How to Choose Wisely in Any Restaurant

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In a perfect world, you’d eat every meal at home, all measured by your handy food scale to guarantee each spread is perfectly proportioned to fit in your macros.  It would be all lean meats, veggies and healthy fats. The perfect key to fat loss. And eating out at restaurants would be rare. 

But perfect is boring.

Sometimes you need a little excitement, a little variety, a little change of scenery and someone else to do the cooking and cleaning.

But for most people, when we’re eating out, we nosh down on almost 500 calories more than we would’ve if we were at home. Yikes! That could add to up 50 pounds a year of extra weight! Just from our favorite restaurants!

But eating out while still losing weight is possible.

You just have to know how and what to order. And although it can get tricky if you don’t know the nutritional breakdown or calorie content of your favorite foods, here are 11 tips for how to avoid the sneaky questions that trick you into overeating or making unhealthy choices.

And check out this download to get tips on how to choose wisely at your favorite restaurants, from Mexican to Italian, we’ve got you covered.

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SNEAKY QUESTIONS THAT TRICK YOU INTO OVEREATING

1. HAVE YOU BEEN HERE BEFORE?

A study from the International Food Research Journal found that people make unhealthy choices when eating out because they feel like they’re out celebrating special occasions! The problem is that Americans now have 1 out of every 3 meals away from home! That’s a whole heck of a lot of eating out and a ton of extra calories. And those sure don’t help you lose weight.

The next time you’re eating out or ordering in, think about how often you use those meals as splurges.   If you’re only eating out occasionally, then go ahead and enjoy yourself. But if you’re like most of us who’re eating out almost as much as we eat in, then choose your foods and portions wisely.   Because you’ll probably be doing it again tomorrow.

2. WHO’S READY TO ORDER?

Research shows that if you’re the first person to order from your group, you’re more likely to stick with the healthier choices you know you should have. Now, I know, it’s supposed to be ladies first. But ordering first keeps you from being tempted to stray from your healthy choice when others pick the gooey, butter and cheesy dishes. If you want to be a gentleman, pick your order, close your menu and don’t pay attention to what anyone else orders. Stick to your guns and don’t sway at the final hour.

3. HOW DO YOU WANT THAT COOKED?

Steak being cooked over open flame on a grillWho knew, most restaurants don’t have a real grill back there in that kitchen? When you seemingly order the healthy “grilled” option, you’re really getting a piece of meat cooked on a grill top, not an open flame. That grill plate is more like a flat pan, where all the dripping oil sits to cook your food in.   We usually order grilled food to cut down on the fat and calories. But this cooking method doesn’t give you any of those perks.

So if you’re aiming to order that meat with a little less fat, ask for it to be flame cooked. If that kitchen at doesn’t have a real flame, then your next best plan is to order your meat broiled.

4. WHAT KIND OF DRESSING DO YOU WANT?

When eating out, most meals come with a salad before your meal arrives. But that salad can be a sneaky trap. Salad dressings can be loaded with tons of calories, sugars and fats. You order a salad thinking that you’re making a healthier option, but once you add the dressings, cheeses, seeds and crispy toppings, it turns into a higher calorie, higher fat meal than that steak you really wanted! The boneless buffalo salad at Chili’s has a whopping 1040 calories and 72 grams of fat. While that classic sirloin steak, even with the side of fries, only has 680 calories and 35 grams of fat.

Now that doesn’t mean nix the salad in exchange for fries every time you’re eating out. But when you do order a salad, ask for oil and vinegar on the side as your dressing. And toss off some of the croutons or fried toppings, just focus on the veggies.

5. BREAD OR ROLLS?

The number one source of calories in the American diet is bread. Woah! We have it with everything – toasted with our eggs, wrapped around our sandwiches and sitting in the middle of our dinner table regardless of what kind of food we’re ordering.Server bringing a large bread basket to a table

When eating out, why are we always served bread? Those restaurants do it very strategically. That bread gives you a surge in sugar and insulin. By the time you’re done with your dinner, you’re hitting a sugar crash. And then the dessert menu sounds like exactly the sugar fix you need to bump your energy back up.

Instead of diving into the breadbasket, order a protein dense appetizer, like a shrimp cocktail.   You still get to enjoy a little pre-dinner delight, but you won’t be hitting the sugar crash wall in an hour.

6. AND WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR YOUR ENTREE?

Don’t feel stuck ordering something from the entrée menu. There are often plenty of choices from the appetizer section that could easily count as your entrée. Not only are they portioned better (meaning smaller), but most of the time they’re lower in calories and fat (and cheaper). Heck, ordering off of the kid’s menu can keep your waistline (and wallet) pretty darn happy. Who cares that you’re over 12? You still want to fit into your clothes and eating out shouldn’t change that goal!

