For some people, eating out is an occasional indulgence. For others, it's a way of life. Either way, moderate portions and careful choices can help make restaurant meals fit into an overall healthy-eating plan. Follow these tips to eat your best even when dining out.
1. Order more plant-based foods.
- Try an exotic fruit — kiwi or papaya, for example — for variety.
- Order your favorite vegetables, but don't smother them in rich, high-fat dressings or cream sauces.
- Order items that include whole-grain foods to get your fiber.
2. Control fat.
- Order baked or broiled. Avoid fried.
- Ask for smaller portions of fatty foods — such as meats and fatty sauces — or ask for substitutions.
3. Mind your manners — it'll help you cut calories.
- Eat slowly for better digestion. You'll feel full before overeating.
- Don't gulp your food; chew thoroughly.
- Order food that requires work and slows down your eating, such as crab legs.
- Share your meal with a companion.
4. Order beverages with few or no calories.
- Order water or sparkling water with a twist of lemon — it's healthy, filling and has no calories.
- For a hot drink, try black decaf coffee or hot tea, minus sugar and other extras.
- Be aware that alcoholic beverages may have more calories than you'd expect, and alcohol may stimulate your appetite and weaken your willpower.
5. Look for a Lighter Option
When trying to eat healthier at restaurants, it pays to strategize a bit. "Major restaurant chains like The Cheesecake Factory are offering a lighter fare section, which I think is a fantastic option for anyone trying to make healthier choices," Sassos explains. "These dishes try to incorporate the signature rich taste, but for a fraction of the calories of some of the traditional dishes." Look for special sections like these at your favorite chain restaurant, too.
6. Right-Size Your Portions
Your mother may have taught you to clean your plate, but we're sorry to have to break it to you that her advice no longer applies. Restaurant portion sizes can be significantly larger than recommended, especially at chain and fast-casual restaurants. "Don’t be afraid to listen to your body and cancel your membership to the clean plate club," says Sassos. "You can always pack your leftovers to-go or share the dish with a friend if the portion size is huge."
7. Eat With Your Eyes
Especially when dining out with friends and family, it's easy to get so caught up in the company that you clean your plate without really even tasting your food. Researchers at Cornell University tested this phenomenon by hosting a Super Bowl party for 50 people and serving unlimited chicken wings. At half the tables, waiters scooped away the bones as they ate. But at tables where partiers could see their scraps piling up, they ate 27% less.
Pay attention to your body's signals as you eat, too. As soon as you start to feel full, stop eating, and give yourself a few minutes before you eat more.
8. Watch For Hidden Traps
Think you're safe ordering a salad? You might want to read the menu more carefully. "Although salads are a fantastic way to get your vegetables, restaurants often overload them with high-fat dressings and calorically dense toppings," Sassos says. "Your salad could be upwards of 1,000 calories when all of the toppings are said and done." If you do go for the greens, order dressing on the side so you can control how much goes on.
9. Add to Your Meal
Think eating healthfully is all about what you can't eat? Focus on what healthy items you can add to your plate instead of only what foods to avoid. Look for whole-grain breads, pastas and sides; opt for foods with healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds; be sure to order lots of fruits and veggies; and go for lean meat, turkey, chicken or fish.
10. Get your whole grains
Request 100% whole-wheat breads, rolls, and pasta when choosing sandwiches, burgers, or main dishes.