If you need to lose weight, dining out is often one of many reasons people struggle to take the pounds off. Restaurant food is high in sodium (which has links to obesity), high in calories and fat, portion sizes can be out of control, and most of the food is typically unhealthy.
However, dining out is a time we get together with friends and family, and it is special to many of us. And with busy lives, it can help lighten the load of things to do. So don’t feel guilty, you can still enjoy dining out without sabotaging your weight loss efforts. You just need to be smart when you eat out. If you have some basic nutrition knowledge, you can make wise decisions and stay on track with your weight loss efforts.
First, a list of Don’ts (some of these you hopefully already know…..)
• Don’t order dishes that are creamy, such as cream-based soups, creamy pasta dishes or anything with the word “cream” in it. It is loaded with sodium, fat, and calories.
• Avoid dishes made with butter, such as certain baked fish or primavera. If you would like to order a baked fish, ask that they not cook it in butter. It may be drier, but lemon wedges can help give it moisture without the added fat and calories.
• Don’t order pasta as a main dish. Pasta is OK on the side, but an entire plate of pasta can be anywhere from 2 to 4 servings offering a lot of calories in one sitting.
• Avoid cheese dishes. Same applies here as in the first point about cream-based dishes.
• Nothing fried….(I’m sure this goes without saying)
• Be careful with sauce dishes. Sauces may have a lot of oil or other high calorie ingredients. Order sauces on the side, and ask what is in them. Most are made with oil or cream, two things you want to avoid.
So that list includes what NOT to eat…Here are some suggestions for what you SHOULD eat.
• Order a big green salad, dressing on the side, loaded with fresh vegetables, and eat this first. This will help fill you up so you eat less of the higher calorie foods.
Tip: Keep the dressing on the side and dip your salad into it, rather than pouring it on. You will probably find you eat less of the dressing when you do this. Be careful with salads, though, one’s that include mostly mixed greens are good, but some salads are more about the cheese, nuts, and toppings than the vegetables which aren’t the best choices.
• Think simple!!! Things like grilled chicken, a small sirloin, or grilled fish are not prepared with a lot of “stuff”. They are usually prepared with dry seasoning and thrown on a grill. This is much better than meats that are stuffed or in sauces.
Raw vegetables, steamed vegetables, broth-based soups (like minestrone or vegetable), are all good choices. As with salads, have your broth soups and vegetables first.
• Limit yourself to 1 starch. In other words, if you order soup and salad with your meal (good choice), it’s OK to have 1 roll with it. However, if you are ordering pasta or another dish that has grains, pass on the roll.
• Try vegetarian or bean-based dishes. Black bean wraps (no cheese, just beans and vegetables), hummus, or roasted vegetables with a small amount of pasta/rice/couscous, are healthy and flavorful. Tip: Ask that the vegetables not be cooked in oil. Vegetarian chili is a great dish to order; it’s filling, full of vegetables, and low in fat and calories.
• Always ask for whole wheat, if available. Many more restaurants are now carrying whole wheat pasta, bread, and even pizza dough.
• Eat until satisfied, but not full. Often people want to get their money’s worth so they eat much more than they should. Eat just enough to feel satisfied and bring the rest home or share a dish with a friend.
• Ask for 1/2 portion or child’s portion. Not all restaurants will do this, but some will. It’s worth asking.
• Get fruit or sorbet for dessert. What’s dinner out without a little after-dinner treat? Some places have fresh fruit or fruit sorbet. Go with these instead of the chocolate lava cake. In fact, ask yourself “Do I really want dessert?” Don’t order it if you’re full from dinner. There’s always another time to eat dessert. However, if you ate a light meal (like a salad), finishing off with fruit may be nice.
A final tip: Don’t go out to dinner super hungry. Many people make the mistake of saving their calories for the big meal out. You’re better off eating well throughout the day, so that you can eat a small satisfying meal that isn’t too high in calories, and you don’t feel deprived. If you are too hungry, your hormones take over and eat more food and more unhealthy food, as a result.
Remember, dining out is fun, and it’s OK to enjoy it! Just be savvy and keep it healthy. Often the fresh, healthy foods are really the most enjoyable, anyway.