How to Make Healthy Choices While Eating Out
Written by Heather Gerrish, RD
So how do you stick to the plan - but also eat out? This will look different for everyone and is directly associated with what and how often you eat out - if that’s fast food or sweet treats, these modifications might seem more drastic than the occasional Friday night date of dinner and movie. Everything can be modified and included in a healthy diet, but being aware and making an effort to swap out old habits for some alternatives can help to keep you on track and moving towards your goals!
Eating out can be difficult and when including the social aspect of eating out, we can often be influenced to eat more or outside of what we planned. It’s easy to dive into an extra sweet treat or snack on some chips before the main meal when friends and family are around and it’s even harder to say no.
Here are some quick tips to keep you on track the next time you are out and about:
Review the Menu (most restaurants with over 20 locations have online databases to help you navigate nutrition facts information with ease). This can be a huge help in finding out what modifications and options you have available before going out.
Focus on Vegetables - but be wary added oils (ask for steamed vegetables if you can) as these can lead to added calories that you didn’t anticipate, or if you opt for vegetables cooked in oil or served in a creamy sauce, stick to a smaller serving.
Include Lean Protein - fill up on a good serving of lean protein - choices like grilled or baked chicken, baked fish or a bean burger!
Practice Portion Size. Most restaurant servings are commonly double what a normal serving size actually is. Practice using nutrition facts labels (and looking at the serving size) or boxing up some of your meal to take home leftovers!
Having a plan is a big part of staying on track. Setting aside a few minutes can be the difference between feeling prepared and on track and feeling less than motivated to focus in on healthy choices.
This is an example of what eating out and making healthy choices might look like:
For this exercise, we will take a look at a common restaurant, Chipotle. This restaurant has an interactive nutrition calculator that individually accounts for each menu staple.
I choose the burrito bowl due to the high degree of customization for both ingredients and serving size (light, normal or extra/double).
Taking a look at the options available, looking for our protein staple (grilled or baked chicken or fish) there is a great option for grilled chicken (our base). Protein - check!
Next, we have a few options including a choice of rice and beans. There are a few options and we have the choice of doing a “light” serving on any of the below ingredients to modify individually. There is also an option to see individual nutrition facts for each added ingredient. Here is an example of what that looks like for our choice of chicken (ingredient break down and nutrition facts)
Now, on to our burrito bowl! Selecting black beans (light) and mixing with pinto beans (light serving as well) allows us to optimize our protein intake.
Rice is a great simple carbohydrate and could be added here as well, focusing on brown rice over white rice when possible. (Cilantro-lime brown rice would be a great choice here!)
Adding in “extra” lettuce and a normal serving of fajita vegetables adds in bulk to keep us full, vegetable variety for a rainbow of colors and great flavor! [focusing on those veggies!!]
Our final bowl consists of a great balance with a focus on protein (chicken and light black beans and pinto beans), a variety of vegetables with extra lettuce and fajita vegetables and a little flavor (plus the added benefit of calcium and vitamin D found in dairy products!) with a nutritional breakdown as follows: 410 calories, 12.5 g fat, 43.5 grams protein, and 30.5 grams of carbohydrates. (Also see below for the nutrition breakdown %).
Having a plan and taking a few minutes to stop, think and optimize your choices is a positive way to ensure that you are sticking to your plan but also accommodating the social enjoyment of eating out. If you can, the next time you eat out try looking up the nutrition facts information and plan out an “imaginary meal”, maybe this is not what you end up ordering, but doing this allows you to practice making informed, well thought out decisions without the influence of the fast-track environment of a restaurant and making a decision quickly. Give it a try, you might be surprised at the nutrition facts information you find!
*Nutrition facts taken from Chipotle’s Nutrition Calculator (https://www.chipotle.com/nutrition-calculator.html)