Note: These guidelines are based on my approach to a healthy lifestyle. I follow these guidelines based on my health and wellness goals. Always consult a doctor before making choices for your health.
I love to cook at home. Not just because I know what is going into the food, but because I really enjoy the experience of cooking. But I don’t cook every single night of the week/month! There are days where I will pick up something pre- made at the local health food store. There are also days I go out to dinner or lunch. There are times when I am celebrating a birthday and I go to some place extra special. Whatever the case, I love the experience of dining out or getting take out. But sometimes, dining out can be… well… not so healthy. While dining out should always be relaxing and fun, it can be stressful when deciding what to eat without getting in the way of your goals.
First off: If you eat pasta and bread or a high sugar dessert at dinner once in a while there is no need to stress. As long as you continue to reach your goals and not look at your meal from the night before as a set back, you are OK! If you dine out a lot, getting that cake after dinner or ordering french fries with your meal may not be the best approach. If dining out is a habit for you (and when I say habit I mean something thats happening daily or weekly), then what you order for your meals becomes your habit as well. When you order that pizza it should feel like an experience, when it happens daily or weekly it becomes a habit. While I don’t like to call foods good or bad, when we create “bad” habits for our bodies it can be very heavy on our health and mind. Try to make ordering your healthy meals a habit and then adding in those extras every so often and I promise you will enjoy them much more!
We all have tendencies, cravings, and temptations. It’s not so much about having to resist them, but it is about making a better choice to suit your health and wellness goals.
Resistance can sometimes feel stressful. I know if I went to a restaurant and saw something delicious on the menu but decided to order something else, nothing else would taste as good as what I really wanted. Instead of resisting, take it and make it healthier!
For the most part, restaurants will help you out with substitutions. If something is made a certain way but you want to healthify it, it can’t hurt to ask! You can also make substitutions to you pre-made meals you buy at the market! I am going to teach you how I navigate menus/ pre-made meals, while allowing yourself to order what you want to order!
Pre-made/ pre-packaged meals
I am not one to count calories, but I definitely recommend checking out the sugar and sodium. Always consult a doctor to see what your daily needs are so you know what you should be eating!
I ALWAYS read the ingredient list! I always check to make sure I can read everything on the ingredients list. If I can’t pronounce something, I put it back. I also always check to see words like “detrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, sucrose, maltose”. Those words usually imply some kind of processed sugar which I try to stray from. I look for foods that are sweetened with maple syrup, honey or coconut sugar. (Agave is not a great option, but depending on the amount of sugar on the nutrition label I give it the OK)
I also stay away from anything that was pre-made with vegetable oils or canola oils. Not only are these unnatural types of fats, they have also been linked to heart disease, cancer and diabetes (as well as other diseases). Opt for foods that were made with natural oils (coconut oil, olive oil, sesame oil, avocado oil).
My goal when buying pre-made foods is to look for whole foods. This means things with vegetables, fruits, nuts & seeds, and un-processed proteins. Yes, your protein should not read on a label “SALMON (color added)”. That is not salmon, that is salmon with additives and it is salmon that has been processed! Don’t be fooled by the label! If you aren’t sure what something is, research it! We all have a search engine handy on our phones, use it!
When buying pre- packaged salads, make your own dressing! Those pre packed salad mixes can be a huge time saver especially if you are on the go! But don’t be fooled. Most of those packages contain dressings with hidden ingredients and are made with oils like canola oil. Instead, use a healthier homemade dressing. If you usually pick up a salad on the go during the week, pre- mix oil and vinegar in glass jars for the week. They don’t need to be refrigerated, so you can take them with you and just toss on your pre-made salads. If you didn’t pre- plan your dressings, try and see if the salad bar at your market has some oil and vinegar you can use! Also, skip the “candied” dried fruit and nuts! I know how good those candied walnuts taste, but they are a beautiful & healthy nut coated in tons of sugar.
When buying wraps, try to find wraps with a grain free wrap OR one wrapped in greens (collared green wraps are amazing!). Pre-made wraps are usually wrapped in a high processed wrap so watch out! If your only options are a sandwich or a wrap, go for the wrap (it is usually less bread and lower in carbs).
The burrito bar (my favorite!) Opt for the burrito bowl instead of the burrito. The burrito bar is a great way to get a delicious meal and keep it healthy because YOU choose the ingredients you want! If you prefer grain free, you can skip rice and go for extra veggies. If you do eat rice, opt for the brown rice over the white rice. Brown rice has a lower glycemic index than white rice which makes it a better option. I love to order mine with light rice for a lower carb version. I also love ordering a ton of veggies and salsa and always adding avocado! Also, order you protein with no extra sauces. Usually the protein comes without sauces but if they have it choose another option. Those sauces are usually high in sugar which is never a good thing! I love getting a burrito bowl because it is always made with fresh veggies and all it needs is salsa, guac and a lime to add flavor! The same thing goes for tacos too! Ask for your taco in a bowl over veggies, beans, and/or brown rice!
