It happens to the best of us. We head out for a nice meal – with the healthiest intentions, of course – and just one glance at the menu has us drooling over three-cheese pizza or hand-cut French fries. Before we know it, we’re wishing we’d worn our stretchy pants.
Kathy Haugen, a registered dietitian at the TriHealth Fitness & Health Pavilion, shares a few tips for eating out, without depriving yourself. “If you just get a little side salad and that’s your meal, that’s not pleasurable ... go out and enjoy it. Just control it.” she says.
Tip #1: Check the Menu Ahead of Time
Many restaurants post their menus with the nutritional value of each meal online. Check the menu ahead of time or look for items listed as a “healthy choice” option, so you already have a healthy meal in mind.
Tip #2: Split Your Meal or Save Some for Later
Restaurants often serve large, over-sized portions, Kathy says. She recommends splitting an entrée and ordering a side salad if you’re dining out with someone who shares a similar taste, or immediately asking for a to-go box when your meal arrives. Then, save half your meal for later – before even taking your first bite. “You’re not depriving yourself,” she points out. “You’re eating what you want. You’re just eating a more controlled portion, and saving money because you’ll eat it for another meal.”
Tip #3: Order the Lunch or Child-Sized Portion
Lunch portions are usually half the size of dinner portions, but are enough to fill up the average diner. Or, “what a lot of people will do, they’ll order the child-sized portions, [or] the over 55 – even if you’re not over 55 – because they’ll accommodate.” Kathy explains.
Tip #3: Be Assertive
Kathy tells all her patients to be assertive and act like whoever is cooking the food is his or her personal chef. “With so many people having food allergies, especially gluten – that’s a big one right now – restaurants are really eager to please.” She suggests:
- Asking for meats to be broiled, baked or grilled
- Asking the chef to go light on whatever spray or butter they use when cooking
- Ordering creamy dressings or sauces on the side
When it comes to salad dressing, she recommends selecting a vinegar-based option because these typically have less fat and are usually very flavorful.
Tip #4: Don't Overdo It on Complimentary Starters
If you do want to munch on complimentary appetizers, she suggests grabbing one piece of bread or counting out a serving of chips (about 12), and then asking your waiter or waitress to take the basket away to avoid the temptation of over-eating.
Tip #5: Order What You Want...Just Eat the Right Portion
One rule Kathy always stresses with her patients is to order what they want – even if it’s not the healthiest item on the menu – but, to control the portion size. “Some people make themselves so worked up about getting a side salad for an entrée, and then they see what everybody else has, and they end up going home and eating everything in sight,” she explains. “Eat something you really enjoy, and control the portion.”
However, if you're craving a salad, Kathy says to make sure it's topped with foods rich in protein – like meat, fish, eggs or beans – for staying power.
What’s Kathy’s Go-to Meal?
Answering this question was a no-brainer for Kathy: “Cedar plank salmon is my favorite – just seasoned!”