Monday, March 31, 2014

Tips for Eating Out (and Still Being Healthy)

When I first started eating truly healthy (i.e. Whole30), I was hesitant of eating anything that I did not cook for fear that it would be non-compliant. I was so terrified of eating out, in fact, that I only did so three times: once on Day 19 and twice on Day 26.

It turned out that restaurant-eating was not quite as troublesome as I thought it would be -- since I followed a few guidelines that I set for myself. Because they helped me so much, I thought I'd share them with you. You can thank me later. :)

1. Do your research.

As soon as I set up a date with friends, I look up the restaurant online and check out the menu right away to figure out the options from which I can choose.

I know that the first restaurant to which I ventured (Palmer's) would be fairly easy, as it's a deli where you can essentially create your own meal. So, I built my own salad with Whole30-compliant ingredients, ensuring that I did not order lunch meats (for fear of added preservatives), raisins (for fear of added sweeteners), or pre-made dressing (for fear of all of the above).

2. Don't go to the restaurant starving.

If I know that I am going out to eat, especially somewhere that serves chips and salsa (my weakness) or bread beforehand, I make sure that I am not starving when I arrive. First, that means that I stay well-hydrated throughout the day, drinking tons and tons of water, which definitely helps to stave off hunger. Second, if I'm even a teensy bit hungry, I grab a snack -- a small handful of macadamia nuts, a Larabar, an apple, etc. -- before I head to the restaurant, just so that I'm not absolutely famished (and therefore tempted by everything) when I sit down to order.

3. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

If you are unsure of what a particular ingredient is or are curious as to what exactly a certain dish contains, ask. The restaurant staff should be knowledgeable about their product, and if they are unsure, they should be able to ask the chef.

When I ventured out the second time (to New World Cafe), I had pre-selected my meal, Cauliflower "Cous Cous" Salad, but wanted to be sure that their lemon-garlic vinaigrette was compliant. So, I simply asked if it had added sweetener (and the answer was no).

If you are ordering a "house salad" at a larger restaurant, definitely ask what ingredients it contains, as often it will be filled with cheese, croutons, and other less-healthy options.

It's also totally fine to ask questions about how your meal is cooked: for instance, what type of oil is used to saute the veggies, whether the meat is grilled or fried (if it doesn't already say), etc.

4. Ask for omissions and/or substitutions and/or additions.

After doing research to eat out at my third restaurant (Gusto), I decided that the Fromage Bleu salad looked delicious; however, it contained blue cheese. So, I kindly asked for the blue-cheese salad without blue cheese. (I got used to asking for the such-and-such hamburger without the hamburger when I was a vegetarian many moons ago, so this was nothing.)

When I head to a fancier restaurant with friends, which is bound to happen sooner or later, I will likely ask for substitutions: a second side of veggies instead of mashed potatoes, a house salad with oil and vinegar instead of soup, etc.

5. Make conscious choices.

While I maintained a very strict diet while completing my Whole30, I will not be doing so forever. That being said, eating -- even at restaurants -- is no longer a "free for all" but rather a time to make conscious decisions rather than "slip ups" or "exceptions." For instance, if I have a nice dinner planned, I may consciously make the decision to have 1-2 glasses of wine prior to going. I will not "accidentally" order a bottle of wine -- or even a glass of wine -- without consciously weighing that decision.

Additionally, if I order an appetizer or a dessert, it will be because I made that decision prior to heading to the restaurant. It won't be simply because everyone else is or because it just looked good: it will be a deliberate choice.

The list could go on and on and on, but five is a good number to start with. :)

What are your tips and suggestions for making healthy choices while still enjoying a nice restaurant? What do I need to add to this list?

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  1. Great tips! Do you ask about butter, I feel like I have to deliberately say no butter, because I think so much gets covered in it.

    1. I haven't ordered anything yet that COULD be covered in butter, but I most definitely WILL when that possibility arises. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure that would not be good for anyone -- particularly me and the restaurant's bathroom. :)

  2. Awesome tips :) eating out tends to be anxiety provoking for me as well mostly due to portion sizes, but asking questions definitely helps (even if I don't enjoy talking so much to the waiter)

    1. I agree, Kendall. It's interesting, though: I feel like the healthier I eat, especially at restaurants, the smaller the portions naturally are. And, if they're big portions (i.e. a salad with grilled chicken and vinaigrette), I don't feel so bad about eating the whole darn thing. :)