How to Stick to Your Diet When Eating Out
Committing to a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to stop eating dinner out. Say goodbye to boring, bland salads every time you want to take a break from cooking in your own kitchen. Now more than ever before, restaurants are paying attention to what customers want when it comes to menu options.
While images of cheeseburgers and fluffy dinner roll baskets might cloud your diet-conscious vision, there are plenty of things you can do to make sure you enjoy eating out without busting your waistline.
Do Your Homework
Even before you pick out your nice outfit or make the reservations, take a few moments to do some homework. Most restaurants post their menu online, giving you a chance to browse the options before you sit down to order. This will give you an idea of what the restaurant offers, whether you want to avoid carbohydrates, gluten or fatty foods. Most restaurants also will be more than happy to tell you more specific ingredients if you have an allergy or need to avoid certain items.
Don’t Go Too Hungry
Some people will starve themselves all day if they know they have a big meal coming up. It can be tempting to skip lunch or even your afternoon healthy snack in favor of ordering large at the restaurant. However, these practices can lead to diet disasters. Instead, of overstuffing yourself at the meal, prepare yourself.
Drink a glass or two of water before going to dinner to help make you feel fuller. Some people might even have time to down a glass before the first course arrives – but it can take a few minutes for our stomachs to realize something is in there. It might also be a good idea to have a small handful of nuts or a piece of fiber-rich fruit before going out. These foods help keep hunger pangs at bay and keep us from eating too many unhealthy foods at the restaurant.
Look for Fresh, Local Ingredients
Produce, meats and other items that come from nearby are usually the most nutritionally dense foods. These veggies haven’t spent weeks traveling across the country on a truck, and they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals to keep them looking fresh.
Local ingredients are often picked recently – taking just a short period of time to get from the farmer to the restaurant. Bricco is happy to serve local ingredients that come straight from the farmer to your plate.
Without touching a freezer, fruits and vegetables taste great and are better for our bodies. Make sure you take the time to research where you’re dining to ensure your food is coming from a local farmer. Now you’re not only taking care of your own body, you’re also supporting the local economy.
Skip the Fancy Beverages
Everything from soda to cocktails can wreak havoc on a diet.
Some studies have even shown diet soda can make us eat more. A serving of soda can have as many as 140 calories while a can of beer can have 150 calories. These beverages don’t provide any nutritional value and they can take away from the food calories you’d otherwise enjoy eating. Diet soda is filled with chemicals and unnatural sweeteners that don’t exactly make them the healthiest alternative.
Water is the best way to go. If tap water doesn’t appeal to you, order club soda or sparkling water with a couple of citrus wedges. It looks pretty and tastes refreshing.
Unsweetened iced tea is a good option for many people who want to watch what they consume. Low-fat or nonfat milk also is a great way to get a good serving of calcium while staying hydrated. Try to stick to a one-cup serving and then enjoy water for the rest of the meal.
Pass on the Dinner Rolls
Warm, fluffy, buttery rolls of bread are a tempting start to any meal, but they can use up most of the calories you might have saved in your calorie bank. If you can’t resist them once they’re on the table, ask your server not to bring any over, or bring just enough for the guests who will enjoy them. If you have to have your dinner roll, see if whole wheat options are available.
Don’t Skip the First Course
Appetizers can be tempting, but they can pack on as many calories as the main course – or more, if they are deep fried. To save yourself from filling up before the main course, try these healthy first course options instead.
- Order a salad. Starter or side salads are a great way to get in some extra veggies without the guilt. Be careful, because not every salad is going to be friends with your diet. Try to avoid salads with too many nonvegetable toppings, such as croutons, tortilla pieces or wontons. You can ask the server to keep those items off the salad. It’s also a good idea to order the dressing on the side. That way you control the portion. A simple tip is to dip your fork in the dressing and then scoop up a bite of salad. You still get the flavor with a fraction of the calories.
- Choose a cup of soup. Soup is another great way to load up on extra vegetables and let the warm broth fill you up without a lot of extra calories. Avoid creamy soups, as these can contain a lot of fat and calories. A broth-based, vegetable-filled soup is the best way to go if you want to fill up without feeling guilty later. Try to skip the oyster crackers or croutons here, too. Anytime you can cut back on those items, you’re giving yourself a chance to eat more enjoyable things later.
Skip the Unhealthy Additions
You can also ask your server to cut out any unnecessary unhealthy additions to the meal. Butter melted on a steak can turn a fairly healthy piece of protein into a fatty nightmare. Sauces, gravies or additional butter also can add extra calories on vegetables. Try asking for steamed vegetables to help cut back on the added fats.
A good rule of thumb is to choose dishes that come loaded with vegetables, such as stir-fry, soup or stew. If you want to cut back on sodium, ask the meal to be prepared without additional salt. You often can add salt at your discretion at the table, or keep it off and enjoy your heart-healthy meal.
You also can ask how the meat will be prepared. Choose broiled or steamed over deep-fried or breaded options. Grilled meats are often a much healthier option and have a great taste without the added fat. Traditionally, chicken or fish tend to be lower-fat options, although steak can be quite healthy if prepared without the extra fatty additions.
