Living in New York City, I am well aware that dining out is the social (and delicious) thing to do. While I love to cook for my family and even company, there are times when it is easier – and simply more practical- to dine out. But, eating out can be a daunting task when you’re trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Between the bread baskets, overwhelming menus, and tempting desserts, making healthy choices can get confusing. While it would be impossible for me to tell you what your best options are at every restaurant, here are my golden rules that you can follow at anywhere anytime!
First, be prepared! The Internet is a wonderful tool. If possible, sneak a peak at the restaurant’s menu before you get there (www.menupages.com is a great website). This way, you know what you’re up against and you have an idea of what your choices are.
Next, look for entrees that consist of a lean protein and a side of veggies. Order your meal high and dry which is code for “no butter or oil”, and ask for all sauces/dressing on the side. Then, dip, don’t pour. If you just stick the tip of your fork into the sauce, you will get all the flavor of the sauce without the unnecessary extra calories you get from dousing your food in it.
Third, avoid the huge problem of huge portions. Often, restaurant-size pieces of fish, chicken or steak can be more than twice the size of a healthy portion of protein (10 oz instead of 4 or 5!). So, split an entree with a friend, order a half portion, ask for half to be packed up to go straightaway, or order two appetizers. All these provide instant portion control, no willpower required. Not to mention, you’ll save some money!
Fourth, spoil your appetite! If you go to a restaurant starving, chances are, you’re going to overdo it. Try to go into a meal only slightly hungry, but if you are ravenous, opt to start with a salad or broth-based soup, and definitely avoid sitting in front of the the bread basket. If you opt for the salad, the usual rules apply: order dressing on the side, and dip, don’t pour. Skip the croutons and dried fruit and enjoy cheese and nuts in moderation. A healthy appetizer will help ease your hunger so when your entree arrives, you’ll be able to leave over a few bites and avoid joining the clean plate club (you’ll likely save about 100 cals).
And finally, if you’re eating out, enjoy yourself, and enjoy dessert in moderation. Chances are, you’re in good company, so focus on that and share a dessert. NEVER (well, unless it is your birthday) order your own. Then, stick to my three bite rule. The first bite you’ll enjoy the most, the second bite will satisfy your need for more and your third bite will be the grand finale. You’ll have about 1/4 cup dessert anywhere between 100 – 200 calories, just the right amount to sate your sweet tooth without enhancing your jean size. Eat slowly, enjoy the conversation, and have a good time!