One common challenge all of my clients face when trying to improve their diet is dining out. When we prepare our meals at home, we can control what goes into them. However, it is more difficult to control what you put in your body when dining at restaurants or traveling. When clients bring up these concerns to me, I encourage them to focus on what they can control. Here are some things to keep in mind when dining out.
If possible, choose a restaurant that serves higher quality food.
This not only benefits you, but it also benefits restaurants that are doing the right thing. A few questions to ask yourself are:
- Do they offer seasonal, local, or organic choices?
- Are there vegetable and high-quality protein options?
- Is their meat grass-fed?
Don’t “eat before you eat.” Skip the appetizers, bread, and chips. You can also choose to wait and eat these items with your meal. This is more mindful. Not only will you enjoy your dinner more if you’re not full, but you’ll also be less likely to overeat.
Before you start your meal, think about how much you’d like to eat. Most restaurants serve far more food than you can eat in one sitting. Consider a reasonable portion, and pack up the rest in a to-go box BEFORE you begin. This will prevent you from eating more than you really want to.
Don’t overeat to avoid “wasting” food. We eat for pleasure and to nourish our bodies. Once we are full, eating no longer serves either of these purposes. The best way to avoid wasting food is to take it home and eat it when we are hungry. Often we think, “It’s such a small amount, I’ll never eat that” or “It won’t reheat well.” However, a small amount of leftovers can make a wonderful topping for breakfast eggs or over greens. And once you try it, you’d be surprised how well things actually do keep.
Look at the big picture.
Recognize all of the possible indulgences that are available when eating out. Consider choosing between dessert or a beverage. You’ll feel much better at the end of the evening if you don’t have both.
Be aware of how many refined carbohydrates you’re taking in. When we eat out, it often adds up much faster. One meal at a Mexican restaurant can contain chips, tortillas, and white rice. One meal at an Italian restaurant can have bread, pasta, and dessert. These may add up to 6 or 7 servings of grains in one meal!
Change your “all or nothing” mentality.
You can eat out and indulge and still have balance. It simply requires you to be mindful. By raising your awareness, you can get plenty of vegetables at most restaurants by adding a side green salad or a bowl of vegetable soup.