How To Make Smarter Food Choices When Dining Out

How to navigate calorie-laden restaurant menus and stay on track.

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Dining out is a part of life. We use meals to connect with others, celebrate occasions, and for convenience. Knowing what to order, as well as how to order, will help you navigate restaurant calorie bombs and stay on track. Let’s go through the three most common potential pitfalls and how to overcome them without sadly pushing a single piece of lettuce around your plate.

Spontaneous Outing
Meal preparation and planning ahead are crucial components to success with your fitness goals. There are few things more frustrating than having your day planned, or all your meals consumed, and an unexpected gathering arises.

What to do? Here are some tips:

1. Shift to a slightly lower calorie day the following day. Swapping items for lower carbohydrate options the day after an expected bump in calories is an excellent way to cut calories and keep your weekly volume the same. If one day falls out of line, you can focus on your total weekly calories and make adjustments to the rest of the week.

2. At the restaurant, check for items that are comparable to what you had planned for meals. If you have one meal remaining that is grilled chicken, vegetables, and a starchy carbohydrate, mimic that meal at the restaurant. Ask for vegetables steamed and take into consideration if the restaurant uses marinades.

3. If spontaneous outings are a common occurrence for you, adjust the times you consume the most calories accordingly. Constructing a plan that allows for a higher calorie meal when these instances typically crop up will help.

Related: Nutrition on the Road

Substitution Stress
Substituting at a restaurant can make us feel like Sally in the movie, When Harry Met Sally. Consider small substitutions instead of complete meal overhauls such as dressing on the side, sauces on the side, or proteins cooked without butter or oil.

Everything is Fried
Nutritious, calorie-friendly restaurant choices are on the rise but there are still establishments with a less than stellar selection. If you are having trouble with the menu options, consider sharing an entrée with a friend or order an appetizer as an entrée. Ask for a to-go box with your entrée to appropriately divide the super size portion before you realize you’ve downed the entire serving. I also love to use “checks and balances.” I’ll choose a libation or dessert, for instance, instead of both.

No need to nix restaurant meals in pursuit of your fitness goals. Remember to take your time and put your fork down between bites. Enjoy the conversation, company, and the atmosphere. Focus on your internal cues periodically through the meal to decide if you are still hungry. You’ll be amazed at how satisfying small portions are practicing mindfulness.

By Karey Northington

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