Even if healthy and nutritious eating is a personal priority in your life, it can sometimes be a struggle — and it can be even harder to figure out how to eat healthy when you go out to eat. According to a study conducted by the University of Toronto and featured on ABC News, the average meal at a sit-down restaurant (so not fast food) contains 151 percent of your recommended daily salt intake, 89 percent of your daily fat, and 60 percent of your daily cholesterol. Of course, if your goal is to just plain enjoy yourself without keeping track of salt intake or any of those details, then more power to you! You should be eating exactly what you want, when you want it.
However, if you are trying to stick to a specific meal or food prep plan because that's what makes you feel the most energized and happy, then it can definitely be tough to not know exactly what the ingredients are in what you're eating or how it was prepared. But avoiding eating at restaurants altogether can be incredibly inconvenient, not to mention isolating, especially when so many friend and group meet-ups happen over meals out. There's no reason you should have to miss out on all of that delicious food.
The good news is there are tons of great tips out there for making healthy choices when going out to eat. Here's a list of the best of them so that you never have to miss out or feel inconvenienced when eating out.
1. Order First
In an article featured on CNN, registered dietician Marisa Moore recommended ordering first when out with friends. "There is an interesting study that shows that women tend to mirror each other when we go out to eat," Moore said. The point here is that if you order first, you won't feel pressured to eat whatever anyone else is eating and can just do your own thing — and no matter what your eating habits are, that's always what's most important.
2. Watch That Bread Basket
According to an article in The New York Times Upshot section, bread in restaurants is a super easy way to fill up on food that is nutrient-empty, so you run out of room for more nutrient-dense foods that will energize you for the rest of your night out. The article recommends making a conscious decision about how much bread you will eat before the meal even starts. Granted, bread is freakin' delicious, so definitely destroy that bread basket if you want to — however, as registered nurse Gianna Rose says in an article for LIVESTRONG, white bread has little nutritive value, so if getting loaded up with vitamins, protein, and fiber is what you're going for, you might want to keep this tip in mind.
3. Ask For Dressing On The Side
In an article for BestHealth, nutritional consultant and author of the book Rose Reisman’s Family Favourites Rose Reisman recommended ordering whatever dressing you want on your salads, but ordering it on the side. Reisman says that a typical restaurant will add about six tablespoons of dressing if left to their own devices. By asking for dressing on the side, you can dress your salad as you please and have more control of what you're actually eating — this includes if six tablespoons isn't quite enough for you!
4. Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Your Food Your Way
In an article for Reader's Digest, Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and co-author of the book Restaurant Confidential, said people shouldn't be afraid of asking for their food the way they want it. “You need to be an assertive consumer by asking for changes on the menu," Jacobson said. So when an item is fried, consider asking for it grilled; if it comes with french fries, maybe switch them out for a side salad. Dr. Jacobson said that restaurants will almost always cooperate. Some restaurants do charge a small substitution fee, though, so this is worth keeping in mind when mentally calculating your check for the night.
5. Have A Coffee
Instead of ordering dessert, Sunderland recommended ordering a skim latte and sipping it over a longer period of time. If you've been actively trying to cut sweets out for any reason, having a coffee instead can still satisfy the habit of having an after dinner treat. Plus, I mean, who doesn't want an excuse to drink more coffee?
See? Eating out and making healthy choices doesn't have to feel overwhelming or impossible. Even if you don't end up sticking to your exact plan (whether that's to swap out the fries or simply eat less salt), or end up eating a whole bread basket and dessert, there's no reason to feel bad about it — ever. Eating should be enjoyable and stress-free, no matter what your personal food and nutritional preferences are.