Restaurant food is delicious. We all know that. This is why we love to eat out. But is it healthy? Well… chances are that your wondrous repast is loaded with butter, weighed down with carbs, blown up into portion sizes big enough for three. Hell, that’s what makes it so good!
But sometimes, perhaps after looking at the scales or eyeing our next health checkup, we wonder: Is there any way to enjoy restaurant fare without setting out on a slow path to an early demise?
Around this time last year, I talked about the deliciousness of pizza and how it’s possible, with a spoonful of creativity and a pinch of sacrifice, to dine upon the tasty pie in a healthy way.
Today let’s talk about a few ways that we can enjoy rich and tempting restaurant fare – with emphasis on “enjoy” – without risking our health or bulging out of our wardrobe. Or, for that matter, sucking all the joy out of dining out, something that’s meant to be fun.
With that in mind, let’s chop up my advice into tasty bites, starting at home or work before we go out.
Before you go:
- Check the menu online. Get a sense of what looks good and how you might plan a satisfying but reasonable meal. Leave yourself open to being tempted by specials. That’s fair. But have a general plan.
- When you go, be hungry but not ravenous. This is akin to the conventional wisdom about not going to the grocery store hungry and buying all the snack food in sight.
Before the meal:
- Once you’re seated, take your time. Take a breath and don’t feel rushed. If the server pushes an appetizer or a cocktail, ask for a few minutes to decide. Then consider: Was this part of your plan? Alcohol in particular brings extra calories, but you don’t have to say no to a glass of wine or a margarita. Or choose a glass of water with a lemon or lime twist to make it fun. But avoid a sugary soft drink, the calorific equivalent of a dish of ice cream.
- Check the menu again. Does your plan still work for you? You’re free to make a change, but consider the, pardon the expression, weight of your decision. A salad or fries? If you go for the salad, consider a vinaigrette instead of a creamy dressing. Or get the dressing on the side. No one is going to hate on mashed potatoes with a steak, but you might ask about a lighter side dish. How light? A bowl of spinach or a dish of green beans with bacon grease and ham? Use your common sense.
- Do you really want that steak? Or is lighter-weight chicken or fish just as good? Does it come with a rich, creamy sauce or a tasty but lighter tomato sauce? Don’t rule out a meatless entree, especially if the chef has the knowledge and the skill to craft an exciting plant-based dish as tasty as the meat items.
- Hey, look! It’s the chips and salsa! Or the pita quarters or the sliced baguette or warm bread and butter! Yes, you can eat it all. I often do. And then we wonder why we’re full before dinner arrives.
- Take it slowly. Relax and savor every bite mindfully. This is good for your digestion and your frame of mind.
- Drink plenty of water. Pausing for a sip slows your consumption and takes a load off your digestion.
- Watch portion sizes. Restaurant portions are often huge. Might you share an entree? How much should you order? One pricey entree along with one or two appetizers or small plates is often plenty of food for two, with a bit of a saving and leftovers too.
- What’s on the side? What’s on top? Should you choose something fried and loaded with crunchy bits or something healthier and, well, almost as delicious.
- Do we really need dessert? Yeah, maybe we do. Or maybe just a leisurely cup of coffee after the meal.
Take some home:
- Once upon a time, it felt embarrassing to take leftovers home. That’s why the lying name “doggie bag” was invented. Well, those days are past. Restaurants are happy to pack your leftovers. Wasting food is a bad practice, and saving part of that pricey dinner for later is good for you and your wallet, too. Don’t hesitate to have your leftovers bagged or boxed. It’s the right thing to do.
- Speaking of that bag or box, I’d love it if more restaurants used recyclable or compostable takeout containers in place of non-recyclable plastics. Until then, I keep sturdy containers in the car so I can sneak them in for my leftovers. Don’t send another plastic box to the landfill … or to Earth’s oceans.
Use the leftovers, Iron Chef:
- Do you like to cook? It can be fun to take that little pile of leftovers, add some veggies and condiments from your own pantry, and create an entirely new lunch. Add your own topping to that pizza slice and fire it in the toaster oven. Leftovers can make you feel like the Iron Chef!
And every day…
- It’s not difficult to eat out regularly and still stay in shape. Regular exercise matters, but you don’t have to run marathons. Twenty minutes a day in brisk walking helps. Get up from your desk and move around every hour or so (and yes, there is an app for that). Maybe most important, do regular pushbacks. Yeah, I’m talking about pushing back from the table when you’re comfortably full.
Finally, don’t stress over all this. You deserve a break today, and so do I. But if you love dining out as much as I do, do yourself a favor and be mindful of doing it in a healthy way … most of the time.