How to eat healthy when dining out

Eating-healthy-when-dining-out_largeYou’ve made a commitment to be the healthiest version of you that you can be. You’ve vowed to eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day and you’re eager to cook all meals from scratch and never eat out again. These are all healthy choices, but they may not be sustainable.

Healthy eating is a matter of moderation. It’s not realistic to assume you’ll never eat out again. While dining out isn’t as healthy as cooking your own food, there are ways to make healthier choices when you’re faced with a restaurant menu or a buffet line.

Skip the liquid calories

Soda, alcohol and fancy caffeinated drinks all add calories but little to no nutrients.

Pay attention to the portion size 

Many restaurants provide you with enough food to feed two people. Consider splitting a meal with someone or take half home for later. Ask for a to-go container when your food arrives so you won’t be tempted to eat beyond your fullness level.

Read the descriptions on a menu carefully 

The way a meal is prepared or seasoned can affect how healthy it is. Words like smothered or sauced likely indicate a food may be higher in fat or sodium. Avoid deep fried foods. Opt for foods that are steamed, poached, baked, roasted, broiled or grilled. Choose lean cuts of meat like sirloin or tenderloin and foods that are prepared with no added fat. 

Ask for condiments on the side

Request condiments, sauces, gravies, margarine, butter, salad dressing and sour cream on the side or not at all. When you eat them, dip your fork in them before getting your bite of food. Each bite will have the taste, but you’ll use less overall.

Be careful with salad toppings

Salads always seem like a safe choice but they can easily be loaded down with calorie-dense toppings like cheese, dried fruit and nuts. Ask for those toppings on the side to regulate how much you’re actually eating. If the restaurant has a salad bar, then fill up on a super healthy salad full of fresh, raw vegetables. In place of regular salad dressing, consider a side of oil and vinegar.

Order a healthier pizza

Even pizza can be made healthier. Choose a thin crust and top it with vegetables in place of processed or high-fat meats.

Keep side dishes healthy 

When your choice of sides is up for grabs, select a fruit or vegetable when able. Swap those fries for a side salad.

Hold the salt and fat

Limit salt when possible. Avoid processed meats, Cajun style or blackened meats, and soy or teriyaki sauce. Remove the skin or cut visible fat off of any meat you might order.

Eat slowly

Take at least 20 minutes to eat your food and don’t multitask while eating. Savoring your food allows your brain to realize you’re full and prevents overeating.

Eat out sparingly

Limit how often you eat out for the biggest impact of all.

Remember these are tips for choosing healthier options. Living a healthy life doesn’t mean depriving yourself of the things you love, especially on special occasions. So have your cake and eat it, too … in moderation.

Mara Weber is a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.