7. IS THIS ON THE MENU?

Sometimes you’re eating out with all the good intentions to eat something healthy. But that healthy option just isn’t on the menu. So rather than a make a fuss, you just pick something else. But that usually means picking a less healthy choice. Next time, order unapologetically. If you want a turkey burger instead of beef, ask for it. If you want that sandwich wrapped in lettuce instead of bread, ask for it. Today, it’s commonplace to customize your order. It doesn’t have to be on the menu in order to get it. Most restaurants will want to make what you order so they can keep you coming back again. Your waiter probably won’t even bat an eye at your requests.

8. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DRINK?

If eating out is going to be a splurging special occasion, choose to splurge either on food or drinks, not both. Spending two bucks for unlimited refills on a soda might sound like a bargain, but it’s not doing your waist any favors. Soda’s full of empty calories and sugar. Even the zero calorie ones still have plenty of artificial sugars to screw with your hormones. If you’re eating out to nosh down on a juicy bacon cheeseburger or cheesy gooey pizza, stick to water as your drink of choice. Add a little lime or lemon if you want to feel fancy.

9. HOW WAS THE FOOD?

Whether eating out is a special occasion or commonplace, only eat food you love. If your fries come out soggy or the pasta’s overcooked, don’t waste your time or taste buds with it. Eat the food that you truly enjoy. Any of those unloved foods can stay right where they are, on your plate rather than on your hips or gut.

10. ARE YOU READY FOR DESSERT?

Glass jar filled with berries and creamSometimes it’s just too darn hard to restrain yourself when everyone else is ordering dessert. Do yourself a favor and don’t look at the menu at all. Those pictures will surely make your mouth water. Instead, ask the waiter if you could order berries topped with whipped cream. You can still enjoy your ending treat while saving on calories and fat. But if you’re eating out and know you just won’t be able to resist that chocolate cake, keep your entire meal balanced by picking an entrée that’s lean protein and veggies only. Save the splurge just for the ending.

11. ARE YOU READY FOR THE CHECK?

Overeating while eating out is sometimes a result of being frugal. Since you paid good money for that food, you don’t want it to go to waste. So you clean your plate and enjoy every second of it (until you’re too stuffed to even waddle to the car). Avoid this by redefining the value of your food. Yes, throwing food in the trash is wasteful. But overeating and storing that extra food in your fat cells is another form of waste. Stop both of these by saving half your meal as leftovers for later. Or heck, order from the appetizer or kids menu to get smaller sizes (and cheaper prices).

EATING OUT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE COMPLICATED.

Sometimes your server can be your best resources for picking a healthy dish. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, request substitutions or check out the nutrition guide online before ordering.

And remember, eating out should be a treat. It should be a special occasion that doesn’t happen daily. But if you aren’t a friend of your own home kitchen, then choose wisely and healthily when you make your nightly dinner plans.

Still not sure what you should order next time you’re eating out? Check out the guide for Eating Out Without Gaining Weight. It doesn’t matter if you’re headed for Mexican, Italian or Chinese food, we’ve got you covered with the best suggestions on what to order to stick to your healthy eating goals.

Eating out without gaining weight tag 

 

Comments

comments

Comments 6

  1. My husband and I love eating out, especially Mexican food. But we are trying to make a conscious effort to eat healthier when we do so. I didn't realize that if you're the first person to order from your group, you're more likely to stick with the healthier choices. I think going to a restaurant with what you want to order in mind will also help you stick to any diet you may be on.

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      Author

      It is crazy what kind of information is out there that's been researched! We were surprised to learn that too – that the sooner you order, the more likely you are to choose a healthy option! Thanks for your comment Elsa!

  2. I didn't know that people tended to order healthier food at a restaurant if they picked their order before their friends. However, I'm sure that I've been tempted to get something less healthy than what I initially chose because someone at my table mentioned that it looked good. I'll be sure to pay more attention to what people order and how that affects other guests at the table next time I go to a restaurant. Thanks for the info!

    1. Post
      Author

      Hazel, we are happy to share! Awareness is the first step in changing how we eat! It is so easy to be influenced by others when we aren't even aware it's happening!

  3. My husband and I love to go out to restaurants and eat steak and so I really appreciate all of the advice that is on this post, especially the part about how I would want my food cooked. However, I have never heard of asking for my meat to be flame cooked and so I am curious about it. What does the flame do to the food to make it better?

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you for your comment Alaskan Turtle 🙂 In most restaurants, the primary method for cooking meat is on a flat top pan. When you cook meat this way, all of the fat that comes off in the cooking process sits in that pan surrounding and coating the meat so when it is time to be served, it still has nearly the same amount of fat as when it started (and some places add extra oil or butter to the pan to increase flavor and the subsequently, the fat). Cooking meat over an open flame, similar to how we would grill at home, allows the fat from the meat to drip away so by the time it hits your plate, it has a lower amount of fat in it. Not all restaurants have the capability to cook with a flame, but if they do – it's always a good choice!

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