Reduce Your Portion Sizes
Many dinner portions come with more food than one person should eat in a single sitting. Don’t be tempted to clean your plate. Here are some suggestions for how you can stop yourself from eating too much:
- Visualize the portion. A portion of pasta is about one cup and a serving of meat is about the size of your palm. When the meal arrives, try to look at the plate and visualize how much of it you should eat. You can cut up the portion size and focus on just that amount. In most cases, you’ll find you have a second meal or small lunch portion out of the leftovers.
- Ask for a to-go bag. If leaving the extra portion of food on your plate while you eat the rest is too tempting, ask the server to bring a to-go box right away. Set aside the rest of the food and enjoy it the next day.
- Ask for a lunch or appetizer portion. Many restaurants serve a larger portion for dinner. Ask for a lunch or appetizer portion of any entrée to help cut down on how much you eat. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate this request for guests.
- Split an entrée with a friend. Ask the server to split an entrée so you can share it with a friend. While some restaurants might charge a little more for this option, it’s a great way to ensure you and your date don’t eat too much.
- Avoid the buffet. Buffets can be diet disasters. While some buffets offer healthy options, the unhealthy ones can be too tempting to pass up. Buffets also usually mean eating more than a normal serving – whether that’s in piling your plate too high with food or going back for seconds or even thirds. If possible, just order one thing from the menu. While all-you-can-eat salad bars also can seem tempting, it’s easy to pick creamy salad dressings, croutons, fatty bacon bits and other unhealthy items off the table. Choosing a menu item can help you stick to your portion size better.
Eat Slowly and Mindfully
Don’t hurry through your meal. Eating slowly allows our bodies to feel fuller. Rushing through a meal means we can stuff ourselves without realizing how much we’ve consumed.
Try setting down your fork between bites and chew slowly, really enjoying the flavors. Also remember to drink plenty of water throughout the meal, which can slow you down and also allow you to feel fuller than on just eating alone.
Yes, You Can Have Dessert
You might not even want to look at the dessert menu when eating out on a diet. It can be pretty saddening to turn down chocolate lava cake and sugary, strawberry cheesecake. However, many restaurants offer healthy dessert options so you can cap off the meal without feeling guilty about it later.
Fruit is usually a safe bet – and can be really refreshing. Some restaurants will happily serve fruit platters or fruit salad as an after-meal option.
While ice cream might be a diet no-no, frozen yogurt or nonfat puddings are a nice way to satisfy your sweet tooth without phoning in on your diet. Ask for any dessert without the whipped topping and you’re already saving yourself a lot of calories.
Eating Out as a Vegetarian
If trying to just stick to low-fat or low-calorie foods wasn’t hard enough, trying to eat out as a vegetarian can come with its own challenges. By following some of these tips, you can still eat out and enjoy delicious dishes as a vegetarian:
- Find your protein. Many plants are protein dense. While milk and eggs offer good sources of protein, so do beans, peas, tofu, nuts and soy products. Ask your server if a dish comes with a vegetarian option so you can enjoy the wonderful flavors of the meal without cutting out the necessary protein. Look for options naturally low in fat, such as beans, instead of loading up on cheese, which can be high in calories and fat.
- Look for iron. This nutrient also helps keep us energized, and it can easily be found at various restaurants. Look for plant foods, such as spinach, lentils, whole-wheat bread and black-eyed peas to make sure you get some iron in your diet.
- Look for dishes that can easily be made vegetarian-friendly. Several dishes that might contain meat or poultry can be made vegetarian-friendly with little effort. Pasta often can be served without meat or a meat sauce – look for pesto or marinara sauce as the healthiest options, as opposed to a creamy sauce.
Pizza is also a great dish that can easily be made vegetarian-friendly, as well as stir-fry, lo mein and kabobs. Many restaurants also might offer veggie or portabella burger options, giving vegetarians a chance to try something that fits in with their diet requirements.
Avoiding Gluten at Restaurants
If you want to avoid gluten in your diet by choice or because of an allergy, you can find many gluten-free options at restaurants that now accommodate the diet. While not all restaurants are familiar with how to accommodate a gluten-free diet, it’s important to ask a lot of questions about the way food is prepared and what options the restaurant might have that are gluten free. Individuals with an allergy to gluten can be particularly sensitive, especially if cross-contamination occurs.
Be Detailed and Call Ahead
Be sure to tell your server what you cannot eat. This includes wheat, barley or rye, as well as many oats. Flour or seasonings that might have flour, as well as fried or breaded foods, also are not available to those on a gluten-free diet. Let your server know this includes croutons on a salad, soy sauce in stir-fry or marinades and French fries that might be cooked in a fryer where breaded foods are cooked.
Most of these questions can be answered long before you sit down to eat at a restaurant. Many managers are happy to talk to potential customers to make them comfortable about dining at that location. You’ll know before you arrive whether or not the restaurant can accommodate your diet needs.
Let Bricco Fit Into Your Diet
Harrisburg diners are looking for a quality restaurant experience that accommodates their healthy choices. Bricco is happy to encourage diners in pursuing their healthy living goals.
With locally sourced products, a fresh-driven menu and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, Bricco is ready to serve you, no matter your diet needs. We hope when you plan your next dining experience that you keep Bricco in mind. We’re happy to offer healthy, delicious options for Harrisburg diners.