We’ve all been there before, we want to eat healthily and also socialize, so can you do both? Yes!
Eating out generally falls into two categories, it’s either spontaneous or planned out. If you know strategies that can help you in both of these scenarios, then you’re set up for success when it comes to eating healthy while dining out.
These 15 healthy hacks will help you navigate any situation while eating out. You can enjoy your meal and the people around you!
1. Plan Ahead
This is one of the most important hacks you can apply to eat healthy while dining out. If you’re able to plan ahead for your dinner or social engagement at a restaurant, then you can preview the menu online.
In addition to reviewing the menu, you can also check out the restuarants sourcing practices. Where are they getting their food from? How is it made? What’s their overall food philosophy?
Previewing the menu online or even calling ahead, is a great way to plan and familiarize yourself with the restaurant offerings. When you arrive at the restaurant you can come with a plan to stick to, which makes your healthy eating behaviors easier to stick too — especially if you’re able to order before anyone else does!
We know the social pressure or situations and how they can easily alter our “plan” or choices we wanted to initially make. Groupthink happens in so many ways, including choosing what’s on the menu that may not be best for improving your health. Instead of changing your mind last minute because everyone is ordering similar items, stick to your original plan.
If you’re eating out and it’s a spontaneous get-together such as “hey, want to grab dinner later?”, then all of the following hacks still can apply to you.
2. Have A Snack
You know the saying of don’t go grocery shopping while you’re hungry? Well, the same applies to you when you go out to eat, go to a party, or any social gathering around food. It’s so easy to entertain the “eat everything in sight” mentality when you’re incredibly hungry!
Before you go out eat, be sure to have a healthy snack that’s rich in fiber, healthy fats, or protein and ideally if you can snack on a combination of the three. Try a hardboiled egg with veggies and hummus, a half serving of a protein shake and a handful of nuts, or fiber-rich crackers with some avocado.
Did you know sometimes what we think is hunger, is actually just thirst? Feeling thirsty and feeling hungry can sometimes feel very similar. The next time you’re hungry, try drinking a couple glasses of water, waiting for 15 minutes, and checking in with yourself again about your hunger.
This is a great exercise to do in general, but especially when you’re in social situations where the mind-body connection can become muted with distractions (i.e. great conversations, alcohol, etc.).
Be sure to order a glass of water and keep it filled. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your meal to make sure you’re hydrated and not eating more food when it’s really just water your body is after.
4. Eat Vegetables
Vegetables are excellent sources of fiber and we know fiber keeps us fuller for longer. By making vegetables the center of your meal when eating out, can ensure you’re getting enough fiber in your meal that’ll keep you full, maintain a good blood sugar balance, and can prevent you from overeating.
When you’re eating out, ask for a side of vegetables, ask for double the vegetables with your main dish, a vegetable-rich soup, or a side salad to be made as an entree.
One of my favorite things to do to make sure I’m filling up on the most nutrient-dense foods is to order an entree salad (or ask for double side salads if they don’t have entree available). Then you can pick and choose a protein to top it off with an olive oil for healthy fat.
5. Ask About The Preparation
You’re a guest at the restaurant so communicating your needs and wants to the helpful staff is part of why they do what they do! They want to ensure you’ve had a great experience and what better way than to communicate with them about the dishes in detail.
Ask your server about how the food is prepared, sometimes a simple dish such as chicken and vegetables can have many hidden oils, salt, and sauces you didn’t know about. Having this knowledge will allow you to ask for adjustments about how you want the meal to be prepared.
Opt for cooking methods that include steaming, broiling, baking, roasting, over frying. Even when they’re baked or roasted ask for olive oil to be the main oil used and for a minimal amount — healthy fats and olive oil are great, but the amount still matters.
Restaurants tend to use more oils, salt, and seasonings to boost flavor so ask them what they use. Then you’ll be able to ask for those items on the side so you can control the amount you would like to use.
6. Share Your Meal
Not only is this a fun and engaging way to connect with your friends or group you’re with, but it’s also a great way to portion control!
The portions given at restaurants in the US is significantly more than most healthy adults would need in one sitting — sometimes it’s at least four times as much.
