We’ve all experienced that sense of panic when we’re finally making progress getting healthy when someone suggests dining out and your plans are thrown off. This 5 step guide will, hopefully, alleviate some of your stress and keep you on track. It’s a step by step guide to how to quickly find what will work for you.
STEP 1: UNDERSTAND YOUR GOALS
“Healthy” is pretty general, considering all us have different bodies and different goals. There are certain underlying concepts that are unhealthy to the entire population. However, each individual should have a different definition of what keeps their body running optimally. This can change based on any number of things such as food intolerances, mental disorders or diseases that can be treated with a specific diet, or your aesthetic and performance goals.
The fast majority of the restaurant-eating population, have a tendency to overeat. Having said that, the following information helps you choose options that are more likely to be lower in calorie. When someone else is doing the cooking, you are giving up all your control and insight to the preparation.
Therefore, it’s generally a good rule of thumb to choose leaner, carb and fat light options. Restaurants typically cook pretty heavily in fat, choosing leaner options gives you a cushion of calories to support your goals and your body’s nutrient requirements.
STEP 2: FIND THE RIGHT MENU SECTION
It’s all about narrowing down the choices and honing in on what is going to be healthy and tasty. The first thing you need to do is find the section. The following options are usually a good place to start:
- Soups and Salads
- Seafood or Chicken
- Off the Grill
- “Lighter Menu”
A lot of chain restaurants are finally catching up to the healthy revolution and creating a separate section for menu items that have been made more healthy. The Cheesecake Factory likes to dub their lighter menu “Skinnylicious.” While that makes my eyes roll every time I have to say it, I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to peruse the menu that can be compared to a Harry Potter book in length.
If you have advanced notice of where’re you’re going to eat, consider looking the menu up online to familiarize yourself with the options.
STEP 3: CONSIDER THESE 5 FACTORS
1. Preparation is Key
This is the most obvious rule, but I can’t leave it out. The way food is cooked is the most important thing to pay attention to. All other things can be adjusted after the fact, but chicken nuggets can’t be un-fried. So here are some words to keep an eye out on the menu.
McDonald’s Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich = 570 calories, 28g Protein, 23g Fat, 64g Carb
McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich = 380 calories, 37g Protein, 7g Fat, 44g Carb
2. Sauces and Dressings
It’s amazing how quickly the little extras are the things that are the most calorie dense. Sauces and dressing are the big culprits here. No matter how healthy certain oils, such as olive oil, are for you, they still pack over 100 calories per tablespoon. So portion control is key here.
A couple of quick rules of thumb here.
- Avoid cream or cheese based sauces
- Vinaigrettes and mustards are typically a win. Although most vinaigrettes are oil based, they are still far fewer calories than a lot of other sauces.
- Easy on the honey or maple syrup on those pancakes
Panera’s Cesar Salad Dressing (3 Tbsp) = 170 calories, 1g Protein, 18g Fat, 2g Carb
Panera’s Low Fat Thai Chili Vinaigrette (3Tbsp) = 50 calories, 1g Protein, 2g Fat, 8g Carb
3. Choose Your Protein Wisely
Beyond making sure you choose a dish with a decent amount of protein, consider how much fat the product has as well. Meats /egg products that have less fat and more protein are going to be less calorie dense. Please note, fat is not inherently unhealthy, but you will not be able to eat a lot of it due to the calorie density.
100g Boneless Ribeye Steak = 208 calories, 28g Protein, 10g Fat, 0g Carb
100g Beef Tenderloin = 143 calories, 22g Protein, 6g Fat, 0g Carb
4. How About Those Sides?
You may have noticed in my example in the preparation section, there was a significant leap in carbs between the fried and grilled chicken sandwiches. Breading adds 45% more carbs to essentially the same product.
An easy rule of thumb to follow here is just to look for the dish that sound good with as many vegetables as possible. While vegetables are a carb source, they are marginal compared to processed carbs such as pasta, bread and crust.
If you do go with an item that has the potential to be spilling over with carbs, consider ways you minimize them. Think thin crust pizza, vegetables subbed in for mashed potatoes (potentially a ton of fat as well) or rice.
5. Are You Drinking any Calories?
A large source of calories that doesn’t get paid enough attention to in the general population is what calories are we drinking? If you want a glass of wine, drink without guilt, but maybe that means you forgo the bread basket? The following are drink selections that are free of calories…it’s a short list.
- Black or Stevia Sweetened Coffee
- Diet Soda
- Unsweetened Tea (sweeten with stevia, if you must)
Chick-fil-A’s Sweetened Tea (medium) = 120 calories, 0g Protein, 0g Fat, 31g Carb
Chick-fil-A’s Unsweetened Tea (medium) = 0 calories, 0g Protein, 0g Fat, 0g Carb
STEP 4: DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK
You can easily reduce a ton of extra, unnecessary calories by making a few special requests. These are just a few things you can ask for to minimize additional fat sources:
- Change out sides (thing steamed veggies)
- Ask for you food not to be cooked in butter or oil (they’re typically not using the best oil anyway)
- Request dressings and sauces be served on the side
STEP 5: DON’T SWEAT IT
When you only go out to eat occasionally, you really don’t need to stress out. One meal is not likely to setback your progress too much. If you eat at restaurants daily, you may need to be more mindful about what selections are made.
If there is anything I have learned from past my experience in the dieting world, it’s to make sure not to be overly restrictive. Practice discipline, but also learn when to give yourself a break. If it’s your birthday and your going out to a really amazing place, give a little.
Although I will say, it’s usually the fact restaurants that do the healthy food right. The meat is well cooked, the portions are not out of control, and they use quality ingredients.
DINE OUT WITH CONFIDENCE & SHARE THE LOVE!
I hope this covers any questions or concerns you have about dining out with a healthy goal in mind. After a few trips to a few different restaurants, you will be ordering with confidence and still achieving your goals.
I will be creating healthy or “macro friendly” guides to each restaurant. Let me know where you need help and I will be happy to do a post for that place!
Questions? Additional tips for the EWLW community? Leave them below or contact me on social media! If you know anyone struggling with these steps, please share this information with them!