In the latest monthly blog from our neighbors at Maryland-based Medifast, corporate dietitian Alexandra Miller shares some favorite tips from the company’s new “Dining Out Guide”—designed to help helps weight-loss hopefuls make smart choices on the go.
According to the National Restaurant Association, Americans dine out on average four times a week. Given how often we dine out, going to a restaurant shouldn’t be an excuse to eat unhealthy foods and large portions.
So what should you do? Skip meals all day prior to eating out? Bring your own food to the restaurant? Stay home altogether? No need to deprive yourself! We’ve put together some of our top tips for dining out so you will not only enjoy your meal more, but feel satisfied and happy when you’re done.
Research menus: These days it’s common for restaurants to have a website, and this means you’ll probably find a menu online. Looking over the options in advance lets you take your time and make careful choices.
Don’t go hungry: Eating small, regular meals during the day can help you stay full and energized so you’re less likely to eat something on impulse when dining out later in the day.
Eat mindfully: Savor each bite from start to finish. It typically takes the stomach 15 to 20 minutes to signal the brain that you’ve had enough food. Get the most out of every bite by eating slowly, and give yourself a chance to note when you’re full.
Control your portions: Portions served at restaurants are often more than what we need. To help control how much you eat, share a meal with a friend, order a small portion when possible, and/or ask that half of the meal be packed to take home before it’s served.
You can dine out successfully and enjoy your experience by learning how to navigate restaurant menus. Fortunately, many restaurants are offering healthier options and catering to special requests made by their customers. You just need to know what to look for and how to tweak your order.
Check out our list of “best healthy choices” below at some familiar chain restaurants.
Best Choice: Herb Grilled Salmon with Broccoli
Why We Like It: The salmon provides omega-3 fatty acids while the broccoli is rich in vitamins and minerals. This meal only has 8 grams of carbohydrates, which is a strong contrast from most of the options on the menu.
Ordering Tips: Skip the bread basket and salad; you’ll get enough calories from the meal by itself.
Best choice: Salad bowl with 4 ounces of carnitas, chicken, or steak served on a bed of salad greens.
Why We Like It: When you top this bowl with fajita vegetables and pico de gallo, you’ll have a meal that filled with vegetables and rich in protein.
Ordering Tips: Pass on the tortilla, beans, rice, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and any other high calorie toppings.
Best Choice: Half (yes, half) of the 14-ounce New York Strip Steak (7 ounces total) with fresh seasonal mixed vegetables
Why We Like It: Of Outback’s steak options, the New York Strip is one of the leanest.
Ordering Tips: Avoid baked potatoes topped with sour cream and butter, appetizers, and other high calorie add-ons. Request that your vegetables be prepared without added fat, such as butter or oil.
Best Choice: Classic Salad with Chicken
Why We Like It: For 290 calories and 27 grams of protein, the Classic Salad with Chicken includes a mix of vegetables that provide vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
Ordering Tips: Pass on the croutons and ask for the dressing on the side. Choose an apple or a whole grain baguette as your side, or skip it altogether.
Best Choice: A half portion of the Asian Grilled Salmon with a small serving of the Spinach Stir Fried with Garlic
Why We Like It: The salmon provides omega-3 fatty acids while the spinach is a rich source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, and vitamins A and C. This option will keep your calories in check while providing you with a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Ordering Tips: Many of the items on this menu are high in calories, carbohydrates, and fat so if you don’t choose the salmon and spinach, make sure to thoroughly research the menu in advance to decide what you will have.
NOODLES & CO.
Best Choice: Try a small Grilled Chicken Caesar, Chinese Chicken Chop, or the Med Salad with Chicken
Why We Like It: These salads range from 280-330 calories and have 25g or more of protein.
Ordering Tips: Ask for the dressing on the side and use lightly.
Best Choice: Tilapia with Steamed Asparagus
Why We Like It: The tilapia provides 57 grams of protein for only 330 calories, and the vegetables are lower in calories and fat.
Ordering Tips: Fish and seafood are usually a good option when dining out, just make sure you order options that are free of breading, cooked in a healthy way (i.e. baked or grilled instead of fried), and served without high calorie sauces.
CALIFORNIA PIZZA KITCHEN
Best Choice: Classic Caesar Salad with Grilled Shrimp
Why We Like It: At 320 calories, this option is lower in calories than many of the other options on the menu.
Ordering Tips: Skip the croutons and ask for the dressing on the side.
Best Choice: Petite Filet with Sautéed Green Beans
Why We Like It: The petite filet has 59 grams of protein while the green beans only have 0.5g of fat per serving meaning there are little to no added fats.
Ordering Tips: Stay clear of tempting offers like a steak, salad, side, and dessert combo; it may seem like a good deal, but the calories add up fast!
Remember that good health is a marathon, not a sprint. One slip-up or ill-advised indulgence will not ruin your chances of losing weight or maintaining IF you don’t wait to get back on track. If you fall off the wagon, treat yourself with compassion, re-frame the experience as a practice opportunity, and get back on right away. The idea is to prevent an unhealthy decision from becoming a complete relapse into old eating habits.
Check out our full Dining Out Guide, with over ninety restaurants.
Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, is a corporate dietitian at Medifast. She has received her Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management and is also a Certified Kickboxing Instructor. She is devoted to promoting optimal health through a balanced lifestyle based on healthy eating habits, physical activity and a positive relationship with food – especially if it’s the occasional homemade chocolate chip cookies that she just can’t live without. Everything in moderation, right?