How To Eat Healthy at Your Favorite Restaurants

What if we told you it’s possible to eat healthier meals at your favorite restaurants?

No matter if you love a hearty Mexican dish or delicious Asian cuisine, Patton gives some tips for ordering at specific types of restaurants and what to look for:

Italian restaurants

If you’re going to an Italian restaurant, skip high-calorie dishes loaded with creamy sauces or extra cheese such as alfredo, lasagna and carbonara. Be cautious to avoid extra calories in buttered garlic bread by limiting how much you put on your plate. Make sure to limit sausage, meatballs, cream, butter, high-fat meats and cheese. Sausage and meatballs in particular add extra fat and calories to your dish.

Order this instead: Start off your meal with a salad filled with vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, olives, avocado and extra virgin olive oil and vinegar for the dressing. Skip the cheese and bacon to limit your intake of saturated fat. If you choose pasta, get it with red sauce, which gives you the nutrients and lycopene in the tomatoes and is much lower in calories than cream sauces. Other healthier sauces include pesto, olive oil or wine varieties. You can also ask about whole grain pasta to give it more fiber and more nutritional value. Don’t forget that you can always try to customize your dish and ask for extra vegetables for the sauce, such as broccoli or mushrooms. Consider sharing a meal or asking for a lunch size portion, as well.

Mexican restaurants

How often do you fill up on those warm, crunchy chips and savory salsa before your meal at your favorite Mexican restaurant? Even when you have a solid plan for a healthy dinner, it’s hard not to be tempted to grab a handful or three. If this is a temptation for you, ask that the server not bring chips around, or you can put a small serving into your plate that you limit yourself to eating.

Most of us also know that cheesy or deep-fried entrees with lots of sour cream are high in fat and that we should avoid them. Guacamole is something to limit as well because while it’s a source of healthy monounsaturated fat, too much still means too many calories, so watch your portion size.

Order this instead: Choose fajitas or look for other grilled items on the menu. Look for entrees that focus on a lean protein such as chicken, fish, beans and vegetables. Go for black beans or pinto beans rather than refried beans and ask for lettuce leaves instead of tortilla to lower your carbohydrate intake.

Asian restaurants

At an Asian restaurant, it’s important to avoid egg rolls, wontons and other deep-fried items, which are high in fat. You also want to limit sweet and sour items and egg drop soups, which can also be high in calories without giving you the nutritional bang for the buck. If you see any items on the menu with “crispy” in the name, skip it.

Order this instead: Choose a meal focusing on lean proteins and vegetables, but remember that the sauce is especially important because it can have a lot of hidden oil. To avoid a high-calorie, high-fat sauce, ask to have your meal cooked in broth or stock and not oil. Be sure to choose brown or steamed rice over fried rice, which are much lower in fat.

Scan the menu

Look for key words on the menu that are giveaways for what to avoid. Here are some examples of the most common culprits:

  • pan-fried
  • crispy
  • dipped
  • scalloped
  • breaded
  • cream
  • alfredo

Dishes with these words tend to have a lot of hidden fat and salt. Instead, look for menu items with words from the following list:

  • grilled
  • steamed
  • baked
  • roasted
  • braised
  • broiled
  • seared

Eat some meat

Meat has a ton of protein and, when lean, is a great idea to order. When ordering meat, pick leaner cuts of beef great options include flank steak, skirt steak, tenderloin, sirloin, or filet mignon.
When in doubt, chicken is another great high protein, low fat option, particularly chicken breast.
Eating meat will help you to feel full and satisfied without having to fill up on empty carbs, like pasta or bread.

Ask to double or triple the vegetables

Let’s be real. Often, a side of vegetables in a restaurant is really more of a garnish, not a real serving. When ordering, ask for double or triple the normal serving of veggies, and offer to pay extra. You could also look to the Sides portion of the menu to see what options the restaurant has available.

A big problem with veggies is that they get cooked in a ton of butter so make sure to ask that the vegetables NOT be cooked in butter when you order them. This is an easy way to escape unneeded fat and calories.

Go ethnic

When it comes to ethnic food, some options like Japanese, Thai, Greek, and Indian restaurants are easier to eat healthier than others like Mexican, Chinese, or Italian restaurants. While you can successfully eat healthy in any restaurant, the main reason why it’s easier for the first options is because they feature grilled meats, less pastas or noodles, and other non-fried options.

This doesn’t mean you should totally avoid the other types of restaurants. Just know it may be a little trickier to find what you’re looking for which means your options will be limited.

Ask about preparation

Truth: Chefs are trained to use lots of butter and salt to heighten flavors. Duh, right? It tastes good. They do this because, if you add butter or salt on most anything, it tastes better which makes the customer happy which means more business in the future. They’re not there for your health. They’re there to feed you tasty food.

If you’re concerned about the butter or salt in your food, don’t be afraid to ask your server how the food is prepared. If you find out what you want is actually loaded with oil or butter, either ask for it to be prepared differently or choose something else.

Steakhouses

Eating healthy at a steakhouse is really about managing portions. It’s tempting to order a big 16 ounce steak and fill up on bread before the meal, but this is where managing your portions come into play. If you order a baked potato, don’t load it up with butter, cheese and sour cream. Order those on the side and use those toppings sparingly.

While mushrooms and onions are great additions to a steak, a lot depends on how the cooks prepare them. Watch out for too much butter or oil, and if in doubt, ask the waiter if the chef can go light on butter and oil.

