Now that you’re well on your way to crafting your own unique clean-eating lifestyle, you might be wondering what to do when faced with tricky food situations outside of your home. We all enjoy dining out and taking a break from the kitchen, but this can pose a challenge when you’re trying your best to make healthy real food choices.
Thankfully, it’s easier to eat clean when you’re dining than you might think. (There are so many choices out there!) You can dine out and make good eating choices while still enjoying the experience—in fact, you’ll feel even better after your meal!
Below are our 10 best tips for eating as clean as possible when dining out:
1. Ask questions!
Don’t be afraid to ask your server about the menu options. Some questions we recommend asking are:
- Can I get the sauce/dip/dressing on the side?
- How is this dish prepared?
- Is it possible to substitute vegetables or a salad for the fries?
- Is there a gluten-free option?
All of these questions will help you better understand the food that’ll end up on your plate—and make sure that meal fits into your lifestyle as best as possible. If you’re looking for gluten-free options, ask if for a gluten-free menu—many restaurants have them, you just have to ask.
2. Make substitutions.
Create your own plate! Like some of those questions we just touched on, you can adjust your order to make it more clean eating-friendly. Sandwiches can be prepared bun-less, vegetables can be substituted for fries, and salads can be served with olive oil and vinegar or a lemon wedge instead of heavier dressings.
3. Find balance.
Start with a protein and vegetable. From there, add a starchy vegetable option like a sweet potato, yam, baked potato, or winter squash. If those aren’t available, double up on the vegetables they do offer or ask for a side salad without croutons if you’re avoiding gluten. Finish it off with a healthy fat such as olive oil or a side of avocado or guacamole.
4. Know how your food is prepared.
Ask for your protein baked or broiled instead of fried, and ask what cooking fats are used for other parts of the meal. You can always ask to have your entrée steamed or prepared without oil—especially if the fats typically used are margarine or canola oil.
5. Plan ahead!
When you’re able to, browse the restaurant menu online ahead of time and decide what you’ll order before, what questions you’ll ask the server, what substitutions you’ll request, etc. Going to the restaurant with a plan will help you feel in control so you can make the best choice possible once you’re there.
6. Order your food first.
Ordering first means you’ll be less likely to be influenced by others’ orders and will help you to stay confident with your initial, healthy choice.
7. Split a meal or take half home.
Most restaurant portions are ridiculously large. Ask a friend or family member to share a meal—and if no one takes you up on the offer, ask for a to-go box. Box up your food as soon as you are satisfied to prevent overeating—or better yet, box up the portion you will take home before you even begin eating.
8. Skip the cocktails, breadbasket, chips, appetizers, and desserts.
When you fill up on empty calories, you’ll be stuffed before your meal is served— and likely leave with a bellyache that may even linger into the next day. Focus on the main meal and stick with sparkling water or water with lemon.
9. Eat slowly and savor each bite.
Just like at home, take your time eating. Enjoy your food, chew it slowly, set your fork down when you are talking, and make your meal last. It takes your body time to feel satisfied, so eating slowly will help you recognize when you’ve had enough. This will help improve digestion.
10. Save dining out for special occasions.
We’re saving the best tip for last! Dining out is especially fun when celebrating an anniversary, birthday, or job promotion. Don’t rely on dining out for a convenient meal. Scrambling a couple of eggs with veggies, opening up a can of tuna and tossing it onto a bed of greens, or pulling out some pre-frozen meals like soup, chili, or shepherd’s pie are all great convenience meal options. These options will provide you with satisfying nourishment from real, whole foods while saving you from spending extra money or giving into fast food when you’re stressed or pressed for time.
If you’re not sure which meals will freeze well for later, here are a few of our favorites:
- Chicken Tortilla-less Soup
- Creamy Ham and Potato Soup
- Minestrone Soup
- Slow Cooker White Chicken Soup
- Slow Cooker Pumpkin Chili
- Chipotle Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili
- Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potato Topping