How To Eat Well When Eating Out

Five ways to make any restaurant meal healthy

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If there’s a secret ingredient to leanness, it might be home cooking. That’s the best way to get a steady supply of healthy food in your diet. But sometimes cooking for yourself is simply not an option.

Like when you’re on vacation. Or traveling for work. Or meeting friends for dinner. Or a client for lunch.

So, can you still eat well when you’re eating out?

The answer is yes. But eating on the go does require a little extra attention on your part.

Here are three simple strategies to make restaurant meals work for you.

1. If You Can, Pick a Healthy Restaurant

With some creativity, you can get a reasonably healthy meal almost anywhere.

Fast food chains and gas stations are the exceptions. Use them only in emergencies.

The rest of the time, make it easy on yourself. Try to find a restaurant that’s cooking real food. And ideally, one that uses fresh, seasonal ingredients.

If you're with a group of people, offer to pick the restaurant. If you’re in control of where you eat, you can choose somewhere you know will offer healthy selections. Plus it avoids that whole “where do you wanna go?”/ “I dunno, where do you wanna go?” conversation.

2. Look for the “Magic 3”

Once the menu’s in your hands, look for the “magic 3” choices:

Sometimes you’ll find this as a main course; other times it may require a little creativity.

 For example, pairing a salad with an appetizer, or adding a side order of steamed vegetables to a meat-and-potatoes meal.

You should aim for two fist-sized portions of veggies each meal. If a restaurant’s concept of a veggie portion is a few anemic steamed carrots, just ask for a double portion size.

This may cost you an extra couple of bucks, but no biggie. Consider it your “healthy tax.”

3. Learn to Decode Restaurant-Speak

Don’t believe anything a menu says. It’s designed to make you want to eat, not give you the facts. So it’s up to you to read between the lines.

Skip anything that has the words “fried”, “creamy”, “cheesy”, "crispy", "smothered", or “secret sauce.” These are usually tip-offs for sugar/fat/salt bombs and other concoctions that you probably want to avoid, at least most of the time.

Remember, too, that so-called “healthy” or “lite” options aren’t necessarily healthy at all. “Low-fat” can mean packed with sugar, and “sugar-free” can mean “loaded with chemicals.”

So ignore catchy titles or cute icons. Look closely at the list of ingredients, the preparation method, and when in doubt, ask.

4. Ask About the Menu. Politely.

I know, you don’t want to be “that guy”: the guy who has to go through a long list of demands and customizations before he can eat.

But asking a server for help with your order doesn’t make you a jerk, as long as you’re polite.

Just ask nicely, with a smile, and most servers will be happy to help you find healthy options on the menu, or make small adjustments (like dressing on the side, or replacing the fries with salad.)

5. Stick to Your Guns

Lots of times, it’s not the restaurant that throws us off-track. It’s the company we’re with.

Pressure can take many forms, ranging from the subtle (“Here, take a few fries from my plate. I can’t eat them all.”) to the downright obnoxious (“Are you on some kind of dumbass diet? Real men don’t eat salad”).

Whatever the case, don’t let them get to you. Gently remind them you are content to eat your own meal, your own way. And let it go: because you can’t control what they say or do.

The main thing is, no matter where you’re eating or who you’re with, make choices based on what’s important to you. Stay true to your priorities, and you can’t go wrong.

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