Eating healthy and limiting calories at a restaurant can be tough. Oversized portions, the bread basket and high-calorie soft drinks are just a few of the things that can destroy your diet and ruin your physique. Fortunately, the MenScience Team has put together this dining out survival guide for you. Keep these eight strategies in mind the next time you find yourself trying to eat healthy at a restaurant.
1. Steer clear of the bread basket. The bread basket is a common sight at many restaurants. Instead of diving in, either move the basket out of your reach or ask your server to get rid of it for you. Just one dinner roll contains upwards of 100 calories and lots of “simple” carbs. And let’s be honest: When was the last time you only ate one? Stay as far away as possible.
2. Ask questions. Your server is there to make sure you’re satisfied with your food so if you have any questions, ask away. They should be knowledgeable enough to know different aspects of the menu items such as portion sizes. If not, they can always check for you. Don’t be shy – it’s part of their job.
3. Avoid sodas, juices and sweet cocktails. All of these items are empty calories. Some drinks contain hundreds of calories that can derail even the best diet (e.g. Long Island Iced Tea). You’re better off just having a light beer or a glass of wine. You can never go wrong with water, either. For some flavor, ask for some lemon or lime.
4. Ask for dressings on the side. Sauces and dressings can make an otherwise healthy dish unhealthy by adding extra calories and fat; some dressings can contain upwards of 500 calories! Instead of letting the restaurant douse your salad in dressing, ask for it on the side so you can apply it accordingly. The same holds true for sauces like barbecue and honey mustard.
5. Scan the menu. A lot of restaurants nowadays have a healthy section in their menu. These dishes are typically lower in calories and fat than the other stuff on the menu. If the restaurant’s menu doesn’t have such a section, then you’ll have to rely on menu descriptions. Be on the lookout for key words like fried, battered and buttered; you can be sure these items will be loaded with calories and unhealthy fats.
6. Split a meal. This is easy in large groups where not everyone will want to eat a full entrée. Splitting an appetizer among several people is an effective way to limit calories and prevent overeating. If nobody wants to share a meal, consider ordering an appetizer instead. These are usually – but not always –smaller portions than main entrees. Always split desserts or skip it altogether; odds are that by the time you’re done with the main course, you’ve already eaten more calories than you should have.
7. Get vegetables as your side order. Vegetables are naturally low in calories and loaded with nutrients such as antioxidants. Since the majority of veggies are packed with fiber, too, they’ll fill you up easily and keep you from overeating. Just request that they aren’t dressed up in butter or oil – both of these add unnecessary fat and calories.
8. Leave something on your plate. We tend to eat everything placed in front of us — this is a bad habit that needs to stop. Since the majority of restaurant entrees are oversized, you’re better off eating about 75%-80% of your meal and taking the rest home. Doing this limits calorie intake and also gives your body time to realize that it’s full; it takes a few minutes for your body to determine that you shouldn’t eat anymore.