Here we are in the midst of the holiday season, and as with most festivities, food plays a major role! But unfortunately, when it comes to dining out, many restaurant dishes contain unhealthy amounts of sodium, sugars, saturated fats, calories, etc. So how can you make healthy food choices when you may find yourself in a not-so-healthy dining situation? Well, here are a few of my best defensive strategies when it comes to staying on track when dining out. I adhere to these myself, and although there are many more ideas, these basic “rules” will give you a great head start!
When eating at an unfamiliar restaurant, try to plan ahead if you know where you’ll be going. Most places have a website with their menu and nutrition info available, and you can use this information to determine if the restaurant has any healthy choices, and to plan accordingly. (Alternatively, some places may only have their nutrition info available in-person. Be sure to ask for it upon arrival.) If this is not possible, or if you find yourself going to a restaurant with poor choices, you can still defend yourself with some basic skills!
- Rule number one: salads, fruits and steamed veggies are your best friends! Most restaurants will have some salad choices, and perhaps a fruit bowl side. When it comes to vegetables, request that they be steamed with no added salt or sauces. If a basic dinner salad is the only choice (I mention this because I know of a place whose only healthy choice is a dinner salad!), perhaps they will double it for you, add some fruit and a plate of steamed veggies on the side.
- Go easy on salad dressing. It’s best to have dressing served on the side, so you can control the portion. Oil and vinegar is always the best choice, however.
- Stay away from most soups—they are almost always too high in sodium, especially cream-based soups. A small cup of vegetable or bean soup may be ok, if you can determine the amount of sodium.
- Only consume whole-grain breads, if available.
- Instead of an item that is fried, or worse yet, deep fried, ask if it can be broiled or baked.
- Always choose a baked potato over mashed. Have butter and sour cream served on the side, or skip them! You can sprinkle on some pepper, but no salt! (A great, zero sodium condiment to carry with you is “Mrs. Dash.”)
- When choosing fish, salmon, trout and snapper are great choices. Have it grilled, and if it normally comes with seasoning, have the chef go very light.
- When choosing a chicken dish, make sure it is a skinless breast, without any type of breading, and not fried.
- When choosing other meats, always go with the leanest cuts available (filet, top sirloin, etc.)
- When it comes to sauces, always choose a tomato-based sauce over a cream base.
- For portion control, instead of an entrée, order an appetizer or two, or order a la cart. You could also split an entrée with a friend, or ask if you can order a ½-size.
- Finally, do your best to refrain from eating sweets! If you must have a bit of a sweet dessert, split it with a friend, or order a slice of dry, whole-grain toast, and spread some jam on it! I’ve done this many times!
Most restaurants will be happy to accommodate your healthy eating requests. (Just be sure to tip your server well!)
Above all, try to stay positive and maintain your willpower to stick to your healthy eating plan! Of course we’re all human, so don’t fret if you have a minor lapse. Just refocus and start fresh the next day!
Happy Holidays, and I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016! ~Brockton James