Dining out at your favorite restaurant is one of the more enjoyable experiences in life. Yet as one of America’s greatest pastimes, dining out at restaurants is often riddled with challenge – when introduced to the world of dieting.
Making healthy meal decisions when dining out is no small feat for most people… but that doesn’t have to be the case. Dining out on a diet is an obstacle that you can overcome. Armed with a little knowledge, preparation and motivation, you can make healthy meal choices when eating at your favorite restaurant regardless of the occasion or type of dishes served.
Going on a diet shouldn’t take you away from the restaurants you love. So what exactly does healthy restaurant eating mean, and how do you eat healthier when you’re not the one preparing the meal? Here are some helpful tips for dining out on a diet so you can make healthy meal choices on your next visit to your favorite restaurant.
5 Tips for Dining Out on a Diet
How to Eat Healthy at Your Favorite Restaurant
Making reservations at your favorite restaurant doesn’t have to conflict with your diet. There are plenty of healthy restaurant eating options that can work with your desire to keep the weight off and live a healthier lifestyle. If you make (and commit to) at least one healthy eating goal every time you dine out, you might be surprised how much you enjoy eating healthier, and how achievable dining out on a diet can be.
Consider this your healthy restaurant eating guide that will help you reach your goals.
Healthy Dining Tip #1- Control Your Hunger and Plan Your Meals
Hungry people make poor ordering decisions. It’s important that you don’t head to your favorite restaurant on a completely empty stomach. Controlling your hunger will put you in a better position to make healthy meal choices when dining out.
Follow a few healthy dining tips that will help you control your hunger and stick to your diet when dining out:
- Eat mini meals throughout the day if you’re planning on dining out that evening.
- If mini meals don’t tide you over, eat a small, healthy snack – like an apple – before going out to dinner.
- Many restaurants have their full menus online. Make a collection of your favorite restaurant menus – bookmark them online, print them out, request a menu to be faxed, pick one up in person – and highlight the healthiest meal choices. Decide on your dishes beforehand so you’re not tempted by the sight of other, unhealthy options.
- Order your (healthy) meal first so no one else’s decision influences yours.
Healthy Dining Tip #2- Portion Control is Key
Remember: too much of anything – even a good thing – is too much. You’re not competing for the Clean Plate Award, especially when you’re dining out on a diet. Stick to moderation and you will find it easier to stick to your diet when eating out at your favorite restaurant.
Follow some of these healthy restaurant eating tips to keep your portions in check:
- Cut your calories in half. Ask your server to wrap up half of your meal as soon as your dish arrives. If you’re getting takeout, save half of your meal in the refrigerator. This conjures up instant willpower, plus you’re able to stretch one meal into two.
- A healthy portion of meat is about the size of the palm of your hand.
- If you are full, stop eating. But…
- … Don’t deprive yourself of the things you love. If you still have room for dessert, just make healthier choices like sorbet, sherbet, a yogurt dish, fresh fruit, plain cake with fruit puree, or even a cup of coffee with a small scoop of ice cream.
- You can still have alcohol. Just don’t overdo it. A healthy serving of alcohol is one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. It’s perfectly diet friendly to have 4 ounces of red wine or a light beer a few times a week.
Healthy Dining Tip #3- Look for Healthy Eating Keywords
Trying to figure out what menu options are actually healthy menu options can be tough. There are some keywords that you should be keeping your eyes out for, however. Knowing which keywords to avoid will help you make healthier eating choices when dining out on a diet.
Steer clear of menu items containing these keywords:
- Cream-based sauce (example: Alfredo)
- Deep fried
- Melted cheese
Favor menu items containing these keywords:
- Tomato-based sauce
Healthy Dining Tip #4- The Little Things that Matter
It’s the little things in life. Surely you’ve heard that saying before, and it certainly applies to your healthy restaurant eating decisions. Dining out on a diet requires you to pay attention to the details.
Here are some additional healthy eating tips that will help you dine out on a diet with ease:
- Limit your sodium intake. Limit condiments that are high in salt – mustard, ketchup, pickles and sauces. Opt for fruits and vegetables instead of salty appetizers. Yes, and don’t use the salt shaker if you can help it.
- Healthy appetizer choices. Salads, cocktail shrimp, stuffed mushrooms, broth-based soup and broiled or baked chicken wings are all healthy appetizer alternatives.
- The infamous bread basket. If you still need to have a roll or breadstick before your meal, ask for whole grain options and stay away from the butter.
- Not all salads are created equally. Fruit salad, mixed greens or spinach salad is a healthy way to satisfy your hunger before your main course arrives. Things like added cheese, croutons, bacon bits and too much dressing can make a seemingly healthy choice quite the opposite. Forgo the above mentioned extras and ask for light, low-fat, or a vinaigrette salad dressing on the side.
- Healthy side alternatives. Instead of French fried or mashed potatoes, choose a baked potato, whole grain rice, or steamed, roasted or another vegetable dish as your side.
- Ordering a baked potato? Ask for salsa instead of sour cream, butter, cheese or bacon.
- “To meat or not to meat” doesn’t have to be a question. Trim visible fat off meat and poultry to make your entrée healthier. If you’re ordering a hamburger, eat it without half the bread and skip the mayo and butter, opting instead for mustard or ketchup.
These little extras are most times not worth the extra calories they bring to the table.
Healthy Dining Tip #5- Make Special Requests
Many restaurants will take your dietary needs into account, as they should. Don’t hesitate to ask your serve to accommodate your healthy eating habits. You’re the customer and you deserve to have a pleasant dining experience.
Special requests you can make when dining out on a diet:
- Request that your meal be prepared with healthier cooking techniques. Your food can be prepared with olive oil rather than butter, or without added salt. Stir-frying, steaming, grilling and baking are healthier alternatives to breaded or battered (refer to that keyword list in tip #3).
- Request healthier seasonings. You can request lemon and fresh herbs for seasonings for your steamed or broiled fish, for instance.
- Request sauces and salad dressings to be served on the side.
- Request oil and vinegar instead of the salad dressing options on the menu.
- Request to only be served half of your meal or dessert, and that the remaining half be put in a to-go container for you to take home.
You don’t have to be uncomfortable in the things you love to do, like dining out at your favorite restaurant. You don’t have to be left out of your next night out with friends, romantic meal with your loved one, or breakfast outing with your family. You can dine out on a diet and actually enjoy the experience. After all, the experience is really what restaurant dining is all about.
Arm yourself with the right knowledge about healthy restaurant eating and you will be on your way to enjoying your dining experience more deeply, diet or no diet.
Oh, and next time you’re at Ceres Bistro, please let your server know about any of your special dietary needs. Ceres is featuring a brand new Gluten free menu for lunch and dinner! Take a peek at our Gluten Free Lunch Menu and our Gluten Free Dinner Menu. We are more than happy to accommodate your needs so you can stay healthy and enjoy your favorite dishes!