Part of navigating point #5 is asking your server about how large the portions are. This will be a great way to divide the meal between the table.
7. Ask For A Box
Option two from the hack of sharing your meal is to ask for a take-out box as soon as you place your order.
Now, I know this might seem like you’re really jumping ahead, but this can be a great strategy for you to use if you routinely belong to the “clean plate club”.
I’m guilty of this, I was raised in a Midwest household where we were encouraged to eat everything on the plate because food left on it, was wasteful. It’s no wonder why my reaction stems from this childhood behavior, and if you feel this way too, just add this tool to your kit!
Once you order your meal, especially if it’s a large portion, simply divide the plate into what you’ll eat during one sitting and everything else will go into the box. Simple as that.
You’ll enjoy leftovers the next day, share them with a co-worker, or give them to your partner who needs a quick lunch.
8. Pause In Between Bites
If you’re familiar with mindful eating habits then this hack will probably come naturally to you. If not, here’s a simple way to eat healthy while dining out.
In between each bite you take of your meal, casually place your fork or utensil down on the plate or bowl and rest until you’ve fully chewed your bite before going back for more.
This action will help you pace yourself. Having pauses in between each bite will not only help you build more mind-body awareness (hunger and fullness), but it will also keep you present at the moment spending time with those around you and how that may impact your eating behavior.
9. Order A Salad First
Remember the hack about filling your plate with vegetables? Well, this hack of ordering your salad first double as a fiber-rich addition to your meal and also as a way to skip the bread.
Bread can be part of a healthy diet, but when it comes to filling up on the most nutrient-dense foods, vegetables win.
Order your salads with the dressing on the side and opt for dressings that are olive oil based. If you’re a purist, try asking for olive oil and vinegar to make your own tableside!
10. Limit Cream Sauces
Cream sauces are loaded with, you guessed it, cream. Cream, heavy milk, and butter aren’t bad foods, but when you’re trying to improve your health while eating out these should be kept to a minimum if at all depending on your goals.
It’s easy to spot cream sauces, just look for the ingredients and when in doubt, ask your server exactly how it’s prepared.
Otherwise, when ordering meals that come with sauces look for ones that are tomato based or vegetable-broth based.
11. Ask For Dressings On The Side
Did you know a serving of dressing is about two tablespoons? Most restaurants will double that amount to coat the vegetables in a salad and boost the flavor.
Not only that, toppings such as croutons, cheese, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, almonds, cheese, etc. can add up to be more calorically dense than cream-based pasta.
When you order a salad or a meal with several toppings on the list, then just ask for everything on the side so you can pick and choose what you add to it.
12. Stick To Simple Beverages
If you’re looking to hydrate or sip on a drink, go for water. If that’s not a fulfilling option for you, then make sure alcoholic drinks aren’t mixed with simple syrups, limit or avoid soda which is pure sugar and not in line with improving one’s health.
13. Skip The Dessert
Desserts can be as much if not more calories than the meal itself. If dessert is something you really want and have a healthy relationship with food, then enjoy it. But if eating dessert will result in you not feeling well or emotional feelings come up about guilt or the urge to make up for it tomorrow, then skip dessert.
Skipping dessert can also open the door for healthier habits like getting home earlier to wind-down and enjoy an evening routine for better sleep, drinking hot tea to find calm, or reading a book as part of your self-care routine.
14. Vegetable and Protein Combo
When in doubt, look for something on the menu that’s rich in vegetables and protein. This is a great combination for better blood sugar balance, which can help regulate your hunger hormones, how full you feel, your energy, digestion, and
This may be easier said than done for some, but this truly is a philosophy and a lens you can apply to situations like these. Think about the enjoyment factor when you’re eating out.
Remember the context of your entire day and your entire diet as a whole. If you’re consistently eating a healthy diet and engaging in healthy lifestyle practices, then more often than not, enjoying a meal wholeheartedly may actually be good for your mental and emotional health!
Food is so much more than just nourishing our body on a cellular level, it’s also about pleasure, enjoying moments with loved ones, and socializing — and that’s okay too.
What’s your biggest challenge with eating out? Do you have any hacks you would add to this list? Share below or tag me in a photo on Instagram the next time you eat a meal out with one of these healthy eating hacks!