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You Can Do It! 12 Steps to Eating Healthy at Restaurants

by JJ Virgin
salad - ways to make healthier choices when eating out

You’ve been pondering the menu all day, determining the perfect dish that will satisfy your appetite without any miserable morning-after regret on the bathroom scale. With all that focus, you realize you’ve forgotten to eat and arrive at the restaurant ravenous. As you await your friends while sipping a glass of pinot noir, the waiter sets down a hot crusty baguette and everything goes downhill from there.

salad - ways to make healthier choices when eating out

Dining out doesn’t mean abandoning your dietary principles and going face down in a bacon cheeseburger or a bowl of fettuccine Alfredo. These 12 tips will make your next restaurant excursion easier to navigate healthily and perhaps even save you from devouring half the dark chocolate truffle torte your dining companion insisted on ordering.

How to Make Healthy Choices When Eating Out

1. Don’t arrive hungry

Initially, this might sound silly, since after all, you’re going to an establishment that serves food. But nothing ever starts on time. Your friends are usually late, you might have to wait for your table (even if you made reservations), and sitting down at 7 p.m. means you probably won’t get your entrée till 8 or later. Arrive pleasantly hungry but not famished and you’ll enjoy your company and the ambiance rather than fixate on the menu and stare hungrily towards the kitchen.

2. Mix and match

Survey the entire menu when you sit down. Let’s say you want salmon but it comes with garlic-cheddar risotto. The grass-fed filet, on the other hand, comes with sautéed spinach and garlic. Politely ask your server to switch sides. Make healthy eating an adventure and try a green vegetable you would never attempt at home.

3. Start your meal with a salad

Keep it simple and top it with olive oil and vinegar. One study showed people who started with a salad ate less food during their subsequent meal.

4. But bypass the gargantuan dinner salads

Candied walnuts, bacon, taco strips, dried fruit, rice noodles, and wantons atop entrée salads are fat-bomb red alerts. Likewise, skip the sugary vinaigrettes and creamy dressings. If you do a dinner salad, opt for avocado or guacamole, salsa, chicken, and black beans. Ask for a low-sugar vinaigrette or oil and vinegar on the side.

5. Beware of red flags

Any entrée described as breaded, fried, crunchy, crispy, glazed, or creamy translates into fast fat loss obstacle. Order your lean protein and non-starchy veggies grilled, baked, or broiled.

6. You know what assuming does

Ask your server questions before you order so that if you have any, say, gluten restrictions you don’t end up with an otherwise healthy chicken breast drowning in a mysterious gluten-filled brown sauce. Ignorance doesn’t cut it. If you fail to ask and your chicken breast arrives deep-breaded (even though the menu never indicated it), you’re responsible if you eat it.

7. Don’t invite the enemy to the table

Banish the breadbasket before your server even sets it down. If you need something to munch on before your salad, ask for a small bowl of olives.

8. Double up

Two appetizers as your main course provide better portion control than a gigantic entrée. You might order hummus with veggies, for instance, alongside grilled chicken kabobs with salsa.

9. Share

Restaurants love gargantuan portions. Beat them at their own game and ask for an extra plate to share. Even if they charge you a few bucks extra, you’ll save money and savor that satisfied (not stuffed) post-meal feeling.

10. Cut it in half

If your dining partner’s not up for sharing, ask your server to box half your entrée before you eat so you can have it at the office tomorrow. After all, you’re more likely to overeat when food’s within reach. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

11. 3 bites and fork down

Your business date insists you must try the pistachio chocolate upside-down cake, and who are you to argue since you’re trying to score his 6-figure account? Instead of demurely declining, have 3 polite bites – we’re talking bites you would eat on The Rachael Ray Show, not during an 11 p.m. fridge raid – and ask your server to remove the fork. Trust me: your date will have no problem finishing that cake.

12. Get ideas, not absolutes, from the menu

Why let your menu dictate what you’ll eat? Use it as a guide, not an ultimatum, about how you should enjoy your dinner. Even if they charge a few bucks extra, many restaurants happily accommodate substitutions if you’re polite about asking.


jj virginCelebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin is the author of The New York Times Bestseller The Virgin Diet.

Featured photo by alexbrn

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