If you are grabbing a snack from the trail mix bar stay away from anything candied or covered in chocolate. I always see banana chips (which are so delicious) but they are sweetened and fried in canola oil or vegetable oil. Opt for dried fruits which usually are unsweetened (beware of the dried cranberries as those usually are sweetened). I love doing roasted nuts and dark chocolate chips and unsweetened dried fruits.
If you are grabbing a pre-packaged snack, check the label! When it comes to things like chips or pretzels, opt for dried fruit or nuts. I love getting grain free crackers, baked veggies like carrot chips or kale chips too.
Side note: Lots of brands are coming out with lots of greater healthier snacks. Some of those, as you see on many brand labels, are “made with avocado oil” or “made with coconut oil”. Usually you’ll see chips labeled like that. Buyer Beware! They are still fried, and while those oils are healthier than the alternative, fried food still does numbers on your body. Any time you purchase fried foods/chips even if they are cooked in healthier oils, they should be enjoyed in moderation (just like pizza, pastas, etc.). Instead, look for things baked with those oils.
Always check the labels. We live in a time now where there are healthier brands showing up all the time. So your favorite to-go snack or meal may be made healthier by a different brand.
When dining out
My #1 tip is never feel awkward or uncomfortable when dining out with other people who aren’t ordering what you are ordering. When I dine out with friends or family, they don’t always choose the healthiest thing on the menu. To each their own! But sometimes I myself can feel uncomfortable ordering a salad with just oil and vinegar while the other person orders something that we aren’t choosing to eat for our specific goals. Sometimes it can feel awkward because you may feel like you are rubbing your healthy goals in their space. If this feeling can deter you from ordering that healthy meal, order first before everyone else. Also, never comment on someone else’s order, or make someone else feel uncomfortable. If you feel uncomfortable making all sorts of substitutes to your order (like saying “Can I please have it without this, this and this…”, ask for things to be brought out on the side (sauces, cheese, dips, pasta, bread, etc.). Doing this can make others feel uncomfortable. I have had instances where I did feel weird in front of friends asking for veggies instead of chips. Instead of asking the waiter to sub it out, I asked for a side of veggies to be added. There are so many ways to make eating out healthy but without coming across as hurtful to others. These tips below also help make going out to dinner less stressful and uncomfortable:
I love crispy brussel sprouts! Brussel sprouts to me are such a healthy option on a menu when dining out, and they are on almost every menu. BUT anything that says crispy means it is fried in something (and usually it is fried in canola or vegetable oil which exposes us to trans fats and free radicals which can do so much harm to our bodies). Instead ask for them to be baked or steamed. I do this with falafel all the time at restaurants! I once ordered from my favorite “healthy” spot and they said they couldn’t fry the falafel that day and they needed to bake them which took longer. I never knew falafel was fried! If you’re craving that “crispy” appetizer, order it, but ask for it to be made differently! Your food may take longer to come out, but trust me it is worth it!
The sauces! Sauces have always been a big temptation of mine, especially the creamy ones. The problem is that they’re filled with highly processed dairy, oils, and sugars. The star of the meal should be what you ordered, the sauces are extra. Instead, ditch the sauces, or ask for a healthier alternative. I love using hot sauce. You can always ask for a pico da gallo, hummus, salsa, guacamole etc. (Ask for the sauce on the side if you feel uncomfortable in front of friends or family).
Skip the pita and chips! Instead, ask for fresh veggies! You still get the crunch, but you get more beautifying nutrients and minerals! The star is the hummus/ guac/ salsa anyways! If you feel uncomfortable, ask for a side of veggies to come with the chips. Also ask for any sour cream or cheeses to come on the side as well if you are avoiding dairy.
The carb loaded meals! I try to find something that is protein focused with veggies. When I order pizza, I try to do gluten free/ cauliflower crust if it is available. I also try to avoid dairy so I opt for the dairy free cheese! If they don’t have that, I usually get it with no cheese, lots of veggies on top and extra marinara on the side! For pasta dishes, ask to swap the pasta for extra veggies (or half pasta and half veggies). Some restaurants have amazing gluten free or brown rice pastas available too! For all of you mac and cheese lovers: sub the macaroni for veggies!! Mac and cheese is such a heavy meal, so make it lighter and still tasty with veggies like carrots and broccoli! When in doubt, order it with veggies or a side of veggies. I also love to split these meals with friends!
When ordering a salad, ask for oil and vinegar, then season it up with salt and pepper. I usually ask for no cheese, no croutons and no candied nuts. If you feel uncomfortable in front of others, order the toppings and dressing on the side! I love ordering my salads with salmon or grilled shrimp!
