Clean eating at home isn’t exactly easy, especially when you’re juggling a family and a busy schedule. But at least you have the advantage of controlling your ingredients and your environment. So if we ate at home for every meal, the path to healthy eating habits would be relatively smooth. But of course we live in the real world, and that means eating at other people’s homes and at restaurants sometimes too. The easy way out is to say “Oh, it’s a special occasion, and I’ll have whatever I want *just this once*.” But when *just this once* becomes every couple of days, it’s easy to get off track in a hurry.
So here are some of my survival strategies to be able to eat out and enjoy my time with family, friends, and colleagues without throwing away all my hard work and exercise:
Don’t Arrive Too Hungry
Just like grocery shopping, if you are starving when you walk into a restaurant, the unhealthy choices are more likely to jump out at you and you’re more likely to overeat in general. It’s also much easier to say “No thanks” to a bread basket if you aren’t entertaining a herd of rampaging wildebeests in your tummy (what? Just me and PJ?) Eat a high protein snack before you go and it’ll be easier to stay on track.
Regular soda is full of empty calories, and diet versions actually stimulate your appetite and craving for sugar. Stick to water and unsweetened teas for your main drink, and save your beverage calories for a glass of wine instead.
Skip The Salad
This may seem counterintuitive to a healthy eating strategy, but think about this – which of these three dishes is going to give you a bigger bang for your vegetable buck?
The typical house salad at many restaurants may make you feel good when you order it, but is usually just a pile of lettuce with a couple of tomatoes and/or cucumbers and it’s not at all satisfying to eat. And a lot of entree salads are loaded with fatty fried chicken, and covered with high fat dressings and other unhealthy items. You’re better off ordering the pizza with lots of veggies (that are ironically not often included in the salads!) or another entree with some nutritional value than suffering through a boring plate of lettuce or thinking you were “good” because you ordered a salad and then binging on dessert….or so I’ve heard!
Read Like A Chef
When you’re looking for a healthy entree, pay attention to the ingredients and also to how it’s prepared. Look for broiled, grilled and baked items, and stay away from smothered ones. Sauteed is a tricky one, because it CAN be done with a light touch, but most of the time it isn’t. You’ll probably be looking at a lot of unnecessary fat and oil with a sauteed dish. If you don’t understand a term and how it relates to fats used in cooking, ask your server or look it up.
Have What She’s Having
Ok, I love this movie. And you don’t need to be quite as high maintenance as Sally, but she really is onto something with all her “on the side” orders. I always ask for dressings and sauces on the side, because they add flavor but also add a ton of fat and calories most of the time. So I dip my fork into the dressing or sauce before each bite to get the flavor, and rarely use more than a quarter of what they send out.
Divide & Conquer
It’s no secret that restaurant portions are typically way outside the norm in their size and amount of calories involved. One good strategy to manage this is to take a good look at your plate before you take that first bite or Instagram photo, and decide where your stopping point is. I usually eat half of my plate and then stop for a couple of minutes to decide if I’m still hungry or if I’m talking the rest home for lunch. It’s easy to get caught up in conversation and finish a whole huge plate before you know it, so deciding where you stop before you start can be a big help.
These are my six favorite strategies for keeping on track away from home – what are yours? Leave them in the comments!