5 Ways to Eat Healthier at a Restaurant

Going out to eat is great, but when you’re trying to be healthy, a restaurant dinner can derail your wholesome habits. Here are five ways to make better choices while you’re eating out — without feeling like you’re sacrificing anything at all.

Look at the menu ahead of time

When you’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle, planning and preparing your meals is the key to success, and the same goes for eating out. It’s easy to get the “wrong” thing at a restaurant — whether it’s because you feel flustered or rushed when it’s time to order, or because you’re just really hungry and a creamy pasta sounds like it will hit the spot. Avoid falling into this calorie-laden trap by looking at the menu on the restaurant’s website before you leave the house. Decide what you will (and won’t) eat ahead of time so you feel confident in your decision when it’s time to order.

Start with a salad

Serving a salad before dinner is a pretty typical tradition at many restaurants, and a study from the National Institutes of Health found that people who start with a big bowl of leafy greens end up consuming fewer calories over the course of the meal. So turn down the bread basket and opt for a salad instead! Of course, that doesn’t mean you should get any old salad on the menu. Be careful to avoid anything loaded with croutons, fried toppings, candied nuts or fruits, and heavy dressings. Instead look for something with lots of green vegetables, raw nuts like slivered almonds, and legumes like beans or peas. And whatever you choose, ask for a light dressing (or even just vinegar and oil) on the side!

Treat yourself to the steak

Okay, it doesn’t have to be steak if that’s not your thing, but as long as your dietary restrictions allow, ordering a high-protein entrée is a great way to feel full without loading up on carbs. If you prefer a leaner protein, opt for chicken or fish — and whatever you get, ask for a simple preparation with the sauce on the side. That’s because most restaurants cook their cuts in some combination of butter and oil, and sometimes with cream, cheese, or even flour. Sure it’s added flavor, but it’s also added fat and calories. By getting the sauce on the side, you can control how much of it you eat, and if the meat is well seasoned and properly cooked, you probably won’t need much sauce at all. While you’re at it, double up on green veggies like broccoli or zucchini in place of starchy sides like potatoes or rice. And if you’re so full from the salad you started with that you can only eat half of your entrée, you’re in luck because meat and veggies make a perfect leftover lunch (hot or cold).

Drink smarter

Whether you’re counting calories, or just want to cut back on your consumption, you can still imbibe when you eat out — just be smart about it. Most drinks you’ll find on the cocktail menu at a restaurant are full of sugary mixers, so instead of ordering a Cosmopolitan or Old Fashioned, opt instead for a single spirit with club soda and lime. If you prefer wine, ask the sommelier to suggest a dry wine to complement your meal, since dry wines have less sugar than sweet wines. Whatever you choose, drink an entire glass of water beforehand so you’re not drinking alcohol to quench your initial thirst, and definitely be sure to have an entire glass of water between each cocktail or glass of wine.

Go out for ice cream after

This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you really want to have dessert after dinner, make a plan to stop for ice cream on your way home — whether that means picking up a pint at the grocery store or getting your favorite flavor from a neighborhood ice cream shop. Restaurant pastry chefs are known for incredibly decadent desserts, which more often than not means they’re loaded with carbs, creams, and syrups. By comparison, a single scoop of ice cream is a much healthier option. Before you make it to your next stop, you might even find you don’t really want the ice cream after all. And who can argue with that?

Next Up

5 Ways to Save Money While Eating Out

If you eat out frequently, you know it can put a dent in your wallet. But with a little planning and creativity, you can save quite a bit of money over time — without sacrificing flavor or fun at your favorite restaurants.
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