For many people, it’s common to eat out a few times per week, whether at a restaurant or ordering takeout. Each year, the average American family spends 50 percent of its food budget eating out. And in today’s culture, eating at restaurants is reserved for more than just special occasions. It’s also a preferred atmosphere for social events, business meetings, and spending time with family and friends. Not to mention, busy schedules and “hustle” culture often leave little time for meal planning, cooking, and grocery shopping.
And with dining out comes the stigma of unhealthy eating. While it’s easy to eat greasy, fried, and unbalanced meals when ordering at a restaurant, it’s not impossible to eat healthy when eating out.
Ultimately, your comprehensive eating pattern is more important for your overall health than one meal or even a week of meals. While spending more time cooking at home is widely recommended for maintaining a healthy diet, there are still smart choices you can make to achieve healthy eating away from home.
Tips for Eating Healthy at Restaurants
The truth is that many times the menu options can be quite high in added salt, sugar, and fat due to their ability to make dishes flavorful and delicious; however, if a majority of your meals are coming from outside of the house, try to be mindful of which items you’re choosing.
Keep an eye out for sources of added sugars, including sodas, coffee drinks, yogurt, desserts, pastries, and more. If you’re looking for something sweet, substitute added sugars for natural sugars.
For example, instead of ordering white or brown sugar for your oatmeal, try adding fruit to receive nutritional benefits. Another tip is to ask for whole-grain buns instead of white bread for extra fiber and nutrients.
Since protein can help you feel full and satisfied, it is a valuable component to include when choosing a balanced meal. Some versatile options featured on many menus include chicken, fish, and tofu.
If you find that your body has no issue with dairy, choosing fat-free or low-fat dairy can be another good source of protein when eating out. Adding nuts or seeds can also boost protein if meat and dairy aren’t a part of your diet.
For good measure, always plan to leave space on your plate for protein as it is vital for your bodily functions and keeps you feeling satisfied following your meal.
Include Fruits and Vegetables
Adding fruits and vegetables to any dish can increase the nutrient density of the meal. For example, opt for a side of roasted broccoli or a side salad next time you are out to eat in lieu of the fries that typically come with a meal.
For sandwich toppings, add all the veggie options, like lettuce, tomato, peppers, avocado, pickles, and onion. If you add a condiment, you could choose ketchup, mustard, relish, or salsa over heavier condiments like mayonnaise, ranch, or other creamy sauces.
Prepare Ahead of Time
To help you make healthier restaurant choices, check the menu online before you visit to get an idea of what's available. Some menus will even break down the nutrition information for each dish. Review the menu and nutrition information to help figure out what you might want to order ahead of time.
Be Intentional While Ordering
When looking at the menu for the first time, it’s easy to get swept away by all the drink, side dish, and dessert options, but try to be intentional while ordering your meal. It’s all about mindset and having enough discipline to order the foods that will provide the best nutrients for your body.
When ordering, include healthier selections from all the food groups for a well-balanced meal, including lean protein, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Versatile meals that you can often find at many restaurants are entrée salads. They usually cover all food groups, offering protein sources such as baked or grilled chicken, beans, or seafood. The protein perfectly complements the leafy greens and other vegetables, which provide fiber and other nutrients. You can even get your dressing on the side to control the portion size.
When at a restaurant or ordering takeout, use the opportunity to choose a meal that has one of your GenoPalate optimal foods! There might be a food you have been meaning to try but haven’t learned how to cook with it yet. This would be a great time to experiment!
Once you’re at the restaurant, aim to eat your meal slowly. This is a healthy restaurant tactic you can use to help you be mindful of portions and enjoy the food even more. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you are no longer hungry. When people eat fast, they tend to overeat because they don’t recognize when they’re full.
In order to eat slowly, it is important to not show up to the meal too hungry. If you begin the meal feeling overly hungry, it can make it much more challenging to slow down. If you're feeling ravenous before you leave for the restaurant, try having a small snack like some veggies and hummus or a piece of fruit to hold you over before your meal.
Depending on how often you eat out, it may slightly change your strategy. If you are someone that rarely goes out to eat, then enjoy your time and choose whatever your heart desires! However, if you find yourself out to eat out of habit, necessity, or obligation, and you want to work on finding healthy options, here are some additional things to consider:
On menus, there are descriptive words that can clue you in on how something is prepared, which can help determine which option you should choose. Grilled, broiled, steamed, or baked food is typically cooked with less fat. Fried, breaded, smothered, or creamy food is typically more filling and calorie-dense. Keep in mind that many restaurants will be able to make healthy, non-fried foods that have plenty of flavors and are just as enjoyable.
Keep These Suggestions in Mind For Eating Healthy When Dining Out
Making even small changes to your order when eating out can help you build a healthy plate and allow you to continue a healthy eating pattern. Remember—one meal doesn’t define an eating pattern. Therefore, you can choose which restaurants or eating experiences you want in order to select the most nutritious meals or the ones you would rather indulge in.
What comes next?
If you feel stuck with making sustainable health changes, you’re not alone. Sometimes, the challenge is simply where to start. Goals, challenges, motivations, and lifestyles differ from person to person, and it’s important to recognize these differences and learn how to begin making healthy changes that work best for you.
Your genetics can give clues to these differences and provide insight into the foundational level of your personalized dietary needs. Gain a better understanding of your body, and allow your genes to inform your new dietary habits to support your health goals. Click here to learn more about your DNA’s guide to healthy eating.
Ready to begin your personalized nutrition journey to achieve your health goals? Get your DNA collection kit today.