We’ve all been there: You have the best of intentions to eat healthy this week. But then a dinner out with your friends is thrown into the mix and everything goes down the drain.
But it doesn’t have to! A dinner out doesn’t mean you need to opt for a burger and poutine. As long as you aren’t dining at McDonalds, there are usually a ton of healthy option on the menu. You just have to know how to look for them! Yes, cooking your own food at home is usually the best option to ensure the cleanest options, but living a clean lifestyle doesn’t mean flipping the off switch on your social life. It’s all about finding a balance.
So here’s some tips on how to maintain clean eating habits when eating out:
1. Choose the restaurant.
"Where do you want to go for dinner?"
"I don’t care, where do you want to go."
"I don’t care. You pick!"
"I don’t care either. You pick!"
Okay, stop. If you are trying to eat healthy you need to care. Search out restaurants in the area that have healthy options! Search for places that support local (farm-to-table), offer organic options and put an emphasis on fresh ingredients and health. Make a list of your top three and suggest these to your crew. That way, no matter which one is chosen, there will healthy options to choose from.
One of my favourite tools for finding good, healthy restaurants is an app called FourSquare. In the field that says “What are you looking for?” type in “healthy food” then type in your postal code and boom - tons of choices for healthy restaurants in what ever area you fancy. This is especially helpful while travelling.
If you are downtown Toronto, here are a few of my favourites:
2. Scope out the menu in advance
So now that you’ve locked down a place, start scoping out the menu. What options appear the cleanest? Get creative here. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Add a piece of grilled chicken or salmon to a salad to make it a complete meal.
- Are there some dishes that would be clean if it wasn’t for the sauce? Ask for it without the sauce.
- Check out the vegetarian and vegan options. In many cases, these are healthier.
- Check out the appetizers. A lot of times these have healthier options too. Maybe you could get two appetizers as your meal instead of the traditional entree. Or an appetizer with a side veg?
- Can you get a burger on a bed of greens and skip the bun?
3. Make a decision and stick to it
Now that you’ve scoped out the menu, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Picking out what you are going to have in advance makes it easier to not get sucked into that plate of nachos once you arrive. Make your decision and stick to it.
4. Ask about the specials
So up until now, we’re living in a perfect world where you have been able to choose the restaurant, scope out the menu in advance and made a decision before dining. But this isn’t always the case.
There will be those times when you have no say and just end up at some truck stop along Hwy. 21. Not ideal but use your tips for scoping out the menu now. How can you clean up some of these meals?
Don’t see anything? What about the specials? If you are struggling to find something good for you, consider the specials. Are they clean? If not, are there any things you could omit or change up to make it cleaner?
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
- Can I swap out the fries for a spinach salad or extra vegetables?
- Do you have a simple oil and vinegar dressing instead?
- Can I get the dressing on the side?
- Can I get the roasted chicken without the sauce?
- Is there sugar added to this dressing or sauce?
- Excuse me. Is this chicken local?
- How big is the area where the chicken is able to roam free?
- Do you have a good relationship with this farm?
(I’m just kidding about those last three…. kind of.)
6. Skip the dairy and gluten
Dairy and gluten both can cause inflammation in the body and often lead to that horrible after dinner bloat. (Yes, I know that extra cheese always seems like a good idea at the time…) So better to steer clear of this stuff. Often if you ask the server about dairy-free and gluten-free options, they’ll be able to help you out.
7. Be careful with…
There are certain words and items on a menu that should raise red flags:
- Salad dressings (stick to the simple stuff like oil and vinegar)
- The word “fried” (stick to grilled or baked)
- Sugar (avoid this as much as possible)
- Sweet (this is often just another word for sugar)
- Bun (aka gluten and sugar shit storm)
- Bread (usually best to steer clear)
If alcohol is not involved, stick to lemon water (it’s free!), herbal tea or sparkling water. If it is a boozy dinner, stick to lighter drinks like vodka soda with lemon or lime, light organic beer or red organic wine. Stay away from the sugary drinks like coolers and cocktails. Not only is sugar the devil in my books, but it also gives the worst hangover. And a’int no one got time for that.
So there you have it. My top tips for eating out and keeping it clean. What are some strategies you use to make healthy choices when dining at restaurants?