03 Mar 10 Tips for Eating Out
I love going out to eat. In fact, dinner out with my hubby or good friends is one of my favorite things to do!
Years ago, before I knew better, I would starve myself all day long hoping to conserve calories so I could eat my heart out at a great restaurant. I would arrive famished (let go of my bread basket!). I would inevitably eat so much that I felt sick by the time my meal was done. I didn’t realize that by starving during the day, I was forcing my body to burn muscle and slow down my metabolism. Over-eating at the restaurant caused my body to store fat.
Now I understand the importance of balance. I’ve learned a few tips that have helped me stay in shape and still enjoy eating out. It’s imperative to balance your blood sugar all day long. Then you’ll head into that great meal with a metabolism ready to burn!
Here are Ten Tips for Eating Out
Special thanks to Venice Nutrition Chef Valerie Cogswell for the inspiration on the tips (and even some of the tips themselves!)
1. Start with a little online research. I like to search restaurant menus online for healthy choices before I get there. This way, there’s less pressure and temptation when I go to order.
2. Never arrive hungry. An hour before you are supposed to sit down and eat, snack on something with a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat such as a balanced protein bar, cottage cheese and fruit, or rolled-up slice of deli turkey with fruit and nuts. A small, balanced snack will get your body in fat burning mode before you even get to the restaurant and prevent you from over-eating. You should feel ready to eat before a meal, never starving.
3. Choose your protein first. As you scour the menu, always start with this question: “Where is my protein?” Lean protein choices like pork tenderloin, seafood, and chicken are a good place to start. If you are craving a big, juicy steak, go for a lean and tender filet mignon. Next choose smaller portions of carbohydrates. Sides like sweet potatoes, vegetables, a salad or brown rice are your best choices simply because they are more natural (less processed) than most carbs and have lots of filling fiber. There will always be plenty of fat hidden in your meal, so it’s a good idea to request sauces on the side.
4. Learn the lingo. Terms like grilled or steamed typically mean that a meal or side is prepared in less fat. Fried, crispy, creamy, crunchy or sautéed translate to lots of fat.
5. Buddy up to your server. Here’s the thing. Your server walks in and out of the kitchen all day long. He or she has sampled almost every item on the menu and has tasted tonight’s specials. He or she also has some kind of relationship with the chef. My point is, ask questions. Ask if the chef can prepare tonight’s salmon special with less oil or fat. Ask,”What are the lighter options on the menu tonight?” or “May I make a special requests?”
Also, always ask how the steak is prepared. I once ordered a filet and didn’t realize until it arrived that it had been drenched in butter. I don’t know about you, but I like my steak to taste like steak, not butter. I should have asked how the steak was prepared and requested that mine be “simply grilled.” Lesson learned.
Most restaurants have one goal: to serve you a meal so satisfying that you rave about it to friends and come back for more. Most restaurants will make special accommodations to keep you happy. It’s not uncommon for me to choose the seared scallops from one dish and ask it to be paired with the grilled vegetables from another, or to ask for my vegetables to be grilled instead of sautéed to cut back on fat. If a restaurant serves sweet potato fries, more than likely they will give you a baked sweet potato if you ask.
If you feel like you’re being a pain, do like I do. Be extra polite and tip well. Money and a good attitude can make even the most impatient server happy (and remember you at your next visit).
6. Eat until satisfied, not grotesquely full. It’s no secret that restaurant portions are huge and there’s nothing attractive about leaving a restaurant with your pants unbuttoned. Here’s how easy it can be. When I’m at an Italian restaurant, and I’m craving pasta, I’ll order the seafood marinara. I’ll fill up on the seafood (protein) and go lighter on the pasta, so I’m satisfied without spiking my blood sugar.
7. Twice as Nice. Most restaurants love oversized servings. Plan to take home leftovers. When your meal is delivered, have a “to go” box or cooler bag ready and place half your meal in it immediately. Then you can order once, and enjoy it twice! By the time you’re done with your half meal, you’ll appreciate not being stuffed.
8. Don’t join the club. The “clean your plate” club, that is! It’s never a bad idea to leave food on your plate. Eat slowly and listen to your body. Drink lots of water before and during your meal. Don’t feel pressure to eat everything on your plate.
9. If having alcohol, go light on carbohydrates with your meal. If you want a glass of wine or a light beer with dinner, pair it with a protein like salmon, for example, and a light carbohydrate such as vegetables or a salad. This will help to keep your blood sugar stable.
10. And if you do eat everything in sight? Don’t sweat it! As a nutrition coach, I encourage my clients to have an “off meal” once a week where they eat anything they want. Notice I said an “off meal,” not an “off day.”
If you’re “ON” the rest of the week, an “off meal” is actually a good thing. It keeps you from craving and makes you that much more motivated to get back on track. The key is to make sure to eat a balanced meal three to four hours later (or the next morning if having a late night dinner) to get your body back into fat burning mode.
The way I see it, living a healthy lifestyle is all about balance. And being balanced is never black and white. So enjoy yourself when eating out and live a little!