Here’s Kitchen of Life’s restaurant guide for eating healthfully while dining out.
Did you know five meals a week, on average, come from outside the home each week? That means 25% of our meals are made by a business. Unlike mom, businesses don’t care what we’re putting into our mouth, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat poorly when out. Eating out healthfully is simply a matter of common sense.
The Kitchen of Life guide will help you make the right choices.
1: Be consciously aware of the purpose of your meal
Ask yourself why you are out to eat? Is it a special occasion? A client lunch? A daily ritual? Favorite hot spot? Need to get the kids fed? Nothing at home? Forgot your lunch?
Why you are out to eat may be more important than what you choose to eat while out. I rarely go out to eat, so when I do, I want to splurge! You read that right. I want to splurge, indulge, or even possibly even be gluttonous! Sometimes, I want to eat something that I don’t normally prepare at home. Going out to eat should be a rare treat, however, if you use going out to eat as a way or means to feed yourself, you are not going to want to use the restaurant as an indulgence, but rather approach it with caution.
Let’s say you and your family eat pizza and Greek salad every Friday night as your special weekend dinner. You are eating pizza 52 times a year. If you use fast-food drive-through for your kids 2-3 times a week, they are actually living off of fast food 104-156 times a year. If you have business or client lunches or dinners 4-5 times a week you’re eating out 208-260 times a year or 19-24% of your total meals. That’s a lot of meals provided to you by a company who cares more about profits than your health or your waistline.
2: Spoiler alert! Restaurants are a business
This may come as a shock. A restaurant is a business, plain and simple. And why are people in business? To make money! In order to make money there must be profit! In order to make a profit, (but keeping the costs down due to competition) restaurants turn to distributors that offer cheaper products.
By keeping costs down, those cost-saving measures are handed down to you, the patron.
That’s the main reason why I don’t eat out very much. Cheap food equals a cheap product. Not all restaurants are run this way, but many of them do. Be proactive: Find independently owned vegan and vegetarian restaurants near you at www.happycow.com.
3: Where do restaurants cut costs?
Well, everywhere. So here are some good pointers:
- Inquire about salad dressings. Avoid salad dressings made with soybean or canola oil, even if they’re “homemade.” Ask for olive oil and lemon or vinegar instead.
- Pass on the sauces. Many sauces contain poor quality highly inflammatory oils and high-fructose corn syrup as a sweetener. Can’t do without the sauce? Well, you may want to inquire about ingredients in those very same sauces. Much of what is being made is already processed in some way.
- Avoid cheese sauces. A good practice is to avoid cheese. Cheese, I’ll give you, tastes good but it doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Pass on any and all cheeses; organic and otherwise. Your gut, lungs and skin will thank you—and possibly reward you for your abstinence.
- Avoid deli meats. I know. This is a big bummer, but deli meats are loaded with excess sodium and harmful preservatives such as nitrates and nitrites. There’s a reason why they taste good.
4: Avoid falling prey to the hype
Gluten-free? Whole grains? It’s very simple. Unless you’re gluten intolerant or have gluten sensitivity you are merely side-stepping the issue. Whole-grain pasta? What is that? I don’t think whole grain pasta is served in Italy. We’re going to lay this out in real simple terms: We as American’s eat far too much wheat, meat, cheese, dairy and processed foods. What don’t we eat enough of: vegetables.
Vegetables provide us with the most amount of nutrients. So, if you want a veggie sandwich, don’t freak out if it is on a regular bun. Eat less of the bun or skip the bun altogether but please don’t be fooled into eating a gluten-free bun or a whole grain bun or a made-with-love-bun believing it is actually better for you. There’s nothing in it for you. If you consume mass quantities of breads, pastas, “whole grains,” oats and wheat or “whole-wheat” products, you are doing a disservice to your body. It’s all processed and, quite frankly, a filler! Eat those products sparingly.
5: Avoid fried food
You already know this. We know you do. We don’t need to elaborate. It’s just bad stuff all around.
6: What to drink? Diet? Non-diet?
If you chose none-of-the-above, you are correct. The best source of nourishment is water. I like bubbles (but not from co2) that are naturally found in mineral water. I love adding lemon and I always order a large bottle to share. If they have spring water, opt for that over tap water.
7: Portion control
Remember I asked if it was an indulgence? Well, regardless, be in charge of your meal. Restaurants are businesses, as I said earlier, so in order to keep money coming in they need to turn tables over to the next party. If you are there for a quick meal, then eat light. Turn an appetizer and a soup or a salad into an entrée. If you’re there for a special occasion and want to spend some time dining, then space your meals out. Don’t order your app, salad and entree all at once. If you do, your server is going to set your pace. Generally, upscale restaurants want you there for the dining experience so this usually is not the case here. They generally make their money on wine.
8: Find healthy favorites
Find healthy restaurants in your area and stick to those. If they are locally owned and operated you can inquire about their distributors, whether or not they use organic produce and may even be able to request certain products if you develop a positive relationship. If you found a great one, become a regular.
9: Don’t eat the fish
We highly recommend abstaining from fish while eating out. Many restaurants, though not all, order farm-raised fish because it’s cheaper to grow, feed and harvest. But, you get what you pay for. We won’t go into great detail but suffice it to say it is not healthier to eat fish when dining out! Livestock is much more regulated and tested than fish. If you do eat fish, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s the better alternative to beef, pork or chicken because it’s not. Our recommendation… veggies, veggies, veggies!
10: The cost of eating out
Eating out extensively can be expensive—short-term and long-term, both in your pocket and in your health. When in doubt, learn how to shop healthy and cook at home.
Written by Laura Bushey, MAT, Certified Health Educator and Personal Holistic Chef with Kitchen of Life. To find out more helpful tips find us at: www.facebook.com/kitchenoflifewellness.
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