How to Eat Healthy at Restaurants
If you’re on a diet or healthy eating regimen for weight loss or other health issues, you know that it’s much easier to stay on your plan when you cook for yourself and eat at home. The trouble starts when you go to a restaurant, diner, or fast food chain. The vast majority of the menu offerings are coated with cheese or topped with bacon, or both! And what’s not is loaded with sugar. But, we can’t spend our lives avoiding going out, so here’s how I handle ordering at restaurants and staying true to my healthy eating lifestyle (I eat a low fat, low cholesterol diet).
I think diners and breakfast restaurants are the hardest places to find anything healthy to eat. Just about everything on the menu is cooked in butter, topped with melted cheese and has bacon and hash browns on the side. For me, that’s a heart attack on a plate. I love it when I see a yogurt, granola, fresh fruit parfait on the menu! It’s perfect because it’s filling and a good source of protein and carbohydrates without extra fat or sugars. If that’s not available I’ll either get oatmeal with a light sprinkle of brown sugar (no butter), or an egg white omelet with vegetables and no cheese (and I ask them to cook it in olive oil instead of butter), no hash browns, no bacon or sausage and dry toast. Geez.
Lunch is the easiest because there are always salads and sandwiches available. I avoid paninis, hamburgers, creamy dressings. I usually order a salad with grilled salmon or chicken with a vinaigrette dressing (nothing creamy) and very little cheese. If I get a sandwich, I ask for no cheese, no bacon, no fries and substitute a side salad or soup. It’s really hard to resist a plate of french fries, so even if the restaurant doesn’t offer substitutions, I just don’t get them. I didn’t have the will power to not eat them when I first started eating healthy, but now I do (it gets easier the longer you do it). Sushi is a great and healthy lunch!
I have a system I use when reading menus that helps me to steer clear of artery clogging dishes. First I scan the menu reading only the main title for each dish (that way I don’t get bogged down in the delicious sounding descriptions). If the title mentions beef, cheese, bacon, “crispy” or “creamy” I automatically skip over it. That usually removes at least half the menu, and I’m left with salads, chicken, and fish. Then I delve deeper into the preparation of each item on the plate and rule out more based on the same criteria, for example, a salad with creamy blue cheese dressing and bacon, or fish cooked in garlic butter are out. I usually end up with grilled or seared salmon with veggies and rice. If I’m not sure how the chicken or fish is prepared I’ll ask for the chef to substitute olive oil for butter. I do love desserts though, and there’s no way to customize a dessert order to make it healthier. But being good during dinner allows me to share a dessert without feeling guilty.
Coffee & Snacks:
My standard order at Starbucks is a tall green tea frappuccino with skim milk, no sweetener, and no whipped cream. Ordering it this way saves 190 calories, 5 mg of cholesterol, and 40 grams of sugar! I stay away from fast food for the most part, but in a pinch I’ll get an egg white flat bread (hold the cheese) from Dunkin Donuts or a turkey sandwich from Starbucks. If I’m stopping at one of these places, it’s because I’m hungry or thirsty or need a little pick-me-up, but I’m not there to get a 300 calorie dessert disguised as a drink.
I’m not shy about asking for alterations or substitutions because I’m committed to keeping my cholesterol in check. Waiters hate me and my family & friends roll their eyes when I customize my order, but I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my meal if I didn’t. Sticking to my healthy eating plan makes me feel much better about myself than eating a steak or fries ever do.
To a lot of people this is going to seem like too much denial to be realistic. But for me, it’s less about denial and more about understanding what certain foods do inside our bodies as well as being aware of what food’s become. It seems like restaurants are having a love affair with cheese and bacon right now and it’s easy to order 3 or 4 items in one meal that are prepared with butter, cheese and bacon, and that’s not good for anyone.
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