You know when its mid-February and you’re killing your meal plan, since you haven’t had to attend any big holiday parties or events? Yeah, sticking to a healthy eating plan can be a lot easier when you’re in the comfort of your own home.
But sometimes we have to leave our houses. And sometimes fast food and restaurants are the only choice we have. But eating out doesn’t have to derail things entirely. Fast food needn’t be the fast track to going off-plan.
Here are some tips to help you eat healthy when you can’t eat homemade!
First off, before you even leave – plan ahead. Check the menu online and decide what you want to eat. When possible, eat upscale and dress up. The portions tend to be smaller, and the servers tend to be well-educated about their menu options. Even though it seems odd, the more we spend on our meals (or snacks and treats) the more mindful we are about consuming them. We take our time, we savour, and we go slow.
If you’re not comfortable with the online menu of where you’re going, there’s nothing stopping you from having a healthy snack before you leave, so that an app will be enough to fill you up.
Also, if you are going out for dinner, order first so you’re not tempted to order whatever your other dinner companions are having (people do this more often than you think!). If you’re out with others, make a point of talking through your meal as well. It slows down your eating and lets you listen to your hunger signals instead of just cleaning your plate.
Here’s a tip that I love – Pick Two. That means 2 of the following: An App, A Drink or A Dessert. Not all three. If you have very specific nutritional goals or need to be more restrictive, then pick one.
Even if you can’t eat upscale all the time, you can choose a higher-end/healthier fast food and apply the same logic – think Panera Bread instead of Firehouse Subs, or Chipotle instead of Taco Bell. Be cautious, many fast food joints will offer dishes that sound healthy but are loaded with extra fat, salt and sugar. Use your judgement and ask questions. For example:
- Burger King’s Turkey Burger might have less calories than a Whopper, but it has WAY more sodium
- McDonald’s Egg White McMuffin (topped with Canadian bacon and cheese) also tips the sodium scale – far better to go with the original with no added meat or cheese
- Quizno’s and Subway – many subs seem like a healthier choice than a burger, but when you add in the mayo, cheese and other sauces, you’re not that much further ahead
- Sushi can be great, but at some restaurants it can be super-sized and filled with mayo and fried fish – keep an eye on your order
Make lean proteins and vegetables the cornerstones of your order. Most menus, even at the fastest of fast food restaurants will have some choices that will pair a main protein and a vegetable on the side.
What sort of things are your best bets when ordering?
- Salad (obviously), but with dressing on the side
- Broth-based soups instead of creamy ones
- Tomato-based sauces instead of creamy ones (and you can ask for your sauce on the side as well)
- Skinless chicken breasts instead of thighs or legs
- Top sirloin, tip side steak or bottom round instead of prime rib
- Fish or chicken instead of beef or pork
- Dishes that are grilled, broiled, steamed or baked instead of fried and/or breaded
- Whole or ancient grains instead of white
- Simplify your sides – try not to order sides that are covered in cheese or sauces
- Dips like guacamole or hummus instead of ranch or blue cheese dressing
- Ask for triple the veggies
- Skip the soda – pick a calorie free drink like water, carbonated water, tea or coffee
At first, it can be really hard to be request substitutions or ask questions, but it gets easier with time. Don’t forget that servers are there to help you, and as long as you’re reasonable about your requests restaurants will try to accommodate your needs.
Here are some go-to questions you can think about asking:
- What can I get instead of fries?
- Can I get extra veggies?
- Can I get fruit instead of hash browns/toast?
- Do you offer lunch/half portions?
- Can you box half of this up right away?
These questions work everywhere from McDonald’s to Michelin Star restaurants.
Once you’ve got your food, you can also be moderate about things – put your fork down between bites, and don’t feel the need to eat past feeling full. You don’t need to eat something just because it’s there. Listen to your body and eat what you need.
Finally, plan some light action after you eat. Go for a walk, go dancing, go bowling – anything to help you move a little and digest better.
What are your favourite dishes when you’re eating out? How do they fit into your meal planning? We’d love to know!