I don’t eat out often, mostly because I just really enjoy the food I cook at home for myself. That being said, there are times when eating out is the only option or when I just don’t want to cook. I know that these situations can be tricky for a lot of people, especially for those who are trying to lose weight or want to clean up their diet. Healthy eating at restaurants is possible, though — even at fast food restaurants.
I’m pretty sure there aren’t too many people in the world who never eat out (if you are part of this group, please, let me know!). Restaurant meals and fast food meals are part of modern life. You don’t have to totally eschew eating out in order to reach your fitness goals. You do have to make smart decisions and be strategic about the choices you make when you’re eating out, though.
If you feel overwhelmed or anxious about eating out while trying to live a healthy lifestyle, this post is for you. Listed below are four of my go-to strategies when I want to eat out and also enjoy a healthy meal:
1. Plan Ahead
If you know that you’re going to be eating out at some point during the day — and you know where you’re going to be eating — it’s helpful to look up the restaurant’s menu ahead of time.
Most places share their menus online these days, so it’s pretty easy to navigate healthy eating at restaurants. You can go online, figure out what they serve, and then decide what you’re going to eat when you get there based on your specific goals.
If you track macros/calories, you might be able to look up the macro and calorie count for a particular menu item.
You also might be able to break the item down and make an educated guess about the item’s calorie count. For example, if you’re going to order a burger, you can break it down into its separate parts (bun, burger patty, cheese, tomato, bacon, etc.) and factor in the calories for each of these items.
2. Keep it Simple
What if you’re looking at a super complicated menu item that doesn’t have the separate ingredients listed?
If this is the case, you probably won’t be able to estimate the calorie count very well. When this happens, you have a few different choices.
The first choice is to do your best to break down the calorie count and then move on with your meal. Remember, one high-calorie meal is not going to stall or reverse your progress.
The second choice is to pick a simpler dish. When I’m eating out and I want to keep things as healthy/low-calorie as possible, I try to keep my meals simple. For me, this looks like a serving of animal protein (chicken, steak, etc.) and vegetables or a side salad with olive oil and vinegar instead of dressing.
This might seem boring to you or like a waste of a restaurant meal. For me, though, this is the way I like to eat. I’m happy to go out and order a simple meal like this, not only because I know it’ll help me to stay on track with my health and fitness goals, but also because I know it’s going to taste really good!
3. Know Your Non-Negotiables
If you’re someone who struggles with food allergies/sensitivities and those allergies/sensitivities inform your food choices, it’s also helpful to know your non-negotiables when you’re trying to handle healthy eating at restaurants.
For me, a non-negotiable is dairy. I will do whatever I can to avoid being exposed to dairy because it makes me feel like absolute garbage. When I’m eating out, I order menu items that don’t contain dairy or ask for the dairy product (usually cheese) to be left off. This is never a problem, and I’ve never encountered someone who’s unwilling to make this adjustment for me.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking for substitution or modifications like this.
It’s important to note, though, that there are limits. I would never go to an Italian restaurant and ask them to make me Fettuccine Alfredo with coconut milk instead of cream. That would be ridiculous.
Don’t be afraid to ask for small menu changes, but be realistic about what the restaurant can do for you. Be polite when you ask for these changes, too. That ought to go without saying, but I feel the need to say it anyway.
4. Know When to Treat Yourself
Finally, recognize that there are times when eating the healthiest meal possible doesn’t need to be your top priority. Sometimes, you just need to order your favorite meal or dessert, regardless of whether it fits your calorie goals or not.
I mentioned earlier that eating one high-calorie meal is not going to derail your progress, and I really mean that. If you’re sticking to your macro/calorie goals all throughout the week and you have one treat meal out, you’re going to be just fine, even if you go over your goals.
You might even find that having the occasional treat meal or dessert will help you to stay on track throughout the week. This isn’t the case for everyone, of course (for abstainers, it’s better to never indulge that to try and indulge just once), but for a lot of people, it’s beneficial, not just for weight loss and fitness progress, but also for your mental health.
Decide ahead of time whether a particular meal or dessert or drink is worth it for you and, if it is, go for it. If it’s not, go ahead and order what makes you happy and fits your goals and needs, no matter what other people around you are ordering.
Be sure to refer to this post, too, if anyone feels the need to comment on your food.