Frequent eating out isn’t healthy for anyone. Not only will it expand your waistline, but it’s sure to lean out your wallet. It may seem like $7 here and $12 there, but it adds up. I recommend limiting eating out to 1–2 times per week. (If you take me up on this recommendation, DON’T freak out at your first grocery bill. Wait until the end of the month, and you’ll be shocked how much money you saved.)
However, I’ll be the first to admit cooking every meal at home is unrealistic. Not only does life happen and we get pushed for time, but with ministry, we all have people in our lives. Birthdays, holidays, and meet-ups at restaurants are unavoidable.
When you do treat yourself to dining out, here are some guidelines to help you stay on track with your health & fitness.
Eat your calories — don’t drink them! Water is the best option, but you can also opt for unsweetened tea. If you have to sweeten it, carry some stevia with you, as many artificial sweeteners can be just as bad for you as regular sugar.
Scan the menu for key words. Aim to order dishes that contain words like grilled, steamed, broiled, or broth. Avoid menu items that contain words like fried or creamy.
Skip the appetizer.…at least as an actual appetizer. The extra 10–15 minutes to wait won’t kill you, and this will help eliminate eating excess calories. However, if there’s a healthy choice as an appetizer, it could make a great choice as your entree. Appetizer serving sizes generally aren’t as large, and prices are usually more reasonable as well.
Don’t assume every salad is healthy. A fried chicken salad with ranch dressing, cheese, bacon and croutons can have more calories than a Big Mac, large fries and large Coke. If you do order a salad, fill it with veggies and lean protein like grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp. Also, ask for vinaigrette dressing on the side, dipping each bite as you go.
Side items count. Just because you were good and ordered grilled chicken, don’t ruin it with french fries and mac and cheese on the side. Even if not on the menu, most restaurants will usually bring you a side of fruit or steamed veggies if you ask. (Remember — you are the paying customer. Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions!)
Ask questions. I’m always surprised how “healthy” menu items come as prepared in the kitchen, such as steamed veggies that are served drowning in butter. Ask your waiter beforehand how what you’re ordering is prepared and make adjustments to suit your health needs. (Don’t be afraid to send it back if it’s not correct. Always be polite, but there’s nothing wrong with getting exactly what you ordered.)
Avoid the bread basket. Most restaurants serve buttered white bread, which is full of fat and simple carbs…empty calories, which will not make you feel full, causing you to overeat.
Eat half. If you’re dining with a health-conscious friend, find an entree you can split. If you can’t agree on anything, when the waiter comes back with your order, ask for a doggy bag. Put half of your meal away, and eat the other half. If you ordered wisely, it’ll be a fine lunch for tomorrow.
Have a bite of dessert. That’s right — a bite! Buy a dessert for everyone at the table to share. That way, everyone gets a taste of something sweet, but no one pigs out.