It may sound like an oxymoron, but it is totally possible to eat well, even while eating out. As a dietitian, healthy eating is always something I strive for. But as a food lover, eating out and exploring some of Boston’s best restaurants is a favorite hobby of mine. Here are five tips on how I combine my two passions for eating healthfully and eating out:
1) Scan the menu. Before you even get to the restaurant, pull up the menu online. I love to scan the menu to see what my options are because it gives me an opportunity to make a decision on what I’ll order without the pressure of a waiter breathing down my neck, or having my decision swayed by friends making less healthful choices.
2) Mix and match. You can make up your own menu item…seriously! Scan the entire menu before making a decision. Even if you know you want a seafood entrée or have a hankering for the steak, you may find other food options hidden in different parts of the menu. Frequently a menu item I choose is paired with a side I don’t want. But if I see another entrée comes with a healthier side dish, I’ll ask to make the swap. Sure sometimes switching menu items can cost an extra dollar, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
3) Mimic what you eat at home. I know what you’re thinking: I eat out so I don’t have to eat at home! But if you’re a healthy eater, chances are you’re making balanced meals at home with lean protein, complex carbs and plenty of produce. Make sure you make similar choices when dining out. If you can’t wait to dig into the big bowl of mac n’ cheese at your favorite restaurant, pair it with a side salad or steamed veggies. If the portion sizes are massive when you eat out (and they usually are) eat only as much as you’d typically have in your own kitchen, and bring the rest home in a doggy bag to enjoy another day.
4) Choose what’s most important to you: cocktail, dessert, or bread. These are usually the three sources of extra, unnecessary calories that we all love so much when we dine out. But sometimes we go overboard and enjoy all three, tacking on hundreds of calories to a restaurant meal. If a nice glass of Pinot Noir is your favorite way to enjoy your restaurant meal, start sipping, but omit the bread and dessert. If you can’t resist the hot buttery rolls in the breadbasket, enjoy just one, but pass on the other extras. It’s all about enjoying your meal, but not in excess.
5) Know that even seemingly healthy restaurant options, like a big salad or grilled chicken entrée can still be major calorie bombs. After all, things like cheese, croutons, buttered vegetables and tons of oil can convert even the healthiest ingredients. When it comes to dining out my best tip is to limit your portion size. Even if you’re enjoying rich ingredients or hearty meals, you’re doing so in moderation, which naturally keeps calories in check.
I hope these tips help you dine out healthfully. Bon appetite!
Janel Funk is a Boston-based RD who is committed to helping others reach their health goals, one bite at a time. Janel received her master’s degree from the Nutrition Communication program at Tufts University, and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from Syracuse University. She currently works in corporate wellness where she develops wellness programs for large companies, provides nutrition counseling for employees, and gives nutrition presentations relevant to a working professional’s busy life. She also regularly blogs at Eat Well With Janel, where she shares recipes & tips based on her life through. Be sure to connect with her on Twitter @DietitianJanel.