Sushi!! I love ordering sushi! It is packed with protein and healthy fats. When ordering stay away from white rice. Like I said before, white rice has a higher glycemic index than brown rice, which can contribute to diseases like diabetes. Opt for brown rice or no rice at all. Also stay away from any sushi rolls packed with cream cheese or anything fried or “crispy”. I love ordering a veggie roll that is either wrapped in seaweed with no rice, or in rice paper. I also love ordering sashimi which is fresh raw seafood which has so many benefits. It doesn’t have any sauces or rice. I also skip the soy sauce. I know it makes sushi taste delicious but trust me on this one! It is loaded with sodium which contributes to heart disease. If I get take out, I will use coco aminos at home which tastes similar to soy sauce but is much more heart healthy. I also love getting the seaweed salads! Seaweed is like magic for your hair, skin, and nails and it tastes amazing!
When ordering burgers, ask for 2 large leafs of lettuce on the side and skip the bread. Use the lettuce as the buns! I also love getting my veggie burgers on top of the veggies and eat it with a fork and knife. Try to skip the ketchup which can be high in sodium and high fructose corn syrup. Instead, ask for hummus, salsa, or guac! I also will order a side salad as opposed to fries.
When ordering drinks skip the beer and sugary drinks. This goes for when you are getting take out too! Skip the soda, and instead get sparkling water with lemon. Beer is so heavy and can make you feel bloated. By the time you get to eating your healthy meal, you won’t be so hungry. Instead sip on a glass of a low sugar wine, or a vodka soda water. It is better to fill up on nutritious food, than a drink that will make you feel bloated and full.
Ordering dessert can be stressful. Honestly, I have been to few restaurants with a healthy dessert. So when there is no healthy dessert item on the menu we can’t just ask for a plant based ice cream and a grain free and gluten free chocolate cake. If you dine out a lot, eat dessert when you get home or enjoy a glass of wine after dinner. If you are going out and want to treat yourself, split the dessert with others. Desserts are packed with sugar. When we eat so much sugar, our blood sugar increases rapidly, and if this occurs too often it can lead to diabetes/heart disease. It can also lead to skin issues like acne. Splitting the dessert ensures that you won’t over do it. You can also make plans to go get dessert elsewhere. Find a spot that offers plant based ice cream or somewhere with healthier desserts and head there after your dinner!
Always do your best for your body. If you are going out to dinner and you know they have something on the menu that you want but it won’t help you reach for your goals, try to healthify it if possible. If you can’t thats okay! Just crush your workout the next day and stick to healthy choices. Never regret a meal! On my birthday every year I love getting my favorite dishes and I don’t ask for any substitutions. I know I will enjoy every bite. I know I will work hard the next day and continue with my goals. I know that one meal isn’t going to destroy everything I work for. I want dining out to be an experience for you. I also want you to leave your experience happy, fulfilled, and satisfied. No one wants to leave their meal feeling bloated and in discomfort from something they ate. Sometimes when we think of dining out we think bread, pasta, cheese, fried etc. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many ways to healthify any meal, and it is the smallest changes we make to our meals that can truly make a difference for our bodies and our experience.
A few years back dining out was stressful for me. I would always want to go meet up with friends to go out to eat and I would go into a state of panic over what I would order. We would always go to this local restaurant and the only thing I could order was a salad with oil and vinegar and no protein. At this time I only felt comfortable eating at home because it was the only way I could control what I was putting into my body. I made up a story in my mind that I hated pizza (when it is one of my favorite meals). I became obsessive over what I was eating. When I went out to eat, I just didn’t think there were options for me, so I would panic. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t love pizza or that I didn’t like to go out to eat, I LOVE both of those things. The problem was that I just didn’t know how to order. I didn’t know I could order a pizza without cheese. I didn’t know I could order a pasta dish with veggies instead of pasta. Dining out should be something done in the comfort of friends/family and it should be relaxing.
My biggest tips for ordering out:
1. Order first and order things on the side to skip any discomfort or hurting other feelings.
2. Plan ahead! Check out the menu beforehand so you can plan what to order before you get there. You can also call the restaurant before hand to see if you can make substitutions to your meal.
3. Skip the heavy alcohols and sodas, and opt for a lighter and less sugary drink.
4. Ask a friend to split the meal!
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. If you are avoiding fried foods, ask for it baked!
6. If someone offers you something that doesn’t help meet your goals, simply say something like “I’m not in the mood right now”.
7. When in doubt, veg out. Always order a side of veggies or sub for veggies
8. If the menu has minimal options, get the salad WITH PROTEIN!!
9. If you are celebrating something special, don’t feel bad about ordering something how it comes. Just make sure your next meal is lean, clean, and green.
10. ENJOY IT!
I would love to hear your experiences and your tips for making dining out healthier and easier! Share in the comments below!