Photos by Haritha Pavuluri, Words by Kelsey Lloyd
We’ve all been there. You know you’re going out to eat, but you’ve also been keeping your eating habits in check. So you start to mentally prepare, telling yourself over and over that a salad is the best way to go. You’re sure of your choice; you might even develop a sense of pride. You’ve got this in the bag; you are a walking model of health. Then when the time comes and the menu is sitting in front of you, that salad might just be the last thing you want. But don’t worry! These tips will get you through the dilemma—and you’ll leave the table without any unnecessary calories or regrets.
The first line of defense is going to be strategizing for everything that comes before the actual meal. When deciding on a drink, try to skip out on anything sugary and opt for water or an unsweetened tea. Then, most restaurants will bring you a bread basket or some chips to snack on. Your best bet would be to pass on these, but that’s borderline impossible. So if you can’t resist, put just one piece of bread or a handful of those chips on your appetizer plate and limit yourself to only having that much. Often times, entrées will come with soup or salad to eat beforehand. When it comes to soups, choose something that’s broth based and not cream based. Creamy soups and chowders can easily pack in unwanted calories and fats. Getting a soup with vegetables is also a great way to up your veggie intake without it feeling like an obligation. Salads follow a similar suit as far as the dressing goes. Choose a thin dressing as opposed to a creamy one and order it on the side. Restaurant chefs will often prepare salads with large amounts of dressing. So while you may think you’re erring on the side of healthy, you could be getting just as many calories as you would in any other entrée. With the dressing on the side, you control how much you’re eating. It is also helpful for some to dip the fork in the dressing before using it to pick up your food; this way you get the perfect amount for each bite without overdoing it.
Congratulations, we’ve made it through the first rounds. Now it’s time to tackle the entrée. As a general guideline, a plate should be roughly divided into quarters—one for fruit, one for vegetables, one for grains, and one for protein (and a milk or dairy serving somewhere in there). These isn’t always feasible, so just use it as a guide. I find that often times, a plate is more along the lines of one-third each protein, grain, and vegetables. When deciding on a meal, choosing something simply prepared is the best route. Extra creams, sauces, gravies, and breadings tend to hold a great deal of extra calories, fats, and salt. Keywords such as crispy, breaded, and creamy are indicative of options to avoid. If you are ordering something with sauce, again, go with a vegetable-based sauce such as marinara as opposed to a cream-based sauce such as alfredo. The thing about entrées is that you can make requests about the preparation. And don’t be afraid to! Ask for extra veggies or if that crispy fried chicken breast can be grilled instead. Ask for sauces on the side or to substitute the white rice with brown rice. Nine times out of ten they will cooperate with you.
So now you have your meal. Just two more things I want you to note. First is to taste the food before you salt it. It was most likely prepared with salt and you don’t want to add too much. The second thing is to try and eat about half of the meal. Restaurant plates often hold two to three times what a regular portion size should be and we end up eating more than we normally would. So just commit yourself at the beginning to only about half of the plate. You get your money’s worth this way too! At this point, you’ve enjoyed a meal while cutting out some of the unnecessary trimmings and without defaulting to “just a salad” (although plenty of entrée salads are super satisfying and equally delicious). Hopefully you can take these tips and ideas to make a few simple tweaks; ultimately, you will have a plate you can savor with peace of mind, knowing you made the healthier choice. Finding the best option while eating out doesn’t have to be a daunting task—a little creativity goes a long way!