Eating out can be difficult when trying to limit your calorie intake. Most restaurants have the goal of providing the most delicious food possible which often involves adding fat and even sugar to create the flavors we crave. While many restaurants now provide calorie estimates next to each menu item, it may still be challenging to choose options that fit well within your nutrition plan.
One option is to simply throw caution to the wind and just eat what you want. After all, we should enjoy the food we eat. If this is a rare occasion such as a birthday or anniversary, this may be a perfectly acceptable way to enjoy your time out. This doesn’t mean you order everything on the menu, however, it may mean that you don’t concern yourself with the calorie content and make up for the excess calorie intake by adjusting your food intake prior to the special meal or the days following.
Always remember that one high-calorie meal is not going to derail all your hard work so never feel guilty for enjoying yourself at times.
However, if eating out is a regular occurrence, you will need to develop some habits and strategies for working within your current health and fitness-related calorie target. Here are some tips to stay on track even while eating out.
General Meal Selection Tips
Choose either an appetizer/starter OR a dessert but not both. With that in mind, it is often much easier to find appetizer options with fewer calories.
Split your carbohydrates and fats (e.g. do not choose a meal that is high in both carbohydrate and fat). Instead choose either a higher-carb, lower fat meal or a lower-carb, higher fat meal.
Dishes to try and avoid (typically high carbohydrate and high fat) include pizzas, fries/chips, deep fried food, creamy pasta dishes (go tomato-based instead), creamy Indian dishes if accompanied with rice/naan bread etc.
Ask for extra vegetables or salad instead of the carbohydrate option. It’s perfectly acceptable to order a side of steamed vegetables in lieu of fries/chips with your cheeseburger.
Check the menu before leaving home so you know what to expect. If you can’t see a healthy option, consider choosing a different restaurant. This also prevents spending time comparing the calorie content of various options when you should be enjoying the company and conversation.
Skip the bread basket.
Order a pitcher/jug of water and continually sip throughout the meal to help with feelings of fullness.
Eat normally throughout the day and keep protein intake high so that you are not starving when you get to the restaurant. It may also be worth eating a high-protein snack such as a whey protein shake before getting to the restaurant. Example below:
As an alternative, fast throughout the day (do not have breakfast, or perhaps even skip breakfast and lunch) meaning you have a greater calorie allowance for your meal in the evening:
Stick to low-calorie drinks e.g. water with sliced lemon, diet coke, diet lemonade, sparkling water, etc. Try not to drink alcohol as this will increase calorie intake and also reduces willpower. If you must drink, aim to drink spirits with diet mixers. These will be significantly lower in calories than wine or beer. If drinks are a key component of an enjoyable dinner, consider adjusting your selection of side dishes as one option.
Be savvy – options that are creamed, breaded, sautéed or fried are likely to be higher in calories. Stick to grilled, steamed or baked where possible.
Beware of salad add-ons – croutons and mayo can send calories in a Caesar salad through the roof!
Salads may appear on the surface to be a superior option, however, it is not uncommon for a large entree salad to contain upwards of 1,000-1,500 calories depending on the ingredients and dressing used.
Ask for dressings and sauces on the side – that way you can control how much you pour over your dish.
Check your cut of meat. The breast has fewer calories than thighs, and rib eye has the highest fat content of the cuts of beef.
Eat the amount you would eat at home – just because it’s in front of you, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it.
Sorbet and frozen yogurt are better options than chocolate fudge cake when it comes to calorie content. So, if you need to satisfy a sweet tooth consider choosing one of these. It’s all about finding ways to still enjoy your meal and the social time with friends and family while at the same time keeping your overall health and fitness goals in mind.