fits great in an empty mint tin!
When ordering soups & salads…
7) Over the rainbow: The different colors of fruits and vegetables indicate their vitamin and mineral content. Try to include various colors of the rainbow for a robust meal.
8) Dark side: Vegetables that have higher color saturation typically have more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Tip: Choose fresh spinach or mixed greens over iceberg lettuce.
9) On the side: Request dressing on the side and use a fork to create the perfect balance between taste and nutrition in each bite. Aside from fried meats, dressings are the #1 calorie-killer in salads. Tip: Choose vinegar-based dressings over dressings that are described as “creamy.”
10) Beware of the loaded soup: Choose broth and vegetable based soups (like Lentil, Chicken and Minestrone Soup) as opposed to cream based soups (like Chowders and Cream of Mushroom).
When ordering entrees…
11) Do your homework: Before you even choose a restaurant, research ahead of time. Nearly every restaurant posts their menu online. Mentally pre-ordering your meal limits impulsive decisions based on cravings.
12) Create your own meal: Most restaurants are happy to accommodate your special requests. Take a look at ingredients used in other menu items and make your own creation. Shoot for 45% complex carbohydrates from whole grains and vegetables, 30% lean protein and 20% healthy fats. Here are some healthy options found at restaurants: chicken, salmon, turkey, legumes, spinach, broccoli, squash, carrots, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice and fresh fruit.
13) Not so saucy: Stay away from creamy sauces. Ask your waiter to omit the sauce or replace it with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and use spices to add flavor.
14) Make it dry: Ask for your meats, vegetables and sides to be dry. This means no added butter, oil or sauce.
15) Ditch the skin: When ordering poultry, ask for the skin to be removed (if it isn’t already). The saturated fat found in poultry skin is unhealthy and can cause high cholesterol.
16) Upgrade your combo: A restaurant meal combination typically includes a form of over-processed, high-fat potatoes. Enhance your meal by replacing this portion with a green salad, fresh fruit or nutrient-rich vegetables.
17) Portion control: It is possible to eat too much even when ordering healthy. Pre-determine what should be leftover and place it in a to-go box before you start eating. Don’t know how much is too much? A serving of complex carbs should be about the size of your fist, lean protein should be about the size of your palm and healthy fats should be about the size of your thumb (of course, everyone’s dietary needs vary – figure your needs out ahead of time to help you make the right choice).
18) Take a breath…or two: It takes approximately 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain it’s full. The Journal of The American Dietetic Association conducted a study which shows those who take their time eating consume an average of 66 fewer calories than their fast-eating counterparts while feeling like they’ve eaten more. Savor every bite!
When ordering desserts…
19) Save it for later: Let your meal digest before settling on sweets. Go ahead and take a walk after your meal to get your metabolism going. Desserts may sound tasty, but ask yourself if you’re still hungry. Remember to allow your stomach at least 20 minutes to give you an honest answer.
20) Fresh fruit: Try satisfying your sweet tooth with fresh fruit. Fruit has natural sugars that make for a delicious dessert packed with essential nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants and vitamins.