I was out for dinner recently with some of my girlfriends, and as I browsed the menu, I listened to them gush about their “post yoga glow” and how they’ve been so good with keeping carbs at bay. They zoned in on the salads and enthusiastically discussed which one they’re “feeling” today. They eventually decided they would each get a different kind, so they can share. I would’ve chimed in about my own constant state of mindful healthy eating, but I was could-eat-a-horse-starving (and, in retrospect, probably PMS-ing pretty bad), so I found something on the menu that had a bit more… substance and staying power. Plus, it was a 113-degree day in blistering Phoenix, Ariz., so…
Server comes to take my order first. “I’ll have the shaved ribeye sandwich please, with a side of fries. Oh, and a Coke.” I set my menu down and see the look on my friends’ faces. I couldn’t tell if they were jealous or annoyed at my indulgence, but their battle plans for dinner changed quite a bit. Soon, a chicken quesadilla, and a burger arrived at the table with my ribeye sammy. My friends both loved and hated me for suddenly rescheduling their cheat day, but we all deserve to be human and hungry every once in a while, right?
But for most days, when we’re out and about yet need to stay committed to both short- and long-term health and fitness goals, the following tips may come in handy:
1. Pick leaner cuisines. I don’t know about you, but I avoid certain restaurants like they’re the plague whenever I’m trying to eat better. American cuisine is mostly about the carbs and saturated fat, and whether it’s at a restaurant or diner, portion sizes tend to be quite large. My personal favorite comfort food, Chinese cuisine, has a bad reputation for having MSG (monosodium glutamate), and is usually stir-fried and doused in sodium-rich, albeit delicious sauce. Italian cuisine is definitely carb, cheese, and meat heavy, too. Choose cuisines that feature more whole grains, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein, such as Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Greek. Restaurants with seasonal menus tend to offer more vegetable-heavy dishes, and use fresher, more responsibly farmed ingredients.
2. Chug that water. Most restaurants make sure guests have a glass of water while they look over the menu and wait. There is nothing to lose, yet everything to be gained if you try to down that first glass of water before your order arrives. You’re both boosting hydration and curbing your appetite for free!
3. Take it home. I love being able to eat something “again” in the comfort of my home and pajamas, which is why I choose my dine-out orders based on portion size and reheat potential. This is a great habit to form because you get to save on two things: calories and money! Don’t be embarrassed to immediately ask for a box once your order arrives. The sooner you get that take home portion off your plate, the sooner your brain can accept that it’ll have to feel full on what’s left.
4. S.O.S. Sauce On The Side can be one of the best things you can do for yourself when dining out. From salads to nachos to chicken wings, having control over how much sauce your food is covered or tossed in is essential to mindful eating. Keeping the sauce separate and only adding it as you go through your meal will also help keep it fresh and edible longer to be great take out.
5. You don’t have to pick a side. If you can, fight the urge to get anything else on the side of your order – even if it already comes with something. Either offer it to other people at the table, or just tell your server you don’t want to waste food. Create little inconveniences between you and unnecessary calories. If you do want a side, go for something cooked differently, such as baked potatoes instead of French fries. Also, don’t be fooled by rice pilafs. They taste good for a reason: butter and oil, and lots of it.
Those are only a few of my tips for those of us trying to toe the line between healthy living and living a little. What are your ninja secrets for dining out?