1. Start with Lean Protein
Protein is a nutrition buzzword right now and for all the right reasons. Protein not only helps rebuild lean muscle mass, it keeps you full and helps maintain blood sugar. Opt for lean protein sources including chicken, pork, turkey, fish and plant based protein sources like tofu, tempeh, seitan, legumes and beans. Avoid choosing protein options that are breaded or paired with heavy sauces, like alfredo or a butter sauce. Grilled, baked, broiled and seared cooking techniques are going to offer just as much flavor without all the extra calories, fat, sodium and sometimes even sugar. Find a lean protein option that is simple and seasoned with herbs and spices versus heavy or sweetened sauces and breading.
2. Avoid Carb Based Meals
Carbohydrate based meals like pasta, white rice or Asian noodle bowls are expensive in the carbohydrate department and typically leave you feeling overly full. Skip pasta and carbohydrate rich meals at restaurants and include them with meals prepared at home when you are in control of the portion size. Look for dishes that are inexpensive in carbohydrates and are nutrient rich. Non-starchy vegetables are your go to side, but including a single serving (about ⅓ cup) of a starchy vegetable, like beans, or whole grains is going to be a better option than refined grains like white rice and pasta. For example, go for a sizzling chicken fajita skillet without the tortilla and side of rice at your favorite Mexican restaurant, or riceless chicken and veggie stir fry with an extra side of steamed vegetables at an Asian restaurant.
3. Ask for Dressing and Sauces on the Side, Condiments as Well!
Most people don’t love a dry salad or wrap, but sauces, dressing and condiments are best to be sent to the side and added in moderation. Sauces not only pack in the calories, but also the sugar and sodium. Sauces like teriyaki, barbecue, sweet chili and even some tomato sauces have hidden sugars that can spike blood sugar and cause cravings shortly after a meal. Try dipping the tip of your fork in your dressing or sauce with each bite instead of pouring the entire cup over your salad or meal. Also consider switching out heavier sauces or cream based dressings for a lighter option, or ask your serving for a few lemon and lime wedges to squeeze over your meal to add flavor without the all the calories.
4. Vegetables are the Key to Success
Choosing vegetable based meals or adding an extra serving is always a good decision. The addition of a side salad, steamed vegetables or roasted vegetables will add color and therefore nutrients to your meal and help fill you up. Look for non-starchy vegetable options like broccoli, sauteed spinach, asparagus, fresh tomato salad or sauteed mushrooms to replace carb rich or starchy vegetable sides. You can almost always order a side of vegetables a la carte, but if at a deli or “Made to Order” cafe take your sandwich through the garden and add all the vegetables they have to offer, you won’t regret it!
5. Skip the Roll
When the server puts a basket of bread on the table it is nearly impossible to resist snagging one and slathering it with butter. Then, you finish the first one and there is just one left in the basket before your meal comes so you end up having one or two more than you had initially planned. Consider skipping the bread basket all together if you can catch the server before they put it on your table. You won’t miss it, but if it’s there the challenge of not having it will be a tough one to conquer. Skipping the roll is also good practice when ordering a sandwich. Sliced sandwich bread, rolls and buns have gotten larger in the last few years and because of this they often pack more carbohydrates than we realize. Consider ordering your sandwich or burger “naked” (without the bun) or swapping out the bun for a whole grain wrap.
6. Don’t Drink your Calories
Water should always be your go-to drink order at a restaurant, but if you’re looking to switch it up consider unsweetened teas, or club soda with a few lime and lemon slices. While diet soda is zero calories, it is not the best low calorie option. Research is showing that our bodies react to artificial sweeteners similar to the way it reacts to full calorie sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, can actually promote weight gain and cause carb cravings hours later. Skip diet beverages and drink lemon water both before and after your meal. Water not only helps to promote proper digestion, the lemon flavor will cleanse your palate and help curb cravings for sweets after a savory meal.
7. Plan for success
Take time to look up the menu before making the reservation. By planning what you want to order before you get there, you will avoid making snap decisions on an empty stomach that you might regret later. Some restaurants include nutrition information on their websites that can help guide you to the healthier options. Choose restaurants that include healthy choice categories on their menu or the ability to build your own meal. Don’t hesitate to ask for switch ups of sides, sauces or cooking techniques, you might be surprised on how accommodating restaurants are and your health is worth it!
8. Mindful Eating
Remember you are paying for this meal and therefore it should be enjoyed, not inhaled. There is a popular mindful eating technique that recommends you put your fork down between each bite and it really works! This not only lets you contribute to conversation, but also gives your stomach a chance to send signals to your brain that it’s full before you’ve eaten the entire plate and seconds later are feeling over stuffed and bloated. Mindful eating is a good practice not only while eating out, but when you’re enjoying a meal at home as well. Try slowing down and tasting your meal with each bite. About half way through your meal take a moment to assess your hunger and decide if you want to save the second half for later or if you are still hungry.