The Savvy Way To Eat Out Right

young african american couple eating at a restaurant( — If you’re trying to maintain a healthy diet, but still like to go out to restaurants now and then, eating healthy can sometimes be a challenge. While many restaurants now cater to health-conscious consumers, there are still those that may not.

How can the savvy restaurant customer eat well without thoroughly compromising their nutritional and dietary goals…and, of course, without sacrificing taste?

Watch Those Portions

In some restaurants—often the most expensive ones—meal portions are laughably small, so sometimes there’s nothing to worry about. However, in certain establishments, huge portions can cause the patron to actually eat more than he or she really wants to. Monitor portion sizes, take home a doggie bag if you need to, or split the meal, if possible. If they charge five dollars for two patrons to split a meal, it may be worth your while to do so.

Also, buffets are especially dangerous since we feel like we need to get “our money’s worth”. Eat sensibly, and make sure you’re eating because you’re still hungry – not just because you can eat more without paying extra!

Avoid the Extras

It is common practice for restaurants to put bread or crackers on the table when you first sit down. While this nice touch is always tempting, eating a few pieces of bread before a meal can add many needless carbohydrates and calories before the meal even begins. Instead, refuse the bread basket (or eat a single piece, then ask that the basket be taken away) and drink an entire glass of water before ordering. This curbs your appetite and helps you to hydrate before you eat.

Substitute, Substitute, Substitute

When perusing a restaurant menu, you can generally count on the fact that there will be foods included with your meal that you may not want to eat. While some menus may clearly state “no substitutions”, many kitchens will go out of their way to please customers, especially in these uncertain economic times. So, when the server comes to take your order, ask to substitute an extra serving of vegetables for the potato, or request brown rice instead of white rice. By substituting foods items, you can reduce your calorie-load significantly.

To Drink or Not to Drink

Alcohol and restaurants tend to go hand in hand, but if you’re trying to eat right, alcohol-reduction is a good step to make. Mixed drinks, beer and wine all contain high quantities of carbs, sugar and calories, and controlling these temptations can drastically reduce the nutritional (and financial!) cost of the meal. Red wine and other alcohols do have cardio-protective properties, but a healthy moderate diet and plenty of exercise can be even better for the heart.


What About Dessert?

The final course is often where the rubber hits the road in terms of our ability to stick to our dietary guns. Dessert is almost always tempting when you’re out to eat, and there is no arguing against the pleasures of a cup of hot coffee and a sweet treat at the end of an enjoyable dining experience.

Luckily, many restaurants have separate dessert menus that the server will offer once your plates have been cleared, and although it’s fun to “just look” at the menu, chances are that you’ll give in and order something once you read the mouthwatering descriptions of the pastry chef’s latest offerings. The safer route? Don’t look at the dessert menu, and simply have a cup of tea or coffee.

However, if dessert seems inevitable, try ordering one dessert and sharing with the person/people you’re enjoying your meal with. If you’re dining solo, ask if you can be served only half the dessert portion, while the second half is immediately wrapped up in a to-go box. This way, your sweet tooth can be satisfied without the risk of sugar overload.

My final secret about dessert: if you decide to go for it, just relax and enjoy it, and don’t consider feeling so guilty about indulging.

We All Do Our Best

Restaurant eating offers many challenges for the conscientious eater, and every meal offers another opportunity to make healthy choices. But while trying to eat as healthy as possible, it’s also important to remember that indulgence is a part of life, particularly on special occasions. So, if you make some dietary missteps and veer off course, simply go back to the basics and start again. Life is meant to be enjoyable, and no one wants to always be suffering from a feeling of deprivation.

So, make the best choices you can, live with the consequences of those choices, and remember that there are always more opportunities to do even better next time.