Have Portion Power: When you order, ask your server to put a third or half of your entrée in a to-go container to keep portions moderate.
Be Mindful: Slowing down and taking your time will help you to eat more moderately at celebrations.
Eating away from home doesn’t have to destroy your diet. Whether you’ll be dining at a fancy establish- ment, grabbing lunch at a fast food joint, dealing with an all-you-can-eat buffet, or even making do with a convenience store, you can eat healthy. The key is being armed with the right tactics and tools to navigate through any dining out challenge. Bonus: It doesn’t have to feel like starvation or punishment. With the right mindset, investigative tools, and inner motivation, you can enjoy eating anywhere with- out sacrificing your nutrition. Now, on to some of the most common scenarios and tools to navigate each:
Sit down restaurants
- Take the lead: If you have the option, offer to choose and make the reservations for your date or meeting. Look for a restaurant that has healthy options. Yelp and Google Maps are great for finding highly rated establishments at your desired location. Search for restaurants with keywords such as “organic and healthy,” “local,” and/or “farm to table.”
- Do your research: If the location is out of your hands, you can still find out what you can about where, when, and what you’ll be eating. Many menus are now posted online. If not, call ahead and ask for information about the menu. Check for fish or seafood options, vegetarian options, and other lean protein dishes with chicken or turkey. Ask if you can request dishes prepared without heavy sauces or fats. You can also ask about cooking methods. Look for places that offer steaming, broiling, and grilling. Skip anything that includes red-flag phrases such as “fried,” “au gratin,” or “creamed.”
- Speak up: If you haven’t had time to do any investigation and find yourself needing to make an on-the-spot choice for your meal, don’t even bother with the menu. Ask the server directly for what you want. If your entrée comes with sides that don’t mesh with your goals, you can request steamed vegetables or salad on the side instead. If your dish comes on top of pasta, rice, or pota- toes, request that spinach or other vegetables be used as a substitution.
- Address Portion Size: Restaurant portions are notoriously too big. When you order, ask your server to put half the portion in a to-go bag or split a dish with someone. If you’re splurging on dessert, order for the group and ask for several spoons or forks, so everyone knows up front that you mean to share. Finally, use your hand. The tip of your index finger equals a teaspoon of butter or dressing, your palm show you what a serving size of protein should be (about the size of a deck of cards), and a closed fist is a good measure of carbs (about 1 cup of noodles, rice, etc.).
- Drink water: Thirst can feel like hunger. Drink a glass of water before you eat and during your meal.
Parties, weddings, or other events may have predetermined food that you’ll have little control over, but you do have choices. Before you begin eating, take a moment to check in with your hunger. Then think of the food you are about to eat as fuel to nourish you. Consider how you want to feel when you leave the event you are attending. Remind yourself that there is no rush. Eat moderately and mindfully.
Fast food eating
Thankfully, today most fast food joints have healthy options, but you can cover yourself by requesting small changes such as ordering all sauces and dressings on the side. If you are having a burger, ask for it protein style (wrapped with lettuce instead of a bun). Ditto for grilled chicken sandwiches or burgers. Skip the fries and ask for a salad or fruit.
Dodge Binging at the Buffet
If you are going to an all-you-can-eat buffet, begin by making a salad, veggie plate, or small cup of clear soup (not cream-based) on your first trip through the line. You can take note of what your entrée options are, and this will give you extra time to scope out what everyone else has on their plates. By the time you go for round two, you’ll be partially sated and less likely to overeat.
Other Eating Away from Home Tools:
Keep it Transparent: Often, not always, clear sauces, dressings, and soups will be less calo- rie-packed. If a soup sounds good, make sure to ask if it is homemade and what ingredients are used—if it has a lot of cream and butter—go for the salad.
Keep Beverages Sugar-Free: Wherever you are, keep your beverages sugar-free. That means no sugar, honey, syrup, and artificial sweeteners. Sugary drinks are the easiest thing to cut out and will make the biggest impact on your wallet as well as your waistline. If you’re grabbing your morning coffee or tea, hold the sugar. A splash of milk or cream is fine, but just a splash. Drink water and sparkling water instead of alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are expensive, caloric, and will simultane- ously stimulate your appetite and weaken your willpower and judgment.
Skip the Bread Basket: Ditto for chips. Ask for healthier options such as a bowl of Greek olives, edamame, spicy carrots, or raw veggies.
Request Healthier Sides: Cut down on other refined carbs such as ordering a bed of spinach with sauce instead of the pasta. Or go for lettuce in place of a bun or tortilla for sandwiches and wraps. Ask for a double serving of veggies instead of mashed potatoes, white rice, or pasta.