By Dietitian Jill AKA The Good Gut Queen
We Americans eat out an average of 4 to 5 times a week. And there are over 200,000 restaurants that serve you tableside (in other words, NOT fast food) … and growing.
Even though these restaurants offer a variety of foods … and most have healthy options (nutritional breakdowns are required nationally for chains) … they can be ticking time bombs when it comes to eating healthy.
Government research has found that the food you typically eat out is far worse nutritionally from similar food you eat at home. But … there ARE healthier options available everywhere … even with fast food.
Here are some ideas for choosing lunches out that you feel good about … that nurture your body, mind, and spirit … in short, that love YOU!
Check Out Menus Beforehand
Fortunately, almost every restaurant has menus posted on the internet. If they aren’t on their website, they’re usually on Yelp.
And I have many pins on my Pinterest site if you want to go out Gluten Free (https://www.pinterest.com/healyourhealth/gluten-free/). So it’s really easy to check out choices beforehand when you’re contemplating a dine-out meal.
There are also apps to help you. I’ve had the app, Find Me Gluten Free, on my phone since I WENT Gluten Free 10 years ago. Just want healthy options? Here’s Food Tripping, an app that offers local and sustainable healthy dining out.
However you do this, checking out menus beforehand helps you ultimately make better choices when you finally get to the table. You also may find better choices that you haven’t even considered before.
Have it YOUR Way!
I’m spoiled! I go to a local restaurant where the chef knows my preferences and makes things up special for me. He’s even put some of them on the daily menu.
But even if you don’t have that luxury (believe me … I’m totally honored and grateful for his efforts!), you can still get what you want by asking for it.
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and coauthor of the book Restaurant Confidential and Nutrition Action Healthletter, says, “You need to be an assertive consumer by asking for changes on the menu,”.
So ask for grilled meat or fish instead of fried. Or double veggies or baked potato instead of fries, salad instead of coleslaw, or that no bread or chips be served.
At the very least, ask how the food is prepared. You may get a HUGE wake-up call when it’s laced with vegetable oil (one of my No-Nos) or breaded and fried with a light coating of flour (another No-No) …
“Just assume you can have the food prepared the way you want it,” says Jacobson. “Very often, the restaurant will cooperate.” I’ve never had a problem getting what I want in restaurants. The key is to pipe up and use your voice.
When All Else Fails … A Little White Lie …
Oh … and another hint. And … I’m sorry if lying is something you don’t do. But sometimes I tell waitstaff I’m allergic to gluten (actually this is a wheat intolerance … not a gluten intolerance).
It’s not really a lie … just a tiny bleached one. Because I’m actually sensitive … I’ve tested myself.
But the reality is … if it’s somewhere where you’re not a frequent guest … waitstaff may not take you seriously unless they have visions of you choking and swelling running through their heads. Fortunately, if you ARE a frequent guest, you’ve made your needs known (I ate out today and they asked me if I wanted my preferred food and drink before I even sat down) and will never have a problem.
But you have to SPEAK UP so your preferences can be honored! And I have to admit that I’ve walked out of restaurants that wouldn’t accommodate me. I was a vegan back in the day when it wasn’t fashionable. So I learned early on to ask for what I wanted.
Make Eating Out for Lunch a Salad Meal
This is the easiest way I know to make a Love YOURSELF Lunch. Opt for a salad instead of a fat-laden sandwich (most are … fortunately, I’ve never liked mayo).
But let look at some guidelines. Avoid anything in a creamy sauce (coleslaw, pasta salads, and potato salads), and skip the bacon bits and fried noodles.
Instead, load up on the raw vegetables, treat yourself to a few well-drained marinated vegetables (artichoke hearts, red peppers, or mushrooms), and add in some fruit or nuts. such as mango, kiwi, cantaloupe, and pear as well as toasted walnuts, almonds, or pecans.
There are many salad bars out there so you can choose what you’d like. In their absence, aggressively order your preferences. And … a few words on dressing …
Salads are terrific all by themselves. But if you ladle on a cup-load of dressing … not! Each TABLESPOON (yes … visualize the top part of your thumb) can be 100 calories or more … so a cup is 1600 alone!
My advice … get the dressing on the side to put on exactly the amount you want. I also like the fork-dip-stab approach for creamy dressings. Dip your fork in the dressing … then in the salad. You get all the flavor with a lot less dressing.
Ask To Box Half Your Entree …
… before it gets to the table. Or split an entree with your dining partner if you have one.
The average restaurant meal has 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 times more food than the average at-home meal. I know that many are tempted by large portions, “All You Can Eat”, and groaning-board buffets.
My mother used to say I had “big eyes”. And so do most of us. But … I ask you … do you really NEED all that food? And at one sitting no less?
So … my advice … skip the groaning-boards and big plates and opt for smaller portions. And … really … you can eat the things in the box for dinner.
Have Two Appetizers
I know that many casual dining places have fried this and cheese-gobbed that for appetizers. But grab a side salad and perhaps a seafood or vegetarian starter if it’s available instead.
I guarantee that you’ll feel full after that. Unless you’re a 6-foot-5 250-pound man. I do this all the time as most places serve way too much food for entrees for me.
And, if I DO have enough, the box is always there to squirrel away leftovers for yet another lunch. Another tip … if you ARE having a bigger meal, skip those appetizers!
Be Menu Savvy!
Read between the lines on menus. Any description that uses the words creamy, breaded, crisp, sauced, or stuffed is likely loaded with fat, Gluten, and calories.
More of these words (Dairy Free devotees beware!) include buttery, sautéed, pan-fried, au gratin, Thermidor, Newburg, Parmesan, Alfredo, cream sauce, cheese sauce, scalloped, and au lait, à la mode, or au fromage (with milk, ice cream, or cheese). Cream soups usually have lots of fat and calories too.
When in doubt … always ask. And be prepared … the waitstaff does not always know.
I prefer to eat sweets at home where I know what I’m getting into. Friends surprised me for my birthday one year with a towering Mississippi Mud Cake at a local restaurant.
A few minutes ago, I looked up its nutritional analysis. The Mississippi Mud Cake is 2030 calories and has 138 grams of fat and 127 grams of sugar. That’s about 1/3 of a cup of both sugar and fat. Fortunately, they all pitched in to eat it. And some was even left over (I didn’t take it home). YEEEOW!
The good thing is I never have room for dessert. Especially at lunch. If you must have dessert … save it for dinner.
A scoop of ice cream suffices. But I love a few pieces of Lily’s Stevia-sweetened chocolate at home while decompressing with a chick flick. AHHHH!
Breathe … Eat … Relax … Love YOURSELF …
I don’t care how many plans you best-lay ahead of time … they’ll all be shot to SH-T if you’re stessed and rushed. The “Octuple Bypass Burger (with 40 slices of bacon)” (yes … there IS a restaurant in Vegas called “The Heart Attack Grill”) plus a mountain of French fries might look pretty good to you at that time.
Love YOURSELF Lunch GONE! Sadness and guilt are now your friends.
So take a moment to breathe (check out the script in Love YOURSELF Lunch … the Fruits and Nuts) when you sit down. Even before you you open the menu.
A few deep breaths can take you instantly from fight-or-flight to rest-and-relax. Then you can choose the lunch that you’ve already planned.
Or … turn the page. Something better may be waiting for you!
Join the Love YOURSELF Lunch Challenge! Go to https://www.healyourhealthnow.com/lyl. My goal is to have 1000 humans (or more!) change their health one meal at a by eating lunches that love their bodies, minds, and spirits …