You’re on a family vacation and stop at a small café for dinner.
You’re meeting clients downtown for lunch.
You’re grabbing a quick bite with some friends before you head back home.
The situation may change.
But the question stays the same: What are you going to eat?
Yes, you CAN eat well on the road!
A few simple techniques can keep you on track and making good food decisions when you’re away from home.
Three “plan & prep” strategies for restaurant meals
1) If you can, pick a healthy restaurant.
With some creativity, you can do well almost anywhere.
But make your life easy and try to avoid the worst-case scenario: Fast food chains and gas stations are only for emergencies.
Instead, try to find restaurants that use fresh, local, and/or organic ingredients.
If you don’t have much to choose from, try finding a place with a salad bar and wait for service. (In other words, if you’re ordering from behind a counter instead of at a table, it’s probably not the best choice, though there are exceptions.)
2) Look for the “Magic 3”.
Once you’re sitting down with your menu, look for the “magic 3” choices:
Vegetables and fruits
High-fiber, slow-digesting carbs such as beans or whole grains
And try simply adjusting the proportions of veggies to starches. One golden phrase to use:
“Can I get some extra vegetables with that? I’m willing to pay a little more if need be.”
This is almost never a problem, though it may cost you an extra couple of bucks. Consider this your “flat stomach tax.”
3) Know what you’re ordering. (In other words, ask.)
You can’t always trust the menu. So ask the server exactly what you’re ordering.
Here are a few choice questions to ask:
- How are the vegetables cooked? Any chance I could get them steamed?
- Could you serve the dressings/sauces/condiments on the side?
- Could you tell me if the chicken is breaded or grilled?
Though they may seem nit-picky, these simple questions can save you from eating hundreds of unwanted calories, and stuff like added sugar or sodium.
If you ask politely, with a smile and no food-fascist overtones, you’ll usually get a polite response in return.
Working with “food saboteurs”
Well-meaning friends, family members, co-workers, or clients might try to bump you off track.
Most of the time, they’re not even aware they’re doing it:
“Just try some of these cheesy chocolate marshmallow nut squares with extra sprinkles! You’ll love them.”
“Here, take the rest of this stuffed-crust pizza. I don’t want it to go to waste.”
Other times, they’re downright confrontational:
“Why are you avoiding Food X? That’s stupid.”
Whatever the case, don’t let them get to you. Simply let them know what YOU need, and where YOUR boundaries are.
“No thanks, I’m cool with my meal. But thanks for the offer!”
“Those nachos look great, but I’ll pass this time around. Thanks anyway.”
If these approaches don’t work, and your companion keeps pressing the issue, you can try a more direct approach:
“Can I ask you something? Why is it so important to you that I eat these foods?”
That will either get you off the hook or, in the case of a loved one, open up a meaningful discussion.
Whatever method you choose, remember that the only person’s actions you can control are your own.
You can’t control what a dining companion thinks, does, or says. You can only control what you think, do, or say.
So, even if you’re with companions who are pushing your buttons, keep it together.
Stick to your priorities, remember what YOU need to be YOUR best self, and gently but firmly reinforce your boundaries.
Tips for making healthy choices from a Restaurant Menu
Tip 1: Be prepared.
Many restaurants now have websites where you can download menus. If possible, do your homework before you go. Look through the menu and decide on your choices beforehand,so you aren’t caught off guard.
Tip 2: Look for lean protein and veggies. You can order off the menu to combine them.
Examples include a salad topped with a side of any protein paneer, chicken; or substituting additional veggies instead of starch for an entrée. Look for “side orders” that may include veggies or fruit, or things like scrambled eggs for brunch. Anyway, you can strategize around excess processed carbs to get lean protein, and veggies are good. Don’t be shy about asking for substitutions.
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