The majority of appetizers are either fried or rich in cream/cheese – both of which are not nice to your health or waistline. If there’s nothing healthy in the appetizer section, skip them all together – your entrée will likely be enough to satisfy both your taste buds and hunger. If you can find a healthy appetizer – like grilled calamari or a broth-based soup – those can be a good starting choice or a great meal in and of themselves.
Look for menu clues
I think of menu words for cooking methods and sauces like a traffic light system. Generally, green means go, yellow means slow down (ask questions), and red means stop.
- Does the item come with any dressings and condiments (salad dressing, mayo, ketchup, etc.)? Ask for them on the side. You’ll be able to control your portions better.
- Ordering a burger or sandwich? Ask for a “dry bun.” Many restaurants will butter and toast the buns or bread.
- If your item description includes a side of French fries or rice, ask to substitute veggies instead.
- Ask for an item to be grilled rather than fried.
Watch the booze
As your pondering over the drink menu, consider how many empty calories those items can add - especially fruity, sugary mixed drinks like margaritas or strawberry daiquiris. These can pack upwards of 400-500 calories! When combined with the food you’re eating, you can easily exceed your daily calorie limit with a not-so-healthy meal and a couple mixed drinks. Instead, stick with one glass of wine or one beer. Even better, just go for some water with fresh squeezed lemon or lime!
Box it up
Restaurant portions are typically 2-4x the size of a proper portion. In order to avoid eating a whole day’s worth of food each time you go out, ask for half of the meal to be boxed up before it’s even brought to the table. Research shows when you are served large portions, you eat more food – regardless of whether you’re hungry for it or not. Boxing it up ahead of time brings a more reasonable portion to the table.
Take it away!
Along the same lines, once you feel full, either have the waitstaff take your plate away right away. If you leave the plate in front of you, you’re likely to pick at what’s left out just because it’s there – especially if other people at the table are still eating. If you can’t flag down the waiter, throw your napkin on top of the food to keep it out of sight. Worried you’ll still pick at it? I know a few people who use this dramatic fix: dump some salt on top of what’s left so you’ll have no choice but to avoid it.
Share with us: what are your strategies for eating healthy while at a restaurant?