How to Avoid Dining Out Disasters

This is a guest post by Darcie Sosa, Dietetic Technician at Everyday Health Inc. and its calorie counter tool, My Calorie Counter.

You’ve been doing so well with your diet. You’ve changed your portion sizes, you’ve been working out, and you’re trying your best to lose weight. Planning your meals, using recipes, and looking for tips to cut down on fat, sugar, and salt didn’t come naturally to you at first, but now you’re a pro. Still, it’s almost impossible to never eat out again. Eating is more than nourishment; it’s social and pleasurable. You want to share this experience with others. Does this mean you have to blow all the hard work you’ve been doing? No way! You just need to plan out your dining experience before you head out the door. You might have less control over what you are eating when someone else is preparing your meal, but having a plan to make the healthiest selections can keep you satisfied and happy. Here are some helpful tips for planning your dining out experience.

  1. Make a calorie budget. You know how many calories you want to be eating daily, so depending on where you live and where you are eating, the calories may be listed on the menu or on a pamphlet you can request. Once you know the calories in each meal or dish, you can choose the lower calorie options. If this calorie information is not available to you, look for foods that are grilled and veggie side dishes that are steamed instead of fried or sautéed. Try to avoid foods that have the descriptors “breaded”, “battered”, or “fried”. Avoid creamy sauces that are loaded with calories and saturated fat, especially since they can really blow your calorie budget. Restaurants never seem to mind customers asking for sauces, syrups, or dressings on the side. This allows you to limit the amount of sauce you use. You can also ask your server to limit the amount of butter, oil, and salt that is used in cooking. Most restaurants are very accommodating to dietary needs and can easily modify dishes.
  2. Watch your portions. Keep in mind that portion sizes are very large at restaurants, and it’s okay not to finish all the food on your plate (regardless of what your parents may have told you). A great tip to help control your portion sizes from the beginning? Ask for a to-go box before your meal comes so that you can cut the meal size in half as soon as you receive the plate. Doggy bags save you from calorie overload and provide you lunch for the next day! It may also be a good idea to have a small, healthy snack before you go out to eat. This way you won’t feel starved when you get to the restaurant and over order or overeat. If you do feel like you need an appetizer, clear soups or small side salads, with dressing on the side, can be a great lower calorie option and keep you from eating the entire bread basket.
  3. Limit the liquids. Everyone’s favorite: alcoholic beverages. As delicious as these concoctions can be, they can also easily and quickly add a few hundred calories to your meal. If you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight, it’s best to skip alcoholic drinks all together. If you would really like to have a drink, it’s good to limit to one drink and to choose lower calorie drinks such as light beers, dry wines, and drinks made with low-calorie mixers like club soda. Or, have your drink on the rocks. Sweet mixers, syrups, sodas, and juices are packed with unnecessary calories and sugar.
  4. Avoid buffets. Remember the phrase, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”? Ordering off the menu and having a designated portion delivered to you controls the volume of food that you have on your plate. It’s so hard to decipher when you’re adding a large volume of food to those huge buffet plates.
  5. My favorite tip is to enjoy the company you’re with. Eating with a group of people helps to slow down the speed at which you eat as you have conversations with your company and more thoroughly enjoy the entire experience of dining out. Occasionally we might consume more with a group if they are eating/drinking more than we normally would alone, but don’t feel pressured to eat more than you want or order extra servings or drinks just because others do. Great eating companions will respect and support your healthy lifestyle and may even be inspired by you!

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