Your Guide To Healthy Restaurant Eating

Posted on March 17, 2016 by Amy Krasner

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Alright, so we all know that home cooked food is healthier than restaurant food. But how to we make good food choices at restaurants and what are we supposed to look for on the menu? 

Today I am going to share with you my complete restaurant guide to help you stay healthy while eating on-the-go. 

Before we even get to the healthy menu guidelines, there are a few things that I want you to consider. First, what type of restaurants are you currently eating at? Are you eating at fast-food restaurants? Do the restaurants offer some healthier options on their menu? Does the restaurant tend to serve really large portions? Does the restaurant source their ingredients locally or use organic ingredients? 

If the restaurants that you choose to go to don’t offer healthy items on the menu, it is way more challenging to make good choices in the first place. 

Second, I want you to consider how hungry you are when you order your food. If you show up at a restaurant with a hunger level of 7 (scale of 1-10) then it is going to be really hard to make good food choices. Rule of thumb, if you wait too long to eat (more than 4 hours), your blood sugar is going to drop too low and it is physiologically harder to make good food choices. You are going to want to eat more and you will make worse food choices.

To prevent this from happening, consider packing a healthy snack to eat in between breakfast and lunch or between lunch and dinner. Or, set a timer at your desk so that you don’t wait until you are starving before you head out the door for lunch or dinner. 

Now that you are better prepared, let’s dive into the healthy menu guidelines. 

 

Beverages

  • Select water (preferably room temperature or with no ice- to help with digestion), water with lemon, herbal tea (peppermint, ginger, camomile etc., or unsweetened iced tea
  • Avoid sugary beverages such as sodas, diet sodas, lemonade, fruit juice)
  • Make sure not to drink alcohol on an empty stomach (this will spike your blood sugar and is puts a lot more stress on your liver)
  • If you are choosing an alcoholic beverage select wine or ‘lighter’ color alcohols like tequila and vodka. Avoid sugary mixers like soda and juice- choose soda water and lemon or lime. Limit alcoholic beverages to 7 beverages per week. Avoid heavy craft beers and for those of you who are sensitive to gluten or who are wanting to lose weight, skip the beer all together.
  • Coffee- skip the foo-foo drinks that are loaded with sugar/syrup and processed ingredients. Your best option is to order black coffee, green tea, black tea or any herbal tea. You can add your own sweetener such as coconut palm sugar or stevia and your own creamer or milk such as unsweetened almond milk or unsweetened coconut milk. 

Appetizers

  • Look for items that have protein (chicken skewers, grilled shrimp, lettuce wraps etc.) or vegetables (vegetable sticks + hummus or grilled vegetables or salads)
  • Avoid fried appetizers: fries, chips, calamari, dumplings, jalapeno poppers, cheese sticks etc.
  • Avoid heavy carbohydrate appetizers: breads, pita, fries, potstickers, chips 

Main Dish

  • Avoid processed carbohydrates– anything made with white flour and white sugar- including bread, pasta, wraps etc.
    • If you want to get a burger, ask for it with a lettuce wrap instead of a bun
    • Instead of a sandwich, go for a salad. If you do get a sandwich, ask for it on multi-grain bread and take one piece of bread off to make an open-face sandwich. Keep in mind that a spinach wrap is the same thing as a white tortilla or a white wrap. Multi-grain bread isn’t much healthier than white bread but if you aren’t ready to eliminate the sandwich then at least cut the bread to 1 piece instead of 2. Or, if the restaurant has a gluten-free bread try that instead.
  • Avoid fried foods
  • Look for options with fresh ingredients– this includes: vegetables, animal protein, nuts and seeds, gluten-free grains (brown rice, quinoa, lentils, black beans, chickpeas etc.), good quality oils (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, butter). 
  • Choose healthy salad dressings– ask for an olive-oil based dressing. If they use canola oil or vegetable oil for their dressing, ask for a side of olive oil and vinegar so that you can make your own dressing. 
  • Watching portion size– creating a balance meal:
    • Most restaurant dishes have too many carbohydrates, not enough protein, not enough healthy fat and not enough vegetables. This is where you can customize your menu options:
      • Ask for a side salad or grilled or steamed vegetables instead of fries or chips
      • Ask for extra protein (for most women 4-5oz is a good serving size and for most men 5-6oz is a good serving size
      • Add avocado for healthy fat
      • Choose 1 carbohydrate per meal. For example, instead of getting beans, rice and a tortilla, choose 1 of those options. Or, if you are getting a sandwich, avoid getting chips or fruit as a side- choose a salad instead.
      • Limit carbohydrate portion to 3/4 cup or less for rice and beans
  • Ask your server what type of oil they cook in- if they cook in canola oil or vegetable oil then ask them to cook in butter or olive oil instead. Canola oil and vegetable are very inflammatory and are not recommended for cooking oils.

Desserts

  • Desserts are not intended to be eaten after every meal. Save your dessert for a special occasion or for a once-a-week indulgence. If you do get a dessert at a restaurant, split it with someone else. Another option is to wait until you get home to have a couple of pieces of dark chocolate or some fruit.

Hopefully this helps to build your confidence in making healthier choices at restaurants.

These tips are a great starting point to making healthier choices. During my 3-month program, I sit down with each of my clients and look over the menus from some of their favorite restaurants. Once we review the menus together, they leave the session with at least 3 healthy options to choose from each restaurant and they feel more confident about their food choices at restaurants.

If you feel overwhelmed with making good choices at restaurants, I would love to chat with you! Just fill out my application form so that we can set up a complimentary call.