Order this instead: Try to stick to a 6 ounce portion of leaner cuts like sirloin, filet, flank or London broil when it comes to steak. For a side, try adding a sweet potato, brown or wild rice and a cooked vegetable or salad.

Pizzerias

Pizza is a classic favorite. When you order that savory, delicious pizza, portion control and a few careful choices about toppings and crust can make a big difference in calories and fat. Avoid deep-dish pizza and high-fat toppings, with the biggest culprits being pepperoni, sausage and bacon.

Order this instead: Start with a garden salad without cheese and an oil-based dressing on the side. This can help you feel less hungry and less likely to overindulge on pizza. You want a thin crust or a whole wheat crust with either veggie toppings or leaner meat options like chicken, ham or Canadian bacon. Another trick is to request half the cheese and put meat on only half the pizza.

Fast food places

You might think it’s not possible to eat healthy at a fast food restaurant, but you can limit fat and calories with good choices. Even if an entree is a salad, check that it doesn’t have a lot of mayo (like tuna salad) or a lot of calories. You want to limit cheese and bacon and avoid fries and large, supersized portions.

Order this instead: Choose salads with grilled chicken and dressing on the side or choose a grilled chicken entree or broiled burgers. Some fast food places serve fruit, yogurt, and side salads to help balance out a fast food meal. If you know what fast food restaurant you’ll be visiting, you can find nutritional information online. Many restaurants have nutrition facts pamphlets available and some even have calories listed on the menu inside and at the drive-through.

Don’t be afraid to ask

Along the same lines as the previous tip, I highly recommend that you ask the waiter/waitress questions about how the food is prepared if you’re not clear. You’ll only know for sure what’s in your food if you ask. This can literally mean a difference of hundreds of calories and tons of unnecessary fat.

Is it uncomfortable? A little at first, but it’s your responsibility to know what you’re putting into your body and your waiter’s responsibility to know what goes into the food they’re serving. The more you ask, the easier it gets, I promise!

Look for these desserts

Desserts are a fun part of eating out at restaurants and can be a huge bummer if you’re trying to eat healthy. If you want to splurge on a dessert, you do have some options. My favorite thing to do is to order one dessert for the table. That way, you don’t eat the entire dessert and feel totally awful. Instead, you enjoy a few bites and satisfy your sweet tooth. If you’d rather not share, another great idea is to ask your waiter for a simple dish of berries or a fruit sorbet.

Box it early

Did you know restaurants often serve two to three times what you actually need for a normal serving? Next time, ask to box half your entrée BEFORE it ever even gets to the table. This will save you money and calories. It may sound weird, but it makes tons of sense. You can also split an entrée with another person, if you’d prefer.

Skip the fancy pants drinks

If you must order an alcoholic drink, try to avoid margaritas, piña coladas, and other exotic mixed drinks. They include sugary add-ins that add tons of calories and processed sugars and flavors.

Instead, order a glass of wine, a light beer, a vodka and tonic, or a simple martini. These options will be better for your healthy eating goals, especially if you choose not to drink that often.

Order fish

Fish is a great option, as long as it’s not fried. You can order seafood in tons of different ways steamed, blackened, baked, broiled, sautéed, or grilled. My favorite is grilled.
Just like with meat, fish allows you to enjoy protein, fill up on real food, and avoid foods loaded in carbs and unhealthy fats. While it may be a bit pricier, it’s often a great option on the menu, especially if it’s fresh fish.

Drink water throughout the meal

Try your best to get used to drinking water as your main beverage. Drinking water will slow you down from eating your food too fast, which will help you enjoy the food more, and it will allow your brain to get the message form your stomach that you’re full so you don’t overeat before your plate is already empty.

You can ask for a slice of lemon, if plain water is too boring. To ease into just having water, you can also wait to order a different beverage until after you’ve finsihed your first glass of water.

Go for kid-sized foods

A very easy trick to start implementing when you’re ordering fast food is going for a kid-sized meal. These mini meals are an easy way to stick to smaller portions and fewer calories.

Go for the salad option

Many fast food restaurants are now offering many more foods outside the typical burger and fries. Salads are a newer choice that may offer you a little extra nutrition and save you some calories.

Choose a lower-calorie main dish

Sandwiches and nuggets are a popular option at fast food restaurants. Choose the best option to keep your calories moderate.

Build a better breakfast

Fast food restaurants are known for a good breakfast. Plus, many serve breakfast all day long. Choose a better meal to start your day off on a good foot.

Pick low-calorie drink options

Fast food restaurants now offer a whole host of beverages to go with your meal anything from sodas, to coffees and even smoothies. However, some of these drinks are quite high in calories and can put you over your limit.

Keep it simple

Many times fast food meals, especially the main entree, can get high in calories with all the tasty toppings that are added. More simple or plain items are usually lower in calories.

Choose a better dessert

If you’re craving something sweet after your meal, be careful to choose a dessert that’s not overly high in calories or fat.

Manage your hunger

If you know you’re planning on getting fast food during the day, it’s important to make sure you manage your hunger appropriately so you don’t overdo it at the drive through.

Plan to eat fast food

To make sure you keep your fast food consumption in check, make sure you intentionally choose when and how often you’re eating fast food meals.

Make other food choices healthy

Sometimes you might find yourself stopping for fast food meal on an overly busy day or evening. Even if it’s not something you planned on doing, you can still make the rest of your day healthy.

Be sure to get in a workout

Another way to keep yourself on track with a healthy lifestyle is by sticking with your workout plan.

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