Preparing your own meals is a great way to stick to a healthy diet, but we all occasionally crave a night out at a restaurant. Dining out should be a treat; a way to celebrate a birthday or promotion, or simply a way to relax and enjoy time with friends and family. But with dining out also comes the stress and temptation of splurging on high-calorie meals. If you approach your restaurant outing with a plan, you’ll be able to enjoy a delicious meal and avoid a high-calorie mistake. Here are some strategies for avoiding the restaurant trap:
Check the Menu
When you know where you are going, check their menu ahead of time. Most restaurants will have their menu posted online. This will help you decide on a healthy entrée before you arrive and prevent you from making a last-minute rushed decision when you are hungry.
Skip the Bread
You will probably already be hungry when you arrive, and many restaurants offer bread before serving your meal. Politely decline the bread to avoid eating multiple slices, most likely slathered in butter, which offer little to no nutritional value. You didn’t come to the restaurant for complimentary bread anyway.
Order an Appetizer as Your Entrée
Despite popular belief, you don’t always have to order a full-size entrée. Restaurants offer delicious, portion-controlled appetizers that are more than enough to fill your stomach. Stray from fried offerings or those soaked in sauce. Instead, opt for lean proteins or fish, and then ask for a side of steamed veggies to balance your meal! Ask the server to bring the appetizer at the same time as the other entrees to resist ordering more.
Split Your Meal
Many entrees offer overwhelmingly large portions. To easily cut down on portion size, ask a friend to split a meal with you. This will help limit your calorie intake and has the added bonus of a cheaper bill. If everyone at the table wants a meal of their own, ask the server for a smaller portion, or request to have half of your meal boxed up before it even arrives.
Specify Cooking Instructions
Grilled chicken sounds like a healthy bet when dining out, but the reality is many restaurants will saturate your entree in butter or a lot of oil before preparing it. Specify exactly how you want your meal cooked. Opt for broiled chicken or ask that your meal not be grilled in butter and that your veggies are lightly steamed without butter or oil. Substitute a side salad for a starch, whenever possible and ask that it come out first so you can fill up on the good stuff. Don’t worry about being a “picky patron”—your health is worth it!
Say No to Dessert
More often than not, the server will ask you if you have room for dessert. Rather than making a chocolate molten cake or a large piece of apple pie alamode a point of contention, have a plan B. Ask your server for fresh berries or consider a post-meal cup of decaf coffee or herbal tea to stave your dessert cravings. Planning for the moment makes it less likely that you will give into temptation.
Don’t Skip Meals
It can be tempting to skip meals early to save your appetite for the main event. You might arrive at the restaurant with the intention of ordering a healthy chicken or fish dish, but those good intentions can quickly go out the window when your friend orders a pile of fried food for an appetizer. Not only are you falling into a high-calorie trap, you’re spoiling what could be a delicious and nutritious meal. Eat something filling and nutritious beforehand, so you can set yourself up to politely decline these high-calorie offerings.
Dining out should be an enjoyable event, not a stress-filled guilt trip. With some simple planning and willpower, you’ll be able to get the most out of the experience without straying too far from your healthy eating plan.