It can be a challenge to eat primal or even healthy in a restaurant, anyone looking to make better meal decisions can use these 7 tips for healthy eating at restaurants. A few issues most of us deal with is making a healthy choice on the spot, knowing what non-listed ingredients are in the food, whether or not the restaurant has allergen friendly options, and how to handle alcoholic beverages.
The reality is we are going to eventually eat at a restaurant. All the home cooked and prepped meals in the world won’t change the fact that hanging out with friends or having a date night is a good time. Even if the decision to go out to a restaurant is spontaneous, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a plan in place.
Check out the menu before going to the restaurant
The best thing you can do to prepare yourself to make good decisions is to make your meal choice beforehand. Almost every restaurant has a menu you can download and look through. Most places have their allergen-friendly menus available online as well. When you educate yourself before going out, you empower yourself to make better decisions in the moment.
Call the restaurant to ask about allergens and additional ingredients
If there is a meal you really want to have but isn’t listed as gluten or dairy free, call the restaurant and see what they can do. Most places can change their meals if you ask ahead of time. You might also see the ingredients in the meal and say “Hey! There isn’t anything in here I shouldn’t be able to eat!” This is also a great reason to call the restaurant and ask if the soup was made with a flour-based roux or if they prepared the dish with soy sauce. Maybe something is covered in gravy which isn’t listed on the menu (personal experience with this one…) or there is a dairy component you weren’t aware of. Either way, it’s a good idea to call the restaurant and make sure.
Ask for whatever meat you prefer on their best salad
I know, choosing a salad is not exciting. I’ve been to some amazing restaurants and was excited to try some of their delicious offerings, only to be told that salad was my only option. The good news is that you can MAKE salad an amazing meal. I know salad IS an amazing meal but I also know that you don’t always go out to a restaurant intending to eat salad. Whether or not they offer it, you can usually find whatever protein you would like from the menu and get it on a salad. If you see an amazing steak, chicken or fish option but can’t eat all the stuff it is prepared with, then find a delicious salad and ask for the protein to be served on top.
When ordering a burger, ask for a lettuce wrap or go without a bun
This tip is a little controversial. I know that it isn’t exactly the same experience to eat a burger without a bun and I can hear some of you groaning already, but stay with me here. Often the reason we are hungry again after eating a burger is because of the blood sugar crash we experience afterward. Even gluten-free buns still have around 40 grams of processed carbohydrate. I was reluctant to cut out the bun as well but when I did, I felt full for longer and was more satisfied after the meal. The best option is the lettuce wrap because the thing I miss most about not having a bun is being able to eat my burger like a sandwich. Give it shot, eventually, you won’t miss it.
Think about getting a take out box before eating
If you can’t find the healthiest option, then maybe don’t eat too much at one time. Putting away half of your meal before you eat helps to give you some sense of control over your portion size. If you have no choice but to eat something that isn’t your ideal meal, you can minimize the damage by having some now and some tomorrow. Using this method can give your body more time to process the meal and, depending on when you eat, allow your body to fully digest your meal so you get better sleep. Then, IF you want the leftovers for lunch, that’s one less meal to prep or pay for.
If you choose an alcoholic beverage, order it after your food order
I regularly hear clients tell me they had the best intentions to eat healthy at a particular restaurant, only to have a few drinks and throw their plans out the window. This may come as a shock and maybe you should have a seat before continuing to read but alcohol doesn’t help us make good decisions. These clients have reported back that when they ordered food first, the drinking didn’t have as much impact on further food choices. Granted, drinking may contribute to poor dessert decisions but the dinner choice was healthy and fulfilling.
Skip the cocktail, beer, and wine. Opt for club soda, liquor, and lime
Cocktails are the worst enemy of people trying to get their health in order and possibly lose a few pounds. Cocktails are loaded with cheap ingredients, toxic food colors and unregulated alcohol. You might find upwards to 100 grams of sugar in a single cocktail. Also, there is no law requiring the makers of alcohol to report their ingredients, not even wine is safe. There are over 50 unreported additives that wine is allowed to have, including sugar! The safest alcoholic beverage is sparkling water, lime, and a medium to top-shelf liquor. This option has minimal sugar and few additives, you’ll also notice you are not craving the next drink as you finish the first one. I really think the sugar component is as addictive or more than the alcohol component in most cocktails.
Following these 7 tips for healthy eating at restaurants, you can exercise control over your restaurant experience and not feel like you’ve derailed efforts towards healthy eating. Essentially, these tips boil down to research, ask questions, skip the bun, control portions, make clear-headed food decisions, and choose better alcohol. Even if you do only one of these, you will feel you have some control over your decisions and not a let a few bad decisions cause you to spiral downwards. It’s also good to meal prep and plan in general, if you don’t have the tools to prepare a lot of food quickly check out my suggestions here.