Dining out is often the biggest challenge a healthy diet can face…But it can also represent an opportunity to exert control and to make smart but still delicious choices.
- Corinne Brown
Dining out is often the biggest challenge a healthy diet can face. From the moment you arrive at the restaurant, your senses are seduced by the promise of deliciousness. And face it, you’re there for that very experience! You’re excited about it, of course, but in the back of your mind, you probably know that it represents a real threat to your diet. Yes, it can. But it can also represent an opportunity; an opportunity to exert control and to make smart but still delicious choices. You can get a great meal without compromising! And in doing so, you can avoid an entire day’s worth of calories, loads of salt, sugar and white flour. It’s easier than you think – I know because I’ve been doing it for my entire adult life.
Start by saying “NO” to the following:
The Bread Basket – It’s best to just politely decline the basket. If your dining partners won’t allow that, put it as far away from your reach as possible. And ignore it.
Bad Carbohydrates – In addition to the bread, this includes things like pasta, potatoes – especially fried ones, corn, rice – including risotto, and the so-called good grains, like quinoa.
High-calorie beverages – Avoid most mixed drinks, especially anything with sugar. Avoid beer, especially heavier styles. And, of course, avoid all sodas, diet included.
Desserts – Just say, “no thank you.” If you must, stick with something simple like mixed berries. But avoid any toppings which are generally loaded with sugar and calories.
Some Practical Strategies
If you see a dish that you want but notice that it is loaded with any of the verboten items mentioned above, it’s time to get creative. Almost every restaurant will make adjustments for you, and if they won’t, don’t go back.
A simple trick is to opt out of the accompaniments and substitute your own: decline the potatoes, pasta, and rice instead ask for extra veggies (check the side dishes for ideas.) Most restaurants will offer healthy veggie choices, but they will also feature some not-so-healthy versions. Make sure your vegetables are prepared in a healthy way: sautéed, roasted or steamed. Avoid any that are cooked with cream or cheese, or are fried. Stay away from anything that mentions creamy, breaded, sauced (get it on the side if you must), stuffed (a worse form of bread), and beware of pan-fried, breaded, scalloped, cheese sauce, and au gratin. All of these add lots of calories to what would otherwise be healthy choices.
What to Look For
Your best bets are foods that are steamed, broiled, charbroiled, grilled, poached and roasted. A general rule is to keep it simple. A great fall back is to order your grilled or broiled protein of choice without sauce (or on the side) over a bed of sautéed greens or vegetables – things like spinach, or broccoli rabe, for example. It will look and taste delicious – so much so that you might even convert a few of your dining buddies over from the “dark side.”
The Happy News
Say yes to wine. I do, especially red. Tequila, gin, and vodka are okay if done in moderation and without the addition of sweeteners (including natural ones like agave, honey, etc. – sugar is sugar).
Go Where They Accommodate You
Going to a restaurant that will accommodate you is essential. You will occasionally encounter some waiters who are afraid of the chef, or chefs that will not tolerate alterations. When this happens it’s a one-time event for me – I will not go back. I have had fantastic dining experiences in many restaurants, but generally, my favorites are Greek restaurants, Steakhouses, and Italian and French-inspired restaurants. I look for places that use high quality, fresh ingredients, and who welcome substitutions without an attitude. Ask me, and I will happily direct you to my favorites.
Final Word of Advice
Don’t be a meek consumer! Be demanding. It’s your meal. Most restaurants want you to enjoy your experience and will accommodate your requests, so you become a repeat patron.
About the Author
Corinne Brown is a Fitness Professional with over 35 years of experience. She is the co-founder and co-owner of Fitness Incentive.