Eating out while on a diet is one of life’s biggest challenges. Should your social life come to a screeching halt because you are trying to cut calories? Absolutely not!
Eating out can be easier than eating at home; it is all about mind set. First of all, you are going out to enjoy the company of your dinner companions. Focus on the conversation instead of the food. When you look back on dinners you ate out with friends, most likely you remember the conversations and the laughter more than the food! Also remember the other benefits of dining out: you don’t have to cook; you don’t have to clean up; and you can custom order your meal!
A great trick to eating out is to drink lots of water before and during the meal. This will make you feel full and help you to eat less. There is no greater saboteur than going to a restaurant feeling hungry! If you are starving, it would be a good idea to eat a small apple with your water to take the edge off.
Whatever restaurant you choose, start with a plan. If you are going to a restaurant for the first time, look online for their menu or call the restaurant in advance to learn about their menu options. Sitting down at the table and looking at the menu can be very tempting and overwhelming at times. The good news is, almost any restaurant you visit will offer fish, chicken or meat that you can order baked or broiled with a side of cooked vegetables and a salad. If the entrée is served with a sauce, be sure to ask for it “on the side”. “On the side” are the three magic words that will ensure your dining out success!
Since most restaurants start by asking what you want to drink, let’s talk cocktails. First of all, no one cares what you order as long as you are enjoying a drink with them. You can order a club soda with lime or lemon which looks like a cocktail and has zero calories. Distilled liquors (scotch, vodka, rum, etc) served on the rocks; with water or club soda are around 100 calories per ounce of liquor. Beware of mixers like tonic, sodas or juices; they can add 100 – 150 calories per drink! Wine is about 20 calories per ounce. Think twice before you order a fancy drink like margaritas or Pina Colatas, they are about 50 calories per ounce! Ouch! When on a diet, women should limit their cocktails to one per day and men two per day.
While your server is getting your drinks, here comes the busboy with the ‘evil’ bread basket! For some reason the bread in restaurants always taste fabulous, especially when they serve the bread warm! These bread baskets can make someone who normally doesn’t eat bread into an addict. It’s just not fair. One option is to ask the server not to serve bread at your table but that would be unfair to your dinner companions. Instead you can either avoid the bread basket entirely (out of reach works well!) or you can decide to eat just one slice. Now that you have the bread under control, beware of the oil! Bread is like a sponge and you can soak up a lot of calories and not even realize it. Fill your soup spoon (measures about one tablespoon) with oil which is about 120 calories and 13.5 grams of fat; or better yet, use a teaspoon and only consume 40 calories! This way you can enjoy dipping your bread in oil and know you are not going overboard! If you prefer butter, it is not much better at 102 calories per tablespoon and 11.5 grams of fat; to control your portion, place one tablespoon of butter on your bread plate. However, your best bet is to eat your bread plain. If you are out for breakfast I would recommend you top your toast with jelly or jam, it is only about 50 calories for a tablespoon and no fat!
Always ask for your sauces and dressings “on the side.” If the restaurant offers a fat free dressing, it is still a good idea to request it ‘on the side’. Some “fat free” dressings can be high in calories. If you like vinegar, it is a great zero calorie alternative to use on your salad. You can mix it with your favorite olive oil but beware of the proportions; remember one tablespoon of oil is about 120 calories.
When your meal is served, you can ask your server to cut your portion size in half and put the other half in a doggie bag to take home. This way you are not tempted to join the clean plate club. With the best intentions to leave a third to a half of what you are served, if it is on the plate, you will most likely pick at the remaining half until the server comes to retrieve your plate. With a doggie bag, you will be able to enjoy your delicious meal again the next day for lunch or dinner!
If you are like me, a meal is not complete without dessert. A safe and yummy approach to the last course is to order fresh berries or a fruit cup. Another option would be to order a skim milk cappuccino or latte. However, if one of the desserts on the menu is calling your name, ask your dinner partners to share. It is always better to eat one or two bites to satisfy your cravings than to go home feeling deprived!
In summary, make plans to go out with your friends. Make sure you aren’t starving as you walk out the door and enter the restaurant with a “Plan”! I know you can do it!