Dining out (or in) Tips: Make Your Food Choices Count

By Unite Fitness Retreat Assistant Director, Trish Adams

Whether you are actually eating in restaurants or having food delivered nice and hot to your doorstep, it’s extremely important to make healthy choices.  There are SO many options and so many temptations that pop up on your phone all day long, what can you do to stay on track with your health goals?  If deleting those food delivery apps from your phone is not an option because of the crazy COVID world we are living in AND… We all know some days cooking just doesn’t sound like fun, at the least, follow a few guidelines from one of our fitness camp lunch and learns.

 Let’s talk about ways to make healthier choices when ordering from restaurants:

  • Think ahead.​  Consider meal options at different restaurants and look for places with a wide range of menu items.  Check online menus for nutrition information ahead of time.  A lot of food apps, have a “Healthy” section now, try and choose a dish from there, but still pay attention to sauces, sides, etc.
  • Be deliberate when ordering.  ​Balance your meal by including healthier selections from all the different food groups such as lean protein foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. Look for freshly made entrée salads that give you “balance in a bowl.” For example, entrée salads with baked or grilled chicken, beans or seafood provide protein along with fiber and other nutrients.  Ask for dressing on the side so you can control the portion size.
  • For sandwich toppings, load with veggies (lettuce, tomato, avocado, pickles, onion, etc); be cautious of using condiments.
  • Fill your plate with vegetables and fruit​. ​Stir-fries, kabobs, or vegetarian menu items usually have more vegetables.  Select fruits as a side dish or dessert.
  • Select from the sides.​ ​Order a side dish or an appetizer-sized portion instead of a regular entree. They’re usually served on smaller plates and in smaller amounts.  Order fruit or a side salad to accompany your appetizer meal.
  • Substitute.​ Ask for a side salad with dressing on the side to replace fries in a combination meal. Many restaurants honor requests, so don’t be afraid to be assertive, ask menu questions and make special requests to meet your nutritional needs.
  • Control portions and quit the “clean your plate club”. M​any restaurants serve HUGE portions, sometimes enough for two or three people. Eat a smaller portion and bring leftovers home for another meal if eating out.  If dining in, split the meal with someone or ask the restaurant to split the meal in two containers, and eat one for lunch the next day.  OR, if you don’t mind paying full price, but eating less, ask the restaurant to make your portion half the size, eliminate all the temptation to finish your plate.
  • Eat slowly and intentionally.​ It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are no longer hungry. Fast eaters often are overeaters, while slow eaters tend to eat less and are still satisfied.  Pay attention to your meal and mindfully enjoy it.
  • Pass on the buffet!  Just say no to all you can eat buffets!
  • Consider your drink. ​Choose water, unsweetened tea, and other drinks without added sugars and empty calories.  If you choose to have other beverages, like alcohol, limit the number of drinks to just one or two, these calories add up extremely fast and do not metabolize like other calories so they are stored as fat.

How can I make this HEALTHIER??

Fast Food/Sandwich Shop

→​ Skip the sides.​ Ditch the bun when eating a burger or sandwich, ask for a lettuce wrapped bun or sandwich instead.  Choose healthier condiments like mustard over mayo.
→​ Choose fruit and vegetables over fries.​ Many fast food restaurants offer fruit cups or side salad as a healthy alternative to French fries.
→​ Go for the grilled.​ Poultry without skin is much leaner than the meats most fast-food companies use in their burgers, and it may be less processed.
→ ​Pass on the “value-size.” ​When you supersize, the size of your fries and drink isn’t the only thing that gets bigger.

Mexican

→ Avoid deep fried options: Nachos, chimichangas, chalupas, taquitos, chile relleno and “double decker” burritos.
→ Better choices are: Chicken fajitas, tacos , a grilled chicken dish with peppers and onions

→ Skip flour tortillas, try corn tortillas → Swap white rice for brown (or better yet ditch the rice altogether)
→ Add veggies; peppers, onions, etc. → Use salsa as a dressing

→ Replace sour cream with guac → Black beans over refried

Italian

→ Start off with a salad
→ Add veggies to dishes, ask for zoodles instead of noodles if possible

→ Ask to hold the bread

→ Avoid cream based sauces like alfredo (try marinara or pesto!)

Steak House

→ Appetizers: Shrimp cocktail, salad, broth based soup, etc.
→ Better quality meats; grass fed beef (4-6oz), chicken, fish, etc.
→ Know your sauces, peppercorn, beef stock, etc.
→ Sides: green beans, brussels sprouts, asparagus, etc.

Sushi

→ Appetizers: Green Salad, Seaweed Salad, Miso Soup, Salmon or Tuna Tataki, Shumai, Edamame
→ Skip the tempura and gyoza.
→ ​Forgo rice​. Some restaurants can create rice-free wraps and instead use cucumber, soy-based wraps or just nori (seaweed). Ask your server if any such alternatives are available

→ ​Choose cucumber, carrots, and scallions.​ For crunch and flavor for almost no calories, ask for extra veggies in any roll.
→ ​Stick to two rolls.​ Though each roll only has 8-10 bites, they contain up to 400 calories each, thanks to the cup of sushi rice in each one. Get one fancy roll and one basic roll, add miso soup or a simple salad, and you’ll be plenty full.
→ ​Ask for hand rolls.​ Hand rolls (temaki) are cones of seaweed with a bit of rice and all the fillings of a traditional roll. You can save up to 80 calories per roll by asking for hand rolls.

→ ​Stick with the basics.​ Fancy rolls tend to pile on caloric extras like cream cheese, tempura coating, and mayonnaise. Choose fish, rice, and vegetables for a lighter meal.
→ ​Get the appetizer-size sashimi platter.​ Slices of raw fish are a great choice, but the typical platter has at least three servings. Share with a friend or get the appetizer portion.
→ ​For spice, choose wasabi.​ Spicy sauces are usually mayonnaise based, so choose wasabi instead to save calories.
→ ​Go easy on the soy sauce.​ Choose low-sodium soy sauce, but use it sparingly. A tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce still has 25% of your daily sodium