I always feel like February marks a month of date nights, dinner parties, and girl’s nights out. Valentine’s Day gives us that extra excuse to dine out on the town, and if you live somewhere snowy, there’s nothing more comforting than making dinner reservations at a cozy neighborhood restaurant while you wait for the warmer temps of spring to arrive. However, while dining out is great for your social schedule and taste buds, it’s not always so great for your waistline.
So, with these temptations in mind, I reflected on some tips I turn to that help me focus on making healthy choices at a restaurant. Without further ado, here are a few things that will help you make healthy meal choices while you’re out on the town…
1. Research the menu ahead of time.
This tip is so simple yet so effective: Do your research before your reservation. It’s easy to look up a restaurant menu online nowadays, and it’s a good idea to have a game plan going into a night of eating out. If you decide ahead of time on a healthier dish like halibut and veggies, you won’t be as tempted to impulsively order the pasta with alfredo sauce when hunger cravings kick in.
2. Know a list of healthy swaps.
Just as it’s smart to be prepared with your menu order ahead of time, it’s also a great idea to prepare a mental list of healthy swaps before you step foot into the restaurant. Hungry enough for an appetizer but don’t want to scarf down the entire bread basket? Ask the waiter to bring a plate of crudité and skip the rolls all together. Craving the grilled chicken but not crazy about filling up on the side of starchy mashed potatoes it comes with? Ask for steamed asparagus or broccoli instead. Knowing that you’re going to make healthy swaps when possible is an easy way to guarantee a healthier meal.
3. Try the 80/20 rule.
One of the trickiest things about eating at a restaurant is that the portions tend to be so much larger (and richer) than what you would normally serve at home. To account for the fact that I will most likely be served a portion that will leave me feeling fuller than I’d like, I try to stick to the 80/20 rule when dining out. To me, this means eating only 80 percent of the portion served to me at a restaurant, then taking a moment to evaluate my fullness before finishing my plate. It’s all too easy to gobble down your entire dish when it’s right in front of you, especially when there’s good conversation and libations around. So, taking a moment of pause is a great way to portion control. If you find that you’re still hungry after taking that moment, then keep nibbling by all means! If not, ask for a to-go container. Another great way to control restaurant-size portions is to split your dishes. You’re likely to get a better variety of flavors by splitting, say, a salad and an entrée, without the guilt and discomfort of polishing off a massive serving.
4. Choose one indulgence.
Whether it’s a glass of wine, the bread basket, or dessert, I recommend choosing what will be your “indulgence” of the night will be. Usually, I tend to skip the bread basket unless I’m at a restaurant that’s known for having house-baked bread and a special butter that isn’t to be missed. I find that indulging in a glass of wine or a delicious dessert is more worth it. This rule of thumb helps me to feel like I’m having a treat, while still sticking with healthful goals throughout the meal. Of course, there are instances where it’s okay to loosen up a bit and have your cake and eat it too—but if we’re talking about sticking with a healthy eating plan while at a restaurant, then choosing one indulgence is the way to go.
5. When in doubt, go green.
If there’s one rule of thumb to keep in mind, it’s this: The more greens you eat, the better off you are. This doesn’t just apply to eating at restaurants, but at home too. Prioritizing greens is especially helpful when everyone else is ordering fried or carb-heavy appetizers—instead, go for the green starter salad. This begins your meal with fiber and nutrients, which will help you start to feel full before you’ve even gotten your entrée. P.S. A side of grilled or roasted veggies is always a good idea!
Do you have any tips for sticking with your clean and healthy eating habits while dining out at restaurants?