It's summer, which means many of us are traveling or on the go. This may also mean that eating at home isn't always an option. While dining out can lead us to make some not-so-great choices, we also have the opportunity to make the most of the meal we choose at a restaurant! So whether or not you are on the go or simply going out for a dinner date night, use these tips to stay on track!
1. Skip the Appetizers
Most appetizers aren't worth your time, as most have some sort of sauce or are fried/breaded. Skipping the appetizers also allows you to enjoy your meal as well!
2. Look Over the Whole Menu First
Looking over the entire menu allows you to see what the restaurant has in its kitchen. For example, do you see avocado as part of one of the salads? You could ask for that on the side of your meal!
3. Find the Vegetable Options
Next, figure out how you can get a vegetable on your plate. Most restaurants will have a vegetable side choice, usually it's broccoli or green beans. Avoid those that mention any sort of sauce or glaze on top of the vegetables as well.
If there is no vegetable side dish other than a baked potato, consider having a plain salad (no dressing or croutons) and asking for lemon juice to use as part of the dressing. Plus, then you can cut up your protein of choice and use it on top of the salad so no extra dressing is needed. I typically try and stay away from this last option and look for a vegetable other than a salad because the dressing options are normally pretty poor.
You can also use vegetables as subs for other sides that are included in a meal. For instance, if a steak comes with rice and your choice of one side, make that one side a vegetable and ask for the rice to be replaced with that same vegetable (basically a double order of the vegetable). I've never been charged more for that simple swap! It works well with bread or any other type of grain based side.
4. Figure out the Safest/Cleanest Protein Source
I tend to avoid all chicken at restaurants (I tend to choose organic poultry), so instead, I'll look for a baked fish or steak option. Beef tends to be a pretty safe choice in my opinion. Even a burger without a bun is a great option, especially if you order a plain salad for it to on top of. Be wary of the specialty burgers though - any type of turkey, salmon, or veggie burger is likely going to have a huge list of other ingredients as compared to a plain ole hamburger.
With protein, we also want to avoid anything that is breaded or fried or covered in some sort of sauce or glaze. These are code words for gluten and sugar!
5. Watch for Hidden Buzz Words
And speaking of code words - be wary of words like:
Brushed with butter (most restaurants don't use real butter, so unless you want a ton of margarine on your food, skip this)
All of these and more can often mean the food you are choosing has extra sugar, gluten, or vegetable oils used that probably aren't needed. Look for words like steamed, sauteed (although they still probably will use crappy oils), baked, and grilled.
6. Skip the Salad (most of the time)
I know so many people who think going out to eat and ordering a salad is the healthiest choice, and I'm sorry to break it to you, but that is normally NOT the case. Most restaurant salads are loaded with croutons (gluten), sugar glazed dried fruit or nuts, cheese (I'm not a huge fan of dairy), and of course the terrible dressing. And no, the "lite" salad dressing option is NOT better - it's usually worse! These dressings are loaded with crappy oils, sugar, and/or artificial sweeteners. It's best to stay away entirely unless you are planning on eating the salad plain while using avocado, olives, and/or the meat from your entree to serve as a "dressing."
7. Put It All Together!
Once you've looked over the menu, it's time to put together a meal! And don't be afraid to ask for substitutions. Most restaurants are accommodating IF you ask nicely! Here are some of my favorite options:
Steak of any kind + double vegetable
Steak of any kind + vegetable + baked potato (dry, most restaurants will use fake butter)
Hamburger (no bun) with lettuce and tomato and red onion + avocado + vegetable
Hamburger (no bun) with plain side salad + vegetable
Baked/grilled salmon + double vegetable
Of course, eating out will never compare to what you can make at home yourself with real, whole ingredients, but making simple swaps and reading the menu properly can definitely help you get started!