By Lisa Rhea
Going out to eat may be a necessity in your daily life, an occasional splurge, a regular weekend occurrence or somewhere in between. Regardless of how often you’re hitting the drive-thru, bistro or fine-dining scene, it’s an obvious pitfall for bad decisions and hidden calories. If you’re watching your waistline, here are some tips for ordering out that will give you a fighting chance at success.
1. Scout it out. Nearly every establishment has their menu online, and most have the calorie counts for the foods listed as well. Either way, gathering knowledge and choosing your meal prior to getting to the restaurant will allow you to make sound decisions, avoid last minute impulse picks and get the most bang for your calories.
This is especially helpful if you’re going out with friends you haven’t seen for awhile, a date or on a business meeting, where you may not have ample time to review the menu at the table. By taking your time and looking over the options beforehand, you’ll know all the main courses, side dishes, substitutions available, etc. and can research any ingredients you don’t know by name.
2. Pick your plate, pick your fate. Depending on your goals, pick your dish accordingly. If you’re trying to keep your calories lower, look for meals that have a strong protein base, such as lean steaks, chicken breast, fish fillets and pork tenderloin, then pair them with vegetable side dishes.
Be careful for foods that sound healthy but are laden with extra fat and calories, such as fried chicken or fish and fatty cuts of meat.
Vegetarian dishes can also be high in calories from heavy sauces and added cheese, so don’t assume veggies automatically mean healthy.
3. Beware of imposters. Like with the meats, watch for other additions to otherwise healthy foods. Salads are often some of the worst offenders. All those fabulous ingredients sound amazing, but often the portions of cheese, nuts, and other toppings cancel out the health offerings. Not to mention the dressings – look for lighter options and ask for them on the side.
Be wary of any sauces, especially those that are oil-based or cream-based. They are wrought with calories and can quickly diminish the health value of the meal. Again, ask for them on the side to be able to control the amount you consume.
4. Seek additional intel. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Servers will generally know how items are prepared. Just don’t be obnoxious when asking – we’ve all seen the movie Waiting.
You’d be amazed at the techniques used in some kitchens and how much oil and butter are added to otherwise healthy foods. For example, one restaurant I waited tables at listed their vegetables as “steamed” on the menu, but actually dropped them in the deep fryer before putting them on the cooktop.
If you want to avoid too many questions, when ordering your sides, such as potatoes, rice or vegetables, just ask for them to be plain, with no oils. Oftentimes, the butter on vegetables constitutes twice or three times as many calories as the actual vegetable (i.e.: a cup of green beans is approximately 35 calories, and a tablespoon of butter is 100 calories).
5. Pace yourself. Portion sizes at most restaurants are absurdly oversized. Eat slowly, set your fork down between bites, chew your food thoroughly and be mindful when you eat.
When you get your plate, it’s a good idea to estimate how much you think would be an adequate serving, then when you finish this amount, pause for a bit, drink more water and decide if you’re really still hungry. If so, keep mindfully eating. If not, ask for a box and enjoy it later.
Making healthy choices when you’re eating out can be a true struggle. The above methods can help you navigate the troubled waters a little easier. Do you have any tricks you use to stay on track? Let us know!