Sometimes I am surprised how heavily we rely on restaurant food. I work with a lot of people and when asked if they prepare their food themselves or eat out, 80% of them say they eat out. Until I help them understand how quickly they can prepare something tasty and how much better they feel afterwards. Still, we all have to eat out sometimes. Even I eat out occasionally, although I love cooking my own food. Especially if I travel longer distances, it is inevitable. In cases like these we often look for excuses why we can’t stick with our healthy choices and we take the path of least resistance – we go back to eating French fries, grilled flatbread, breaded cheese bites, desserts, etc.
However this may sound to you, when we eat out, it is quite easy to choose the food we otherwise eat. Yes, it is all too clear that in most cases it is not prepared with quality fat, the way home-cooked food is. It is all too clear it might contain something that is not a part of your everyday choices. Nevertheless, when we can’t control everything, we must try to make the best choice we can. After all, the reason we fail to stick to our nutrition plan is not the fact that we eat out, but the choices we make when we eat out. Here are 10 things you can do when you eat at a restaurant.
1.Choosing the right restaurant
This is where it all starts. I always find it strange when someone tells me there’s nothing for them to eat at restaurants. People get to choose which restaurant to go to. I will certainly never choose a place where they only serve pizza. Still, nowadays even pizzerias offer a lot of other options as well. In order to avoid eating foods you would rather not eat, just pick the right restaurant.
2.Stick with simpler foods
The only times I would order something fancier would be if I am in a village where the food is a lot more real and better, or if I am abroad and want to try something different. Other than that, I always stick with simple things – meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and vegetables. The simpler the food you order, the less unnecessary stuff it will contain.
3.Adapt your meal to your own preferences
The upside to eating out is that the staff will never refuse to take away or add something to the dish. Depending on what I feel like eating and how much, I always ask them to adapt what I am about to order. Even if I risk being regarded as a picky customer. I never do it in an irritating way – I just inquire if they can fulfill my request and ask them to.
- If I don’t feel like eating something more substantial, but would rather just have a salad, I know that restaurant salads are usually not very nourishing. I like having a source of protein and fat in my salad. So I often ask the staff to add an extra boiled egg, so that there are at least two in the salad, and more olives. In other cases, if I go for a chicken salad, I know it is not going to contain enough meat to satiate me, so I once again ask them to bring me an extra egg. This way I get enough food to avoid feeling hungry, so that I can stay away from foods I would rather not eat.
- When I order an omelet, I often ask if they can make it from as many eggs as I tell them to, so that I can make sure that it is neither too big, nor too little.
- When I order salads and they contain cream cheese or something else I don’t like, I once again ask them to bring me the salad without it. And no one has ever said no.
Most salads and main courses go together with various sauces. I always ask for the sauce on the side and I can decide if I want to add some to my meal for the sake of taste or not to add it to my food at all, if it doesn’t look good to me. Most sauces served at restaurants are quite calorie-dense. They usually contain some kind of fat which is not always high quality, as well as flour and sometimes sugar. These are foods I avoid on my nutrition plan and I don’t need to add them to my food. Avoiding sauces, you can also avoid quite a few calories.
5.You don’t have to eat the whole portion
It is crucial for you to understand that portions at restaurants (unless you are at a gourmet restaurant) are a lot bigger than the amount you need. I rarely eat up and I normally give at least 1/3 of my meat to someone else. Another benefit from doing this is that other people like you even more, because you share your food with them. If you don’t leave part of your portion uneaten and you often eat out, it means you systematically eat more than you need. It doesn’t matter if it is meat or fish – excess calories always have to go someplace.
6.Don’t go for the least calorie-dense options
This may sound contrary to what I have said so far, but I will explain what I mean. It is often the case, especially for women who are following some kind of nutrition plan, that they rely too much on low-calorie options and normally don’t get full. Just a few minutes later they have already succumbed to the temptation of the fried and breaded foods on the table or by the pizza slices their companions are eating. I, for example, quite seldom order lettuce salad. There are just a couple of restaurants where I like the lettuce salads, because they are have avocado, olives, an egg or chicken added to them. This way the salad combines different tastes which basically produce satiety. But when you are served a roughly chopped lettuce salad, containing two slices of cucumber and two of tomato just for the sake of color, the meal would hardly be very satiating and it would probably not taste good.
The other thing I avoid is whitefish. Normally it is slightly bland (the one they serve at restaurants) and can definitely not satiate me. These, of course, are the foods I avoid. You may avoid others, but you must simply find out which foods satiate you and which ones leave you hungry. Avoid those that lack something. I for one go for less fatty fish with a fuller taste and know it will satiate me.
7.Carbohydrates and eating out
In most cases I avoid ordering potatoes or rice at restaurants. Sometimes I really know that this is what I feel like eating – then I order this very kind of side dish. But I definitely don’t eat it up, because the amount is still a lot bigger than what I would normally eat. My usual side dish of potatoes or rice weighs about 100 grams when cooked. When you are served a plate of 300 grams of potatoes on top of your main course, this is a lot of food.
Also, in many cases rice is served with some kind of sauces or cream. These are once again foods that I only have small amounts of in my daily diet and I try to avoid them. If I feel like having some, I will be certain to take a couple of forkfuls, but the point is that I would not do this on a daily basis, if I had to eat out more often.
The same goes for potatoes – they always go hand in hand with cheeses or cream. I consume these toppings in small amounts and only for the sake of taste, and not in amounts that are large enough to satiate me.
Let me underscore that I don’t mean to say these foods are bad – I, too, add them to the meals I cook for myself, but they are not my choice when I eat out, because the amounts and the quality do not suit my goals.
8.Dessert and eating out
I stopped ordering four-course meals long ago. And everyone who has set certain goals for their appearance and health surely knows that they don’t need this much food. I rarely have dessert after my main course and when I cook my own food, dessert is usually part of my afternoon snack and is prepared in a healthy way.
When I eat out, I don’t order dessert. In recent years there have been more and more good dessert options such as some kind of strained yogurt with fruit or pumpkin with walnuts, etc. If I am at a place like this and really feel like eating some more food, I usually order dessert that I split with someone else from my companions. This way I only eat two or three forkfuls which don’t interfere with my goals, but satisfy my taste receptors. Dessert is meant to be shared.
When I go on longer trips and know I will be eating out a lot, and since the food is not always to my liking, because I am used to adding more spices and making different combinations that satiate me, I have a little trick. I always take cocoa beans with me and have some after my meal. They have a quite strong cocoa taste and when I eat them after a meal, they sort of tell my body that I am done eating. Cocoa beans are a good finishing touch to food also when you are at home and your mind is used to dessert, but you are trying to break this habit.
9.Beverages and eating out
When I eat out, I always drink water and coffee only. I don’t order juices or sodas. The first thing you are usually asked when you sit down at your table is what you would like to drink. This is where good decisions start. You don’t need to consume sugar in the form of juices and sodas. And coffee after a meal is another way to feel satisfied, but skip dessert.
10.Forget about everything and leave some room for spontaneity
Sometimes people get too strict and feel too guilty, if they eat something different or slightly more food. Assuming you don’t eat out every day, but just once a week, it will not be the end of the world, if something tastes really good and you have more of it. It’s all about balance.