Eating out and enjoying your time with family and friends is all part of life. Whether it’s a birthday party, a work function or a weekend catch up – food brings us together! Not only are you feeding your body when you go out to eat, but you are also nourishing your soul with good company.
I know that navigating a restaurant menu can be challenging, especially if you are trying to eat healthily. Fortunately, eating out doesn’t need to sabotage your healthy eating plan - all you need are a few simple strategies for healthy dining out!
1. Read the menu beforehand
This is one of the most important eating out hacks! Looking up the menu online beforehand (or even calling them ahead) is a great way to ensure you make a better meal choice. You are far more likely to make a healthy meal choice when you are not distracted by the aroma and sights of the restaurant so that you can walk in confidently knowing you have already have a game plan!
2. Order first
When the server comes to take the order, make sure to be the first one to order. We know the social pressure and how easy to get influenced by people’s food choice which may alter our plan or choices we wanted to initially make. Instead of changing your mind last minute because everyone is ordering similar items, stick to your original plan by ordering first to avoid any distractions.
3. Look out for whole foods + the method of cooking
When you’re looking at the menu, look for whole foods in their original whole format and minimised processed fried food items. Look for, vegetables that have been grilled or sautéed, protein that has been steamed, baked or roasted; beans, lentils and healthy fats. Avoid deep-fried items, refined oils and added sugar. For example, it is better to choose grilled chicken with sautéed vegetables and lentils over fried chicken, chips and ketchup.
TIP: When in doubt, look for something on the menu that’s rich in vegetables and protein. This is a great combination for better blood sugar balance, which can help regulate your hunger hormones and fills you up.
4. It is okay to ask for substitutions
In this day and age, restaurants are becoming more and more accommodating to consumer requests, so there is no need to be shy about asking for menu substitutions. Simple requests like asking for vegetables instead of chips or sourdough/brown bread instead of white bread can often be easily accommodated. Remember, you are a guest at the restaurant so communicating your needs and wants to the helpful staff is important.
5. Don't go out when you are overly hungry
You sit down starving, and before you know it you've changed your initial game plan. You know the saying of don’t go grocery shopping while you’re hungry? Well, the same applies to you when you go out to eat. It’s easy to entertain the ‘eat everything in sight’ mentality when you’re incredibly hungry!
6. Mindful eating
Mindful eating means giving your full attention to the eating process. Eating with mindfulness is about building dietary habits that help you create a healthy relationship with food, feel satisfied with your food choices and appreciate the food you consume. This will also help you understand how your body feels when you eat. So next time you are out eating, take the time to savour the aromas and flavours of your meal, as well as thoughts and feelings that arise while you eat.
7. Ask for a box
Being mindful when you are eating is about listening to our body’s hunger/full cues. So you don’t need to finish your entire plate if you have sense you are now full. I know, we are encouraged to not leave food on our plate as it can be wasteful. So ask for a take-away box to put any leftover food in there. You can enjoy the leftovers the next day for dinner or for a quick lunch.
8. Enjoy and be gentle with yourself
Think about the enjoyment factor when you’re eating out. Remember the context of your entire day and your entire diet as a whole. If you are eating out every night of the week, I think it is more important to be mindful of your food choices, but if you are eating out once a week as a special treat, enjoy the treat! It is important to control the components that you can control, and not overthink the process too much.
These tips for healthy eating out can be useful, but it is important to not put too much pressure on yourself every time you are at a restaurant. Food is so much more than just nourishing our body on a cellular level, it’s also about pleasure, enjoying moments with loved ones, and socialising. Make the best choice you can with the options that are presented, and if you indulge more than you had planned know that it is not the end of the world!