Eating Good When Eating Out

Eating Good When Eating Out

They say baseball is the great American pastime, but we beg to differ. We think eating is the great American pastime, in fact, it may even be the great human pastime! Families, friends, societies, and cultures revolve around specific foods, flavors, spices, traditional recipes, and classic dishes. Our days are divided by food as we pause to enjoy a meal whether in the office breakroom or surrounded by friends at the newest food fusion restaurant. When it comes to parties, celebrations, holidays, and vacations, food helps bring everything up another level taking centerplace on canape trays, buffets, and charcuterie boards. We are not complaining. We love food, especially good food. Our struggle is not with the amazing foods we make and share in our homes. The struggle centers on how to maintain that same level of awareness and care when eating out.

So we wanted to pass along our top tips and tricks for eating well when you’re not the one preparing the meal. The key principle we follow is to avoid all the “extras.” This means extra cheese, extra dressing, extra sauce, and extra size when ordering anything from a burger to a salad. Double meat, double cheese means double damage.  Even multiple appetizers.  How much do we really need?  It also means avoiding fried foods, calorie dense options like loaded baked potatoes or creamy salad dressings, and any foods loaded with too much saturated fat like biscuits, cakes, or dishes with a lot of butter or cheese, as well as foods with artificial ingredients like sodas, sugar free foods, and several condiments. 

Learning to be a menu sleuth and spotting ingredients like corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, panko, breaded, heavy cream, three cheese, and descriptions like extra creamy, sweet, rich, and decadent can help us navigate our options. Hint:  stay away from all of those ingredients.  Instead, look for words like grass-fed, organic, wild caught, non-GMO, no MSG, and vegan or vegetarian options when they are spelled out on the menu, although we know that isn’t always super clear.

A real pro tip is if you don’t know, ask! 

In today’s food driven climate, ingredient sensitivities are more common and questions about what goes into a dish or how it is cooked are often very much expected. It’s our body. We have the right to know what we are putting into it. 

To narrow down a large menu, we like to start by asking if the restaurant has any vegan, gluten free or vegetarian options. If they don’t have anything specifically labeled as (v) or (gf), we stick with the appetizers, soups, salads, and sides to keep things light. American culture emphasizes large portions often centered around meat. Finding a reasonable portion size with healthier ingredients can be easier when we avoid the entrees. This also allows us to mix and match. Think of it like ordering a la carte: the grilled zucchini starter with a side order of brown rice and the house salad. Just be sure to specify if you want it all brought at once as your meal. 

We love living in the information age, so as soon as the restaurant has been decided on, jump online and stalk their menu - do a minute of prep work! See if there is anything that is going to work for you or if there are any options that allow you to modify to fit your needs. If you’re comfortable, call ahead and ask questions. This can also help  limit any possible discomfort around asking a ton of questions if eating out with people who don’t quite share our passion for clean food. It’s a lot easier to maintain our resolve when we are not surrounded by the tantalizing smells coming from the kitchen, seeing the plates of others around us, or feeling the pressure to order when everyone else has already decided. 

Once we’ve decided on where to eat and what to eat, here are some easy tips we personally try to follow to avoid food pitfalls while still enjoying a meal out with friends and family.

  1. When we order a main dish, we are prepared to either take leftovers or simply walk away from an unfinished plate. Culturally we are encouraged to finish our meal. Rarely do we simply push the plate away when we’re full. It’s okay to not finish our food! We also like to carry our own to-go containers to be environmentally friendly. If it seems like a challenge to quit eating a delicious meal, then we package up half the plate before we even begin. This brings portion size into our awareness before we even take the first bite. 
  2. If we can order it on the side, we do! When it comes to dressings, sauces, gravies, and toppings, choosing to ask for them on the side gives us more control over the quantity of added fats and ingredients that may not be in our best interest, but they do taste oh, so good. Healthy eating is not all or nothing. It’s about moderation.
  3. Restaurants are great about loading up the table with warm garlic sticks, buttery dinner rolls, Italian bread and oil, or crispy chips and salsa. The pre-meal nibbles are high-calorie and take up valuable health real estate when eating out. Take a pass and stay focused on the amazing meal that’s on its way!
  4. Drinks are masters at hiding caloric and toxic waste. One soda, a sweet tea, a glass of wine, a bottle of beer… and who really stops at one? These are meal time landmines when it comes to watching what we eat. Sweeteners, artificial flavors, preservatives, and so much more can be easily masked with ice and fancy glassware. Beware.  
  5. There’s dessert, and then there’s DESSERT! When the last course is screaming our name and we find a small puddle of drool, then by all means, drink a big glass of water, then choose the most reasonable portion size. Or even better, share! However, when it’s dessert simply for dessert’s sake (aka you’re full), we say, pass it up and save those truly decadent sugar bombs for something that you really want. 
  6. Don’t go to dinner hungry! This is our number one tip for eating out and keeping it both healthy and enjoyable. When we are starving, it’s more difficult to keep moderation and healthy choices in mind. We want what we want! A bit of protein before heading out does wonders as this macro keeps us satiated longer and can easily be found in one delicious cup of noops pudding

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