One of the biggest challenges facing those trying to follow a healthy diet is the local restaurant. Eating out presents special challenges, such as not knowing how the food was prepared, how much fat it contains, and whether or not the healthiest ingredients were used.
Many restaurant chains, and even some fast food restaurants, have recognized the demand for healthier menu choices, and they are working hard to satisfy that demand. All too often, however, the healthy choices on a restaurant menu are limited and unappealing. It is important, therefore to pay close attention to the menu and make the healthiest choices possible.
One of the most important thing diners can do to eat healthy at restaurants is to be proactive. Diners should not be afraid to ask how a dish is prepared, or what ingredients are used in its preparation. If the server does not know, ask him or her to check with the chef. A good chef will be happy to answer such questions, and to make modifications in the recipe if needed. In addition, most restaurants will happily accommodate special needs, such as low fat or low sodium dishes. After all, the restaurant is there to serve its patrons.
Some of our favorite tips for healthy eating in restaurants include:
One good rule of thumb to use when dining out is to order entrees that are grilled, baked or broiled. Deep fried dishes are best avoided. If you are unsure how a dish is prepared, don’t be afraid to ask.
Portion size is just as important at the restaurant as they are at home. That means ordering the petit fillet instead of the full size steak, requesting half size portions of French fries, and maybe even forgoing that tempting dessert. Choosing leaner cuts of meat or fish is also a good way to eat healthier.
When choosing side dishes, ask if steamed vegetables are available. Steamed veggies are an excellent, low fat, low calorie choice for many diners. Vegetables that are fried, au gratin, or prepared in cream or butter sauces are best avoided.
When ordering salad, ask if fat free choices are available. Most restaurants have several fat free or low fat varieties of salad dressing available. If no low fat option exists, request the dressing on the side so that you can control the amount that is used.
When ordering soup, choose broth based soups, and avoid bisques or rich soups like cream of crab or cream of broccoli. A simple vegetable soup is a delicious and low fat alternative.
Replace high fat, high calorie French fries with healthier alternatives such as fresh fruit or an unbuttered baked potato. Most restaurants will be happy to accommodate such special requests.
In Italian restaurants, stick with the tomato based sauces and avoid cream or heavy Alfredo sauces. A simple pesto sauce without meat is a good choice for most pasta dishes.
When dining at oriental restaurants, go with the steamed rice and stir fried vegetable entrees. Avoid the heavy sauces and request that your meal be prepared with less oil. In addition, try to choose dishes that feature less meat and more fresh vegetables.
Choose a light dessert of fresh fruit or sorbet. When ordering traditional desserts, order one and share it with your dining partner.
Finally, when dining at a fast food restaurant, it is important to avoid the temptation of super sizing the meal. Fast food restaurants often make their larger portions more attractive by pricing them competitively, but a big part of healthier eating is to control portion sizes. In addition, most fast food chains now offer healthier alternatives, such as salads and baked potatoes, as well as prominently displayed nutritional information.
While dining out certainly presents challenges to those trying to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, there is no reason to forgo the pleasure of an occasional meal out. By following the guidelines listed above, and by adding some creative tips of your own, you can make dining out a healthy experience as well as a pleasant one.