I’m a big advocate of preparing and packing your food. Doing so has a whole slew of benefits. It’s often more affordable, and you know exactly what goes into your meals, so you can better stay on track with a healthy diet. With that said, it can be quite difficult avoiding eating out altogether.
Families spend time together by eating out at restaurants. Co-workers conduct meetings over coffee or a lunch out. Friends brunch, and wine and dine. Even more in the Philippines, I’ve noticed eating out is such a social and celebratory activity.
Because of this, instead of completely living like a hermit and avoiding all appointments over food or drinks, I’ve found ways to make smart, healthy choices while dining out. The following are my tips on how to navigate restaurant menus and order like a fit boss!
1. Start With The Protein
The first thing I do when I open the menu is to scour it for the protein options. Protein is the king of nutrients, and can reduce hunger and boost metabolism. Some good, quality protein is a must for every one of my meals. Lean options are the best. Go for chicken breast, tuna, white fish, shrimp, or lean beef. If you don’t eat meat, some good non-meat sources of protein are beans, peas, broccoli, and eggs.
The way they are prepared is also key. Choose among grilled, steamed, and baked options or even sashimi. Avoid crispy meat which typically means deep fried. It also heavy on the oil, sauces, condiments, and breading. You could save a whopping 200 plus calories a meal just by staying away from sauces and extra condiments!
2. Pack On The Vegetables
Now that you have the protein base, add on the vegetables. Greens are very rich in vitamins and minerals, however at restaurants, they can also pack on unnecessary fat, sugar, and salt. Be careful!
A simple side salad of raw, fresh, green leafy vegetables is the best. Same principle as the protein, I avoid the extra calories by saying no croutons, creamy dressings, and heavy garnishes. I always order balsamic-based dressing (or none at all), and I ask for it on side so I can only have as little as I want. If a salad is not an option, steamed, grilled, roasted or baked veggies work too, but again, ask for less salt and oil.
3. Stay Away From Liquid Calories
This is one of my favorite tips for maintaining a healthy diet. The best way to cut extra calories is to drink only water, black coffee, and unsweetened tea.
Fiber, healthy fats, and protein help us feel full and fueled. Unless it’s a low-sugar, protein-packed drink, most beverage options available at restaurants are high calorie and nutrient-poor, which lead to consuming empty calories. I recommend you keep your drink choices simple. If you get bored, add some lemon in your water, and stevia in your coffee or tea if you can’t curb that sweet craving.
4. Control Your Portions
You’ve chosen what you’re going to eat, and now you have to decide how much to eat. This differs from person to person—age, weight, height, activity level. With that said, the general rule is if you are trying to lose weight, you should eat less calories than you burn. If you are trying to gain, you eat more calories. And, if you’re trying to maintain, you eat the same number of calories as you burn.
From my experience, most restaurants in Manila are a bit hit or miss when it comes to portion size. Sometimes you get big servings, and sometimes you get too little. It’s gets even trickier since carbohydrates—like pasta, rice, and bread—are offered more, and there’s not enough lean protein and vegetables. A rough, but useful guide to gauging portions size is the hand method:
Protein: A palm-sized serving for women and two palm-sized portions for men (use the base of the palm, not including your fingers) Vegetables and salads: A fist-sized portion for women and two fist-sized portions for men High-carb foods: One cupped-hand portion for women and two for men Healthy fats: One thumb-sized portion for women and two for men
5. Be Picky
After you’ve made all these specific, healthy choices, you might think that you’re coming off too picky. That’s okay—be picky! Some restaurants may not like it, but do try to customize your order, if that’s what’s required to make your meal healthy to eat. As long as you’re kind about it, and your requests are within reason, you should have every right to have your meal just as you want it. So, take out the cheese; ask for less oil or for no sugar and less salt!
I still say that nothing beats prepping your own food. The more you can control, the better. Plus, even if you have my tips on hand, you need the strength say no to any decadent, unhealthy food temptations out there. God knows there are plenty!
Ordering at a restaurant may seem daunting, but if you’re motivated and have a plan, there’s no reason why you should get derailed from eating well. You got this! Build a repertoire of restaurants and healthy menu choices. Keep that list of options in your back pocket, so next time someone asks what would you like to eat, you’ll know exactly what to say!