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How to Make Smart Choices When Eating Out

Silvia Carli

09/09/2020
By Silvia Carli

Cooking your own food from scratch is one of the best ways to ensure you’re sticking to healthy eating habits. But healthy eating doesn’t mean you have to abandon your social life. Eating out while eating healthy is entirely doable. For many people, dining out is relaxing and a social event with friends and family. The good news is that usually, you can find a healthier option at most restaurants. This article explores some of the best tips to follow if you want to make healthier food decisions when you eat out.

The Secret To Making Healthy Choices When Dining Out – Dominique Sachse

When ordering food at a restaurant, it’s difficult to know which items might be loaded with calories, fat, and sugar. Unlike shopping at the grocery store, restaurants might not have a full nutrition breakdown. Meals may include ingredients you’re unaware of that sneak in hidden calories. That’s why it can be tough to stick to healthy eating when you’re dining out.

Eating out is often seen as a treat. When you’re trying to stick to a healthy diet or looking to drop a few pounds, it’s tempting to overindulge. Many people naturally move toward unhealthier options high in calories, sodium, and fat. While places like all-you-can-eat restaurants are attractive, it’s best to avoid this level of temptation. It’s too easy to load up your plate and binge-eat in one sitting.

When you know more about the food you’re eating and the type of meals the restaurant offers, you can make the right decision. These simple guidelines and tips can help you eat smarter when dining out.

8 Tips for Making Healthy Choices When Eating Out

  1. Read the Menu Before You Go
  2. Limit the Bread and Butter Baskets
  3. Control the Portions
  4. Order Dressings and Sauces on the Side
  5. Skip Sweet Drinks
  6. Try to Avoid Fried Foods
  7. Share Your Sides
  8. Split Dessert

1. Read the Menu Before You Go

It’s a good idea to do your research before you go. If you can, check the menu online, so you know what choices you have. When you get into the practice of researching the menu before visiting a restaurant, it helps you make well-thought-out decisions.

Another tip is to make sure you’re not starving before leaving for the restaurant. When you’re super hungry, it can affect your choices and the amount of food you will eat. No matter how much research you do beforehand, on the spot decisions could be your downfall when you’re hungry. Your hunger hormones can massively influence your food choices.

2. Limit the Bread and Butter Baskets

The bread and butter baskets are a huge temptation. They arrive at the table, and all of a sudden, you’re on your second basket. Instead, consciously try to pace yourself. Have one piece instead of devouring the first basket and asking for thirds before your food has arrived at the table. Try to slow things down and make an active effort to have only one piece. You’re not cutting it out completely, just managing portions more effectively.

Traditional French bread.
Try To Slow Things Down And Make An Active Effort To Have Only One Piece Of The Bread And Butter (Image Source: Shutterstock)

3. Control the Portions

Portion control can go a long way in helping you to manage your food intake and make smart choices. Before you head to the restaurant, decide in advance to split a meal. One option is to ask your server to pre-package half of your meal. Another option is to share a meal with one of your friends.

In today’s society, it’s normal to be in a hurry, so we tend to rush when eating. Mindful eating can help you to slow down and listen to your body. Things like slowing down and respecting your body’s signals allow you to tune in with your hunger and stop eating when you’re full.

4. Order Dressings and Sauces on the Side

Dressings and sauces can often be the source of hidden calories and fat. When you fancy dressing or sauce with your meal, order it on the side. The simple practice of dipping your fork in the dressing before pinching your salad can save tons of calories and fat. Another way to avoid additional calories is by choosing a simple, fresh salad without bacon, croutons, candied nuts, and cheeses. All these foods add extra calories to a meal.

Ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard soy sauce, bbq sauce, pesto, chimichurri, mustard grains and pomegranate sauce on dark stone background.
Order The Dressing Or Sauces On The Side As It Can Often Be The Source Of Hidden Calories And Fat (Image Sources: Shutterstock)

5. Skip Sweet Drinks

In the U.S. diet, sugary drinks are the largest source of calories and added sugar. A typical can of soda can contain a whopping seven to ten teaspoons of sugar.

It’s easy to forget about your drink choices when the main focus is on the food. If possible, try to skip sweet drinks—instead, order water. Sugary drink refills will keep on coming, and your potential sugar intake may end up significantly higher than intended.

6. Try to Avoid Fried Foods

Where possible, try to avoid fried foods. Look for cooking methods like grilled, broiled, steamed, and braised. Lean protein foods like cod, shrimp, and turkey are usually a healthier alternative. In general, these types of foods contain less fat and calories in comparison to fried foods. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your server for more information.

7. Share Your Sides

It can be tempting to order every side on the menu, but try to keep portion control in mind when eating out. Compromise on your sides. Why not share the fries with the table and order a side of fruit or fresh vegetables? Try adding a fresh side salad to your meal.

8. Split Dessert

When it comes to dessert, it’s tempting to treat yourself. Instead of avoiding dessert altogether, try splitting with the people at the table. Another option is to ask for a single serving of ice cream, or perhaps just a coffee or tea after your meal.

Two girl friends drinking coffee in the cafe.
Try Splitting With The People At The Table (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Although eating dessert isn’t exactly healthy, there are ways to enjoy it in moderation. Try to stick to similar eating rules that you’d adhere to at home. You don’t need to give up dessert, but you may want to order it less often or share it with your table. A top tip is to order your dessert after you finish your mains and not before. You may get to the end of the meal and not even be hungry anymore.

The Bottom Line: How to Eat Smarter When Dining Out

Have you ever left a restaurant and had to loosen your belt a notch? Well, everyone’s been there. A few too many pieces of bread or mindless overindulging can leave you feeling bloated and guilty. By taking control and preparing yourself with the right tactics when eating out, you can eat smarter and make healthier choices.

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