Last week I shared some of my travel secrets on how I manage to eat healthy when traveling. This week I’m going to focus on eating away from home again – but this time more in the dining out arena. So this applies whether you are traveling as last week, or just going out for dinner in your own home town.
The first and most important thing to me when dining out is restaurant selection. Whether or not you will be successful at eating healthy while out on the town is dependent on what restaurant you pick and the choices they offer.
Look Over The Menu Online
In this age of internet it is so easy and extremely helpful to go online and do some research before making any reservations. I look for reviews of local restaurants in local health conscious publications and on online restaurant databases. Even Facebook has a review application you can join and see what others recommend at home and abroad.
Look the Menu Over For Options
Okay, so you’ve found some local restaurant’s web sites – now what you say? Look through the menu at the options presented.
- Look for vegetarian options or substitutions? Some places will offer tofu or seitan (wheat gluten made to look and taste like meat, sort of) options in place of meat.
- Be cautious of things on the menu that is either deep fried, swimming in butter or cream sauce, or loaded up on simple carbs like pasta and bread. Stay away from ALL of the above!
- Look for dishes that have loads of vegetables, salads with no cheese or meat, grilled fish or even sushi choices.
Ask About Substitutions
Once I’ve picked a few choices, I discuss with Rob and we make a reservation. If I’m still not sure about a place, I’ll ask if they allow me to make substitutions – things like, can I have more vegetables instead of the baked potato and sour cream. We personally like to patronize independently owned and operated restaurants rather than the big chains. We find them more quaint, and usually far more accommodating to dietary requests. Once we find a place we like – we usually go back often.
At the restaurant here are some things to avoid and to choose:
Things To Avoid
- anything deep fried
- anything with a cream sauce including white creamy soups. Even things like carrot soup or butternut squash soup often have things like heavy cream (heavy on the fat!) in them – if in doubt don’t be afraid to ask what’s in it. If you’re too embarassed tell them you have a dairy allergy. They’ll tell you for sure cause they don’t want your lips to puff up and sue them if they don’t tell you and you have a reaction. My cousin does it all the time with shrimp – she tells the staff she’s allergic, which can be pretty serious – in reality she just doesn’t like them.
- dishes heavy on the meat content, low on the veggie content. Make sure if you do have meat you choose a lean chicken or fish dish – and the plate still have more veggies on it than meat. Not a 16 oz. steak and one little potato.
- cheese anything, ask them to hold it if they put it on top
- Sour cream or any dip that has it in it – ask if you think there might be. If you really want to eat it, just put it right on your hips and your arteries. Think again – your body will thank you!
- bread and things heavy on the bread content like a giant sandwichy thing
- coffee – but if you must have it, skip the cream and sugar
- alcohol – but if you must, choose a glass of wine or limit to one drink with NO pop
- dessert of any kind, even fruit (fruit is best eaten on an empty stomach, if eaten after a meal it can ferment and cause upset or other issues) If you think you might want dessert to finish – get an appetizer instead, or have a salad and a main or share both with your dining partner
- Putting salt on anything – use pepper
- hummus and vegetables to dip in it, or pita bread
- Asian restaurants – they often have lots of tofu or veggie dishes to choose from
- Salad – hold the cheese and the croutons – ask for a vinaigrette and if they don’t have one, ask for 1/2 a lime and just squeeze that on and use it as dressing. Remember to skip the creamy dressings.
- Stir fries are usually good choices, get brown rice on the side if it’s an option (or white rice if that’s the only choice)
- Grilled fish or chicken breast
- A Veggie burger – hold the cheese, mayo and bun. Ask for a nice mustard on it and lots of veggies like lettuce, onion, tomatoes, sprouts if they got ’em, etc.
- Bean dishes like curried chick peas, or a black bean chili – hold the cheese and sour cream (getting the idea here?!)
- Lentil loaf
- Vegetable soup
- Sharing a large plate if you aren’t that hungry. Or share two appetizers and try more things.
- Stuffed peppers
Getting some ideas?
Ask For What You Want
Like I said, don’t be afraid to ask what’s in things, or how they are prepared. You’re paying for it after all, why not get what you want, how you want it. I’m sure you’ve seen the scene in the movie “When Harry Met Sally” right? The one where she orders and asks for this on the side if this, but not if that, etc, etc. Harry thinks she’s being difficult and she just says “Well, I like it how I like it” and that was that. Go Sally, you rock girlfriend! Of course she did go on to act out the famous fake orgasm during dessert too. Gotta love it!
Just to give you all some ideas, here are the web sites of some of our favorite restaurants in Edmonton. We frequent all of these places and rotate between them depending on our mood. Find some in your area you like and stick with them. If friends ask you out to dinner – suggest they try a new place and come to one of your choices. Show them how good eatin’ is done!
Eating healthy while dining out can be as simple as doing some online research of the restaurant’s menu and making a good choice before you even leave the house. Then, make nice with the staff, ask about substitutions, and avoid non-nutritious foods. Healthy eating while dining out isn’t a chore – it’s simply a matter of perspective.
Until next time – be well and be happy!
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