Several years ago, we moved to a small little town in the mountains. Small meaning it has no stop light and it will take you one minute to drive through. In a small town, there are limited places to go out to eat. There is a hamburger joint, a little Italian restaurant that had a note taped to the door saying they would be closed for a couple of months while they had a baby, a Chinese restaurant literally called “The Chinese Restaurant”, and a Ma and Pop diner that takes two hours to get your food because Ma is doing everything from seating the guests, taking their orders, and cooking their food (I’m not sure where Pop went). We learned that mountain folk are just not in a hurry and seem completely fine with waiting hours for their food to arrive. They must eat ahead of time, something I did not do, and even though their food was wonderful, I just don’t have hours to sit around a restaurant when I could be sitting around my house instead.
We don’t go out to eat very often but as you all know by now, I love nachos! I couldn’t wait to try out the little Mexican restaurant down the road from our house. As we walked into the quaint space with sombreros on the wall, I could smell the amazing aroma of Mexican food coming from the kitchen. When the host brought us to our table, I excitedly asked him if they had nachos before I even had a chance to look at the menu. He looked at me with a puzzled look on his face. He tilted his head and said, “nachos?”. The smile on my face faded. My mind started racing. Does he not understand my question? Do they not have nachos here? Why didn’t we research this before we bought our house? Would I have to start liking Chinese food? Why was nobody ever at the Chinese restaurant? Before I could have a complete breakdown, our host snapped me out of my thoughts and said, “Do you mean Chips a la Mexicana?” Um, ok. If that means chips, beans, cheese, guac, and sour cream, then yes, that is what I mean. To my delight, I ordered these Chips a la Mexicana, and it was just what us city folks call nachos. It was delish!
When you are trying to eat healthy going out to eat can be a challenge at times. You can do your best to eat at home most days but there will be occasions when going out will be inevitable. Whether it’s a date night, a celebration, or just a social activity to catch up with friends and family, you will probably find yourself at a restaurant at least once a week. On average, as a nation, we eat out four to five times a week!
Eating out doesn’t mean you have to stray from your health plan. You can still go out and enjoy yourself but it is best to have a plan so you are set up for success. It can be frustrating when you think you are making good choices only to check the calorie content after your meal and realize you would have rather spent your calories elsewhere. Here are some tips to help you stick with your health goals without giving up the restaurant experience.
- If you know where you are going ahead of time, read the menu before you get there. Most restaurants have their menu online and they include nutritional information. You will more likely make better choices beforehand than when you are sitting in the restaurant and hungry.
- Have a healthy snack before you arrive. If you arrive at the restaurant hungry, it is too hard to avoid the bread and butter, or chips and salsa.
- Drink water before and during your meal. Avoid drinking high-calorie beverages and limit alcohol. Studies have shown that people who drink water before their meal consume 40% fewer calories.
- Make sure you order food that has been either steamed, grilled, roasted, or poached. Try to avoid foods that have been fried or sautéed.
- Ask for a healthy swap. Instead of potatoes, you can request steamed vegetables or fruit.
- When getting a salad, make sure to request the dressing on the side. People assume salads are healthy but the dressing can be higher in calories than an actual meal. When you have the dressing on the side, dip your fork in it first, then put your fork in your salad. This will give just the taste you need without overdoing it.
- When looking at the menu, choose something a la cart, an appetizer, or even get something off of the children’s menu. A smaller portion will give you what you are desiring without being tempted to eat a huge entree.
- If ordering a full-size portion, only eat half and box up the rest to take home. Or share it with someone else.
- If you can’t say no to dessert, just take a bite or two and share the rest with everyone else.
Whether you go out only on special occasions or it’s a weekly treat, you can still make satisfying and strategic choices that won’t derail your health plan. Remember to slow down, enjoy your meal, and savor the moment with your family and friends.