Most people looking to adopt a fit lifestyle and eat healthy respond in one of two ways when it comes to dining out.
Some abandon their healthy eating campaigns altogether and indulge every whim, leading to feelings of regret and defeat. And the rest completely avoid social situations for fear of making poor decisions.
Neither of these extremes is a pleasant way to live.
The reality is that you can be social, eat healthy, and truly enjoy your food.
10 Tips to eat healthy at restaurants
Humans are social creatures and we use food as an excuse to gather. Think how awkward it would be if someone got a group together around an empty table to swap stories.
Add food to that equation and you’ve got yourself a good time.
Now, if you’re going out for an infrequent restaurant meal, feel free to use it as a planned high-calorie event.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a way to make regular outings work within an established eating plan, employ the tips below and don’t ditch friends and family because you’re stressing about your macros.
1. Plan ahead
If you know you’re going to celebrate with a meal out, skip some carbs and fat at breakfast and lunch and you’ll still end the day within your nutrient goals.
2. Say “no” to freebies
You go out to eat to enjoy things that you may not be able to prepare to the same degree of deliciousness at home, not to gorge on the free filler food that gets dropped off before you order.
And you know that once you eat that first chip with salsa or roll with butter, you’ll likely demolish the whole basket.
To prevent yourself from mindless pre-meal snacking, request that the server remove any bread, crackers, chips, etc.
3. Skip the appetizers
I have a pretty big appetite, but I don’t even enjoy the main course if I eat a bunch of bullshit mini-corn dogs, mozzarella sticks, or fried pickles at the beginning of the meal.
Instead, plan to enjoy the food that took 15 minutes of picking apart the menu to order.
4. Start with a salad
If you must have some kind of appetizer or your meal comes with a choice of soup or salad, opt for a salad.
When you’re starving, a salad will taste amazing. The first food that’s eaten in a meal will get all the credit for satisfying your hunger.
“Salad is delicious and satiating,” is definitely a great association to make.
5. Order an entree
Instead of going straight for the wings or a burger, check out the main entrees offered.
Chicken breast, steak, and fish are all great choices. You’ll ditch the bun, sauces, and french fries and they’ll likely be accompanied by expertly prepared veggies and a starch like potatoes or rice instead.
6. Make sure the meal has 30 – 50 grams of protein
Simply by doing this, you’ll naturally have to avoid things like mac n’ cheese, pizza, and nachos.
7. Avoid anything with a “glaze”
This is a restaurant term for what is essentially candy coating. You don’t need to consume a bunch of sugar with your protein and weaken your attempt to eat healthy.
8. Don’t drink your calories
You could easily tack on 500+ extra calories by ordering beer or regular soda. Remind yourself that you’d rather have a bigger steak.
Water is best, but I usually order Diet Coke when eating out. It’s definitely not the best option, but given the infrequency of my soda consumption, I think I’ll live.
If necessary, let a restaurant meal be the rare instance when you enjoy a diet soda (unless you’re eating out numerous times a week). Alternately, squeeze lemon and lime into seltzer water as a soda substitute.
9. Eat your protein first
Then vegetables second and your starch last.
This ensures you’ll get in all of your protein and veggies and then you’re free to eat as much of your potatoes or rice as you can fit in.
Chances are, you won’t be very hungry after the first two. And if you’re eating an entree-sized portion, there certainly won’t be room for dessert.
10. Not all condiments are evil
I’ve seen this mistake too often. People thinking that to eat healthy they have to eat plain. Then they pick at their terrible food and eat half a jar of organic almond butter when they go home.
No need to avoid seasonings, salsa, guacamole, hot sauce, or mustard as part of your meal. Especially if it means you’ll eat more meat or vegetables.
Just go easy on the salad dressings, sour cream, BBQ sauce, and mayo.
If you’re really prone to overeating, like I am, eat something before you go out.
Eat a cup of cottage cheese, can of tuna, or chicken breast paired with a serving of veggies before leaving the house.
It’ll stop the “eyes bigger than your stomach” effect and can help steer you away from questionable menu items.
Best (and worst) restaurant options
- Steak, roasted veggies, and baked potato
- Grilled chicken sandwich and baked sweet potato
- Salmon, steamed vegetables, and rice pilaf
SKIP: Bacon double cheeseburger and fries
- Veggie, seafood, or Denver omelette, wheat toast, and black coffee
- Steak and eggs with black coffee
SKIP: Pancakes, waffles, french toast, and mimosas
- Sushi (see SKIP note below)
- Grilled chicken teriyaki with steamed vegetables and rice
SKIP: Anything with “tempura” (i.e., battered and deep fried) or rolls with lots of cream cheese or mayo
- Pasta in a red sauce with ground beef or grilled chicken with a salad
- Grilled salmon with asparagus
SKIP: Chicken, veal, or eggplant parmesan (all are breaded and fried), cream sauces, garlic bread, meatless dishes
- Chicken or steak fajitas (served with onions and peppers)
- Beef, chicken, or pork tacos
SKIP: Flautas, sopes, chimichangas, empanadas, or other fried dishes, cheese quesadillas, or lengua (beef tongue)
- Thin crust pizza with veggies (peppers, spinach, olives, onion) and chicken
SKIP: Deep dish, extra cheese, buffalo wings