Our Top Tips for Healthy Restaurant Dining
Healthy restaurant dining: a realistic goal or a contradiction in terms? While restaurants are notorious for creating menu items packed with saturated fat, sodium, and sugar (and convincing you to pile on extras while you’re there), it is actually possible to eat well for your health when dining out. By planning ahead, making conscious choices during your meal, and getting a bit creative, you can leave a restaurant feeling good about the experience–and feeling full. Here are some of our top recommendations to take back control.
Plan ahead: As with many other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, one key to successful restaurant dining is to plan ahead. When it’s up to you where you eat, opt for a restaurant you know features a good-for-you menu (see our recommendations below!) Or find someplace new by checking a website like Healthy Dining Finder. Run by dietitians, this site allows you to search your area for healthy dining options and includes smart choices at less healthy restaurants. Additionally, many chain restaurants (and even many independently owned establishments) now provide nutrition information for their menus online. Take a look before venturing out.
If you’re truly committed to eating well, you can even take planning to the next level by writing down your goals for dining out, such as “I will drink water” or “I will not have dessert.” Research shows that people who put their goals on paper are far more likely to achieve them.
Stay mindful: It’s all too easy to let the clever psychology of a restaurant environment derail our good intentions. Pleasant ambience, mouth-watering menu photos, and of course the sights and smells of other diners’ meals can stimulate our senses past the point of no return. It truly takes conscious effort to stay mindful of our choices—but the effort is worth it for our health.
When the special occasion feel of restaurant dining tugs on you to indulge, take a moment to remind yourself that this is just a meal, like any other. Yes, you can and should enjoy it, but overdoing it will only bring regret. Instead, use your nutrition common sense to make the same kinds of choices you would make at home. Lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables? Yes, any day! Fried, battered, and processed items? These you can leave behind.
Likewise, when your food arrives, ask yourself, “What would my plate look like at home?” Would you normally eat off an 18-inch platter piled high with French fries? Hopefully not! Use this visual comparison to keep your consumption in check, perhaps asking for a to-go container up front to save a portion of your meal for later.
Get creative: Another approach to healthy restaurant eating is to get creative with your ordering. Explore the entire menu. The restaurant you’re visiting may offer a “light” section with healthier choices. But if not, don’t feel you have to order a regular entrée every time. Perhaps soup and salad would serve you better, or try building a meal of healthy sides. Splitting a meal with a friend or spouse also makes for more reasonable portion control. And feel free to modify your order by asking for sauces and dressings on the side, or for less of high-calorie items like cheese or bacon crumbles.
Armed with these conscious choices, you can healthily navigate restaurant dining for a truly nourishing, regrets-free experience.