It’s one thing to stay on track when you’re cooking at home but what about when you go out to eat? Whether you’re out to lunch with coworkers, eating in an airport during a layover or on a hot date night with your spouse, I’m going to give you my tried and true tips for how to eat healthy when eating out in a restaurant.
How to keep calories low before a restaurant meal:
- Scope out the restaurant menu online. More and more restaurants offer complete nutritional information on their websites. In fact, that’s how I learned about Panera’s “secret” Power Menu offering higher protein, less processed items. The Hummus and Chicken Spinach Power Salad is delish.
- If you know you’ll be going out to dinner, eat a lighter breakfast and lunch. For me that usually means a Berry Spinach Protein Smoothie for breakfast and leftover soup for lunch. Slow Cooker Lentil Soup with Bacon provides a good balance of protein and fiber to give you energy all day.
- Increase your water intake to compensate for the post-restaurant bloat due to higher sodium levels. My friends and family tease me because I’m never more than a few feet away from my CamelBak water bottle. PS: Lemon slices go a long way if you’re trying to boost water consumption!
- Sneak in a workout! And while you’re at it, add a few up-tempo songs to your workout. New studies show a good song goes a long way when it comes to the exercise intensity and duration.
How to cut calories during a restaurant meal:
- Use ABCD: Appetizers, Bread, Cocktails or Dessert: Pick one, not four. It’s that simple.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions! As someone who has a background in the service/hospitality industry, I can tell you for a fact that servers want to please you. By making special requests, you are giving the serve an opportunity to go above and beyond which most likely results in a higher tip.
- Start the meal with a salad or broth-based soup. It will add a good dose of veggies and fill you up so that you don’t even want to consider ordering the Oreo ice cream sundae.
- Skip the salad dressing and ask for lemon wedges and olive oil instead.
- Instead of a side of vegetables and a starch, I ask for double vegetables and skip the rice or potato.
- When ordering vegetable sides such as broccoli or asparagus I ask for lemon juice and olive oil instead of butter.
- If ordering a steak or other grill item, I ask them to skip the finishing butter.
- Love dessert? Request extra forks and split it with others.
- Instead of dessert, order coffee.
- Alternate each cocktail with a glass of water.
How to survive after a restaurant meal:
- Log the meal into a calorie tracking program. I love using MyFoodDiary but there are many other options including My Fitness Pal, Spark People and Weight Watchers. When you see it in writing, it will help you appreciate the value of each calorie so that you can make even smarter choices the next time.
- Hit the gym. Bobby Deen from The Chew (who with his mother Paula and brother Jamie have lost a combined 170 lbs!) made a brilliant statement: “Everyone want to go to Heaven but no one wants to die.” He was making the point that we all love delicious food but we don’t all love the price we have to pay on the treadmill the next day.
- Guzzle water. No matter how many great choices you make when eating out, you will always end up consuming more sodium than if you cooked from scratch. Help eliminate the post-restaurant bloat by increasing your water consumption. And no, blood mary’s don’t count.
- Make another date to go out with friends and family. It’s good for the soul and balance is the key to long term healthy living!
Your friends are waiting.
I like your point to ask for olive oil and lemon juice instead of butter when you get the side veggies. My husband and I have just moved to a new area, and we’ve decided that we want to turn a new leaf and start being healthier. Your tips will help us improve our dining experience, and we’ll just need to find places to go.
That is wonderful! I’m so glad these are helpful for you! I have a lot of other tips and resources here: https://thelemonbowl.com/healthy-habits/
I agree with your ABCD: Appetizers, Bread, Cocktails or Dessert. These are the most high caloric foods. Choose one from that list or not to eat at all just focus on your main entree.
Great tips, Liz! I especially like your ABCD – really key to keeping things in check!
Great post Liz! I love the ABCD rules!
Thank you friend!! I figured it was more fun to make a cute name to it than “Don’t stuff your face.” LOL xo
Great post Liz! Great tips!
Thanks Jamie!! :-)
Those are great tips! I need to review them before I eat out later this week so I remember the one about choosing ONE (not all) when it comes to appetizer, bread, cocktail or dessert!
Tell me about it – I always have to remind myself as well!!! :-)
Great post. That is so weird, and amazing, that Panera has a hidden menu. Do you just ask to see it when you go?? I am always looking for healthier options when eating out.
YES!! Just tell them what you want and they ring you right up like it’s not big deal!! The whole thing is so bizarre to me and a little bothersome that they are hiding all of the healthy items but it is what it is. :)
Great tips! I’ve been getting a small side salad or cup of soup before the meal comes and it really does help curb my appetite and takes the edge off the hunger beast!
I do the same – it really does help! Plus it keeps my hands busy and out of the bread basket. ;-)
I learned something today ABCD–great advice. I tried MyFitnessPal for a week but constantly typing in recipes each day got old fast. I’m not going to change all the cooking from scratch, though, I think it’s just better for someone who eats food that comes with labels.
Tell me about it!! I always joke that I wish I was the type of person that ate a Lean Cuisine for lunch – it would make logging my food much easier! :-)
Hold up–Panera has a hidden menu?? Love it! What a fabulous post to conquer restaurant eating, which is NOT an easy task these days!
YES!!! Check it out – it’s insane!!! It’s basically all the foods I’d rather eat. :)
These are all fabulous tips! I definitely enjoy going out with my family or friends to a nice meal, but I don’t always enjoy how I feel the next day… I think the phrase “everything in moderation” goes a long way :) You should never feel as if you’re missing out on doing things because they aren’t “healthy”- just a few changes can make a big difference!
This is a great list Liz!! I use My Fitness Pal and love it. And I love the ABCD rule for eating out too. I’ll be remembering that one!
I’ve heard so many great things about My Fitness Pal!!! I’m glad you like my ABCD rule. ;-) I usually pick C….