These days, it seems chain restaurants like Applebee’s and Olive Garden are just as common as McDonald’s and Burger King. That’s if you live in the US of course, but the same can be said for virtually any first world country. The abundance of “table side” restaurants is probably due to the fact that everyone knows these are pleasant, cost-effective alternatives to cooking.
Nearly all chain restaurants – and plenty of family-owned establishments – have healthier options on their menus. However, that doesn’t guarantee a healthy eating experience. Here are some tips to help you eat healthy the next time you dine out.
1. Speak up
Don’t be afraid to ask for alternatives. Could a fried item be grilled instead? Could a baked potato be substituted for French fries? Could you have a smaller portion of meat and a larger portion of vegetables? What is the worst thing that could happen? The waiter says no. You aren’t any worse off than before you asked!
2. Don’t confuse “low” with healthy
For example, the Low-Carb New Orleans Seafood platter at Ruby Tuesday has 710 calories and 42 grams of fat.
3. Only eat half
Ask a dining companion to share a meal with you. If no one is interested, ask the waiter to box half your entrée before it comes to the table.
4. Eat a salad first
Scientists at Pennsylvania State University found test subjects ate fewer calories overall if they enjoyed a veggie salad before the main course.
5. Choose raw over creamy
Steer clear of cream sauces on items like coleslaw, pasta salad and potato salad. Also, skip any salad that has bacon bits or fried noodles. Instead choose a raw vegetable salad and add other healthy mix-ins like nuts or fruit (mango, kiwi, cantaloupe or pear would be nice options).
6. Ask for dressing on the side
Dip a forkful of salad into the dressing instead of drizzling the dressing over everything. You’ll eat much less dressing.
7. Notice adjectives
Avoid anything that is preceded by the words creamy, breaded, crisp, sauced, stuffed, buttery, sautéed, pan-fried, au gratin, Thermidor, Newburg, Parmesan, cheese sauce, scalloped, au lait (with milk), a la mode (with ice cream) or au fromage (with cheese).
8. Don’t be fancy
If you absolutely must order an alcoholic drink, make it a low-cal option – a glass of wine, light beer, or vodka tonic. Do not choose a margarita, pina colada, or any other sweet drink.
9. Top wisely
A baked potato is a much healthier alternative to French fries – but only if you top it wisely. Pass on the butter and sour cream. Ask for salsa instead.
10. Be fishy
Most restaurants have nice low-fat and low-sodium seafood options. Order it steamed, baked, broiled, sautéed, blackened or grilled instead of fried. And ask the chef to skip the sauces.
11. Drink plenty of water
This will slow you down, discouraging you from inhaling your food too quickly. Also, water will help you feel full so you won’t overeat.
12. Dress to impress
If you wear something nice, you are bound to receive compliments from your dining companions. This will remind you of all the hard work you have already put in and discourage you from blowing it all with one meal.
13. Eat dessert at home
A total abstinence from sweets will probably backfire. Eventually, you’ll cave and overindulge. Instead, allow yourself an occasional treat. However, the chocolate brownie mountain with multiple scoops of ice cream isn’t the way to do it. Instead, have a healthier sweet-treat option at home – a piece of dark chocolate, a small dish of pudding, or a handful of cherries.
If you have good ideas for eating out healthy, please share them in the comments below.
Guest author Nicholas Baker writes on a variety of health topics. For example, he is currently writing for a site that shares research about HCG injections and weight loss information.