Helpful Tips to Keep Restaurant Dining Healthy

So you’ve decided to make those long talked about “lifestyle changes”. Problem is, to work they have to fit into your lifestyle.  And if dining out or grabbing food on the go is part of your daily routine, you’ll be faced with a little more of a challenge trying to maintain good eating habits.  Often, we use dining out as an excuse to indulge, make bad food choices or to eat abnormally large portions of food. Although dining out can be a nutritional challenge, it’s one that is very easily overcome with a few simple guidelines.

Keep your hunger under control
As you know, it’s important to eat several small meals throughout the day.  It is particularly important not to skip meals if you know you are going to dine out. If you show up at the restaurant ravenously hungry, you’re much more likely to choose a bad appetizer, eat too much bread, or over order your dinner.

Choose your restaurant wisely
Avoid restaurants known for all fried foods or heavy dishes made with rich sauces. Today, however, most restaurants do offer a variety of foods that are either a healthy alternative or can be easily modified into a nutritious, low-fat, heart healthy meal.  Even at the finest dining establishments, most will accommodate special requests.

Don’t be afraid to speak up
“I want plain chicken on the grill.  No seasonings butter or salt.  And steamed vegetables, please.”  Choose your selection wisely and don’t be afraid to ask for modifications.  Most restaurants are very happy to accommodate special orders and often times appreciate the fact that you are trying to eat healthy. And don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions.  If you order grilled fish and it’s served with pasta or rice, don’t be afraid to ask for steamed vegetables instead.  Also, make sure to ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side.

Cut the condiments
Food condiments – such as sauces, butter, mayonnaise, and salad dressings – should be ordered on the side.  Taste your food first, rather than habitually slathering on the sauce.  Most well prepared foods don’t need many enhancements. If you do choose to use these side items, dab and dip rather than pour on the sauces.  You’d be amazed at the amount of taste you get while sparing yourself literally hundreds of calories.

Mind your manners
A little etiquette goes along way when trying to maintain good food habits in a restaurant.   Don’t “chow down” your food, eat slowly, chewing your food thoroughly. Not only will you seem more polite, but you will actually digest your food better and probably get full sooner, thus eating less. Also, instead of focusing so much on eating, participate in the dining experience – join in the conversation, of course never with a mouth full of food.

A word of caution about buffets
Finding a nutritious meal at a buffet is often quite easy.  Most offer quite a selection of fresh salads and vegetables along with roasted chicken or carved turkey breast and for quite a reasonable price.  But sticking to these choices is only for those of the strongest will – there are many tempting dishes and desserts, and the challenge of portion control.
Avoid the urge to “just taste” (just tasting at a buffet really adds up) or worse yet trying to “get your money’s worth”.

Keep it interesting
Ethnic foods offer a healthy variety of choices, leaving you less tempted to make bad choices out of boredom.

Mexican Food
Have a craving for Mexican food?  Go right ahead – but, choose grilled fish, chicken or shrimp platters. And load up on the salsa (not the chips!) – it’s low cal and the lycopene in the tomatoes is a wonderful antioxidant. Avoid the cheeses and sour creams and be careful of the beans and rice.

Chinese Food
Chinese can be a good balanced choice of grains, vegetables and meats. Choose low fat, stir fried dishes,
limit white rice – choose brown if available, avoid fried
dishes, and ask for your food to be prepared low salt and with no MSG. Also, try Vietnamese as a great healthy alternative.  It offers many wonderful charbroiled dishes with fresh vegetables and herbs, without all the heavy sauces.

Japanese Food
Sushi is a great healthy meal, high in protein and good Omega 3 essential fatty acids. But choose real sushi –  fish and rice, not the rolls, which are  usually loaded with mayonnaise. Be careful of the rice. – Sashimi (just fish) is an even better choice.  Try some Edamame (steamed soybeans) with your meal; they are a great source of protein, along with all the wonderful benefits of soy.  Wasabi (Japanese horseradish) is good clearing the nasal passages, and ginger, used to clear thepallet, is great for circulation.  Sea vegetables and miso soups also offer many health benefits.  Avoid tempura and other fried dishes.  And again, ask for low sodium soy sauce.

Mediterranean or Middle Eastern Food
Whether it’s Greek or Lebanese, making a healthy food choice is fairly easy when dining in one of these restaurants. Classic Greek dishes like hummous, tabouhli and baba ghanouj are all made from fresh vegetables, whole grains and olive oil. Very nutritious indeed. Chicken kabobs or chicken schwarma make good high-protein, low-fat main dish choices.  Choose whole wheat pita bread, but be careful of the portions.

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