Building on last week’s post about How-To: Make Healthful Meals FAST, one of my top tips was to take advantage of fast food/restaurant options (!). Oh yes, in my world there are definitely ways to fit fast food into your fitness lifestyle. I decided to expand on the theme with my top tips for Eating Out Healthfully ANYWHERE – whether that’s a BBQ or a potluck or a fundraising dinner or a restaurant…whether it’s with friends or family or co-workers or complete strangers…excited to learn more? Let’s get to it!
Focus on Protein and Veggies
Just like grocery-shopping, start with your proteins in mind. Look for protein (animal or plant-based) that has been grilled, poached/boiled or baked and not deep-fried and/or breaded. Sprouted legumes and beans are often easier to digest for plant-based proteins. Your serving of protein should be about the area of a deck of playing cards, and the thickness of your hand (see Tip 3 below for what to do with those massive restaurant-size steaks and burgers that exceed this guideline!).
Shoot for veggies, veggies and more veggies. Perhaps start with a vegetable-based soup (beware heavy cream-based vegetable bisque) or a salad (but beware the Salad Trap!). If you can, consider replacing a starch on the side of your meal with more leafy or cruciferous (i.e. crunchy, like broccoli) vegetables – easy on the butter, sauces and other condiments. However, a little bit of butter or oil will help you with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins in the vegetables. Your micronutrients are important!
Choose Fats or Starches, but not both!
It’s so hard to play favourites, isn’t it? Especially when many of our favourite food combinations combine fat and starches (cue deep dish pizza). The issue is that hormonally, ingesting carbs gets the body ready to receive fat into the cells – unless you are looking to put on fat, combining high carbohydrate intake with fat is less than ideal. Also, from a digestive perspective, fatty foods are taxing on your digesting systems, as are fiber-rich starchy foods. You want to keep digestion moving optimally (it’s the number one metabolic process when you’re not exercising, aka for the 22-23+ hours of the day outside of your scheduled workout, it’s the top calorie-burning process). Lessen the load on your digestive system by letting it deal with one kind of food versus the other at a time. So have the richly marbled steak or have the baked potato, but don’t have them at the same meal! I often order a burger with a salad or soup instead of fries, and get them to hold the bun so I’m just eating it wrapped in lettuce. If I’m in the mood for pasta, I opt for noodles in a tomato-based (vs. cream-based sauce) and choose a light fish or chicken as the protein to keep the fat content down. As a dry cheese, a sprinkle of Parmesan makes a nice garnish, but no stretchy cheeses on or in my pasta.
Share your Meal
Many restaurant entrees are enough to serve 2-3 people, based on standard portion sizes. You can follow your appetite, but sometimes we feel compelled to finish an entire dish “just because it’s there” or “so it doesn’t go to waste.” Share with a dining companion who wants the same thing and you both win as you get what you want without going overboard. Dining solo or no one wants to share? Get half boxed up right away and re-purpose the leftovers in the next day’s meals. I will order an eight- or ten-ounce steak expressly to have half for steak and eggs or steak salad the next day!
Beware the “Salad Trap”
Yes, we want vegetables, but some salads can have so many toppings and rich dressings that they contain more fat, more added sugars and more calories than main dish entrees. Be mindful of cheese, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, croutons and rich dressings when selecting a salad!
Decide on Dessert in Advance
Ah, the end of an enjoyable and healthful meal out is near and now it’s time for my final tip: decide in advance whether you are having dessert. Ideally, also decide WHAT you are having so that you’re not tempted or swayed in the moment by the dessert menu. You can even plan the rest of your meal to accommodate your dessert choice – for example, if there are lots of carbohydrates in your dessert, like bread pudding or cake, you might skip the bread basket at the beginning of the meal. Fruit is usually a better choice for a sweet treat to end your meal, as it has water, fiber and vitamins to go along with the naturally-occurring fruit sugars.
So there are my top five tips for making healthful choices when eating out! Please try one or more and let me know what you think.
Have a fit day!