Eating out at restaurants often gets a bad reputation. Although most restaurants have some not-so-healthy items on the menu, they also have better choices that allow you to enjoy the restaurant experience without totally breaking the calorie bank for the next week.
Going to a restaurant is a social and often rare experience and you should enjoy it rather than stressing about how many calories are in your meal. However, it’s good to be generally aware of what you’re getting because many meals can set you back 2,000+ calories and, over time, that just isn’t great for your health or your waistline.
For example, some places have great bread before the meal but at other places I could take it or leave it. Why waste 200+ calories (more if you’re dipping each bit in olive oil) on so-so bread before your meal even arrives? If you think you’ll be ravenous by the time you get to the restaurant, eat some fruit before leaving the house. It’ll take the edge off your hunger and then you can taste the bread while saving plenty of room for the main course.
[used with permission from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]
Portions at restaurants are also much larger than what you would serve at home. It can be hard to remember this when your plate arrives since you’re probably used to just eating whatever is on your plate. Some self-control is required here, but try to envision how much you would serve yourself if you prepared a similar meal at home. Pasta is a perfect example. At home, I prepare one serving (~1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked) and it’s plenty. Restaurants serve 3-4 times this amount and there is no reason I need to eat it all. It’s hard when it’s right in front of you, but try to pay attention to how you feel as you eat and stop when you’re comfortably full. Many places serve a lunch portion that is much more reasonable in size (and cheaper!) if you ask.
Look out for items that add a ton of unneccesary calories to a meal and either avoid them or cut back. Did you know that a 6 inch turkey sandwich from Subway has 280 calories and approximately 210-230 of those are from the bread? I also love cheese but don’t bother with it at Subway because I can’t even taste it so it’s not worth adding an additional 100+ calories. A similar example is the burrito at Chipotle. The tortilla alone is 300 calories before you even add rice, meat, cheese, sour cream, or guacamole. By getting the rice bowl, you get all the goodness from the inside without that additional 300 calories added on. These same concepts go for any restaurant.
Other tips to make your meal a little healthier include:
- order sauces or dressings on the side…you often need MUCH less than you think
- avoid/limit items with fried, breaded, battered, crispy, or cream in the title
- aim for items that are baked, grilled, steamed, or roasted
- fill up on as many veggies as you want – just watch the added dressings or other toppings; order a salad or ask for a side of veggies with your meal (many places will do this for only a couple dollars)
- cut back on pre-meal bread and if you’re getting pizza, aim for a thinner crust. you get the same basic thing for way fewer calories.
- drink plenty of water!
- don’t “save up” calories all day when you know you’re going to eat out…this ALWAYS backfires. eat regular, balanced meals throughout the day and you’re less likely to go overboard and end up miserable when you go out
At the end of the day, eating out isn’t bad but it should be a special treat. When cooking at home, you have much more control over what goes into your food, you can control the portion size, and you save money! If you don’t eat out often, choose a great restaurant and just enjoy it. But, if you eat out more frequently (> once per week), try to incorporate some of these tips so you don’t sabotage your efforts to stay healthy and maintain a healthy weight.