At this time of year, we tend to eat out a lot. It can be difficult to stay on track with your healthy diet when this happens. However, eating out does not have to derail your weight loss (or weight maintenance) efforts. Being prepared and having a strategic plan will allow you to eat out at almost any restaurant and still stay on track.
TIP 1 – Plan ahead: Most restaurants have their menus online and some even have the nutritional info posted (chains mostly). Go online, search for the nutrition information of the restaurant you want to go to, and plan out your choices. Popular restaurants that have all their nutrition facts posted online include Starbucks, Panera Bread, Au Bon Pain, Cosi, Hale and Hearty, Pizza Hut, Chipotle, The Keg, Milestones, Montana’s, Boston Pizza, and more. Try this website (click here) for a pretty broad listing of restaurants and their menu item nutrition facts. Also, if you want the low-down on nutrition information for menu items, The Economistran a great commentary on the issue as it pertains to New York when in first hit the fan in 2011.
As you can see, getting the nutritional information before you go has become relatively easy; it just requires a little homework.
Once you arrive:
TIP 3- Drink please! Try ordering a warm drink first thing such as hot water with some fresh lemon slices. You’ll be surprised how this warm calming drink can fill you up and soothe the craving/hunger beast. Herbal tea is also a great option while coffee tends to throw off blood sugar levels and may lead to cravings and bad decisions later on.
TIP 4 – Be an assertive orderer: Don’t be afraid to modify the menu. Trust me, in this age of “nutritionism”, waiters are used to it. Ask questions and know the terminology. Grilled, steamed, broiled, boiled, and baked are fine, but beware of terms such as creamy, smothered, lightly breaded, deep fried. Ask for sauces on the side and leave out the fries/rice/pasta/potatoes that usually come with the main entree and ask for extra veggies instead (most restaurants are happy to do this).
TIP 5 – Start with soup or salad: Both can be filling and satisfying. Order the dressing on the side and dip your fork lightly in the dressing before every bite. Stay with non-creamy soups. Ask the server if dairy is added so you will know if they add cream or cheese or even butter (extra tip: you can tell your server that you are lactose intolerant to make sure they don’t add cream, butter, or cheese)
TIP 6 – Appetizers as the main course: Try ordering from the appetizer menu if you don’t find anything you want on the main menu such as grilled calamari ,caprese salad, or shrimp cocktail. Smaller portions save calories and are less expensive.
TIP 7 – Liquor Control: Alcohol can stimulate hunger so never drink on an empty stomach (This really throws off blood sugar) and try to follow the 1:1 rule; follow a glass of wine with a full glass of water. Even try to cut the wine with ½ club soda or Perrier in a wine Spritzer or mix vodka with soda water.
TIP 8 – Portion Control/Leftovers for the next day: Most restaurants provide huge portions–take a look at the size of the plate or bowl! Eyeball your serving size (palm of your hand) and divide your portion accordingly. Make a mental note to have the rest packed-up for home, or, better yet, ask the waiter for a to-go container and box it up right away. Added bonus: you have less to cook the next day.
The smart phone world is still trying to stay on top of restaurant nutrition. There are a few good apps out there, but they need constant updating. Here are a few free ones that are worth trying, just to get a sense of what your waistline is up against:
Restaurant Nutrition by Foundation HealthCare Network
Restaurant Nutrition by Unified Lifestyle
Calorie Count Nutrition Search by Calorie Count