By Katie Tedder

One of the most frustrating things about nutrition goals is feeling like you can never eat out.  On the contrary, you can enjoy a meal out while staying on track. Yes, it does take some thought, but it is possible.   

Here are some practical tips for eating smarter while eating out. 

Tip 1: Choose Water

Water intake is extremely important in our daily nutrition. However, when eating out, a lot of foods contain much more sodium than if the same meal were to be made at home. That is why you may feel bloated after you eat out. Drinking more water can help flush out some of that excess sodium and make that bloated feeling disappear a little faster.

Other drink options, such as sodas or alcoholic beverages, contain a lot of empty calories with very little nutritional value. These drinks can easily add at least 200 calories onto your meal. 

Most waiters/waitresses bring water to the table while you are waiting to order. Drinking that glass of water before your meal comes will help fill you up, without any added calories. It will also allow you to be more aware of portion control during your meal because you won’t be scarfing down your food due to massive hunger pangs. It’s amazing how much simply being aware can change our choices.

Tip 2: Pick A Meal With Individual Items

Choosing a casserole with layers of goodness can seem really appealing, but can also set you back on your nutritional goals. It’s quite hard to know exactly what restaurants put into those types of meals and how much of each ingredient they use. An entire stick of butter could’ve easily been added without you even knowing it. 

You will have a better chance of staying on track if you choose an entree with specific and individual items like a steak, potato, and a steamed veggie side. That’s right, I said steak. It’s okay to choose a meat that you enjoy. When the items in the entree are separate, you can easily determine the portion you want to eat.

You can use this guide to help with portion control for individual items:  

  1. Meats and fish should be the size of your palm.
  2. Starchy carbs like French fries or potatoes should be able to fit into a cupped hand.
  3. Veggies can be large and about the size of your fist.

Tip 3: Ask For Sauces and Dressings on the Side 

Sauces are the added touch that can make or break a meal. We all love flavour, but a normal serving size for most sauces is one tbsp. A lot of times you may receive an entree that’s smothered in yummy sauce, which could also mean a lot of extra unnecessary calories.  Simply ask for the sauce or dressing on the side, so you can control how much you are using. 

When it comes to salad dressings, opt for the vinaigrette options over the creamy ranch and caesar dressings. Vinaigrette dressings have more healthy fats, while the cream based dressings normally have a higher saturated fat content. 

Tip 4: Share Your Treats

Desserts can be hard to pass up at times. How can we make smart dessert choices? 

  1. Look for the small taste test desserts: These will allow you to try multiple kinds of options without having a full portion.  
  2. Share your desserts with others or only eat half: This cuts your calories in half, plus it’s always kind to share.  
  3. Don’t feel bad for having left overs AND don’t take any home with you: It’s nice to enjoy it, but it’s smart to leave the dessert there and not be tempted the next day.  

All the tips mentioned thus far are simple and practical things that anyone can do. However, there is one more tip I would like to offer. It takes a little more planning, but if it is used, I guarantee you will get a much better sense of the meals you choose and will be able to eat smarter while eating out. 

Tip 5: Preview Nutrition Menus

Plan ahead. Just like meal prepping or planning out meals during the week, it is important to prepare yourself for eating out. A wide variety of restaurants, both fast food and fine dining, offer nutritional menus these days. Preview their menu on their website and look for the meal you would like to eat. Then, browse the menu for better or lower calorie options. Figuring out what you will order will also help you adjust your food choices during the rest of your day. If you are only supposed to eat 1,400 calories in a day and your meal is 1,200 calories, you are either going to go way over on your calorie target for that day, or you will be very hungry before you go out to eat.

Let me share an example. Most people assume that a salad is a good choice to make at a restaurant. However, if you look up a Grilled Chicken Caesar salad from Applebees, the calories are 770 calories. This is actually one of the lower calorie salads on the menu. On the other hand, you could enjoy the Cedar Grilled Lemon Chicken Entree for only 600 Calories or the Cedar Salmon with Maple Mustard Glaze Entree for only 350 calories. Just because it is in the salad category doesn’t mean it’s the best option. Doing a little preview of the menu will help you decide a healthy option before you even get to the restaurant. 

There is a chance that the restaurant does not have a nutritional menu available. If this happens, then do your best to take the advice in Tips 1-4.  

Remember, reaching a goal takes consistency and time. You will not destroy your nutrition goals with one meal, but make sure what you eat at the restaurant, stays at the restaurant, so you can get back on track once you get back home. 

Katie Tedder is the CEO of Katydid Fitness (katydidfitness.com). She is ISSA certified in Fitness and Nutrition Coaching. She is a former INBA Natural Figure Competitor, a mommy of three, and has a Bachelors Degree in Education. She has been on her own fitness journey for over twelve years and loves combining her passion for teaching and fitness to help others change their lifestyles and create healthy habits that get them to their goals.