About 75% of Americans eat out at least once a week, writes Fitness, and these mealtime outings serve a greater purpose than just fulfilling our appetites: They’re an important aspect of our social lives, as well. As most of us already know, a night out at a restaurant, pub, or cafe can prove challenging to navigate while adhering to a strict diet. This is not only because we’re faced with so many tantalizing (and not-very-healthy) options, but also because we’re too busy enjoying the camaraderie of friends and family to focus on food habits.
Next time you’re out to eat at a restaurant, try to keep your diet on track by staying conscious of these five tips.
1. Get to know the menu
Most restaurants have their food and drink offerings available online so that you can prepare a health-conscious decision well ahead of arriving for your meal, reports Today. It can be handy to keep these nutritional facts in mind prior to arriving and being overwhelmed with a wide variety of tasty and tantalizing offerings.
Some establishments even have separate menus for healthy eating. Those that don’t will still have a sampling of dishes catering to a lighter palate, often with calorie and fat counts included. Stay away from fried foods — rather, stick with grilled items, vegetables, and salads.
2. Be smart about salads
It’s important to exercise caution when ordering a salad, as these dishes can be deceptively loaded with calories and fat, depending on their contents. Fresh greens, vegetables, beans, lean meats, and fruits are all great signs in a salad — watch out for creamy, high-fat dressings, cheeses, and fatty meats, cautions Today.
One great habit to adopt is to order your salad dressing on the side. Simply dip the tines of your fork into the dressing and enjoy a dabble with each bite of lettuce: You’ll enjoy the dish just as much and save hundreds of calories in the process (particularly if it’s a cream- or mayonnaise-based dressing).
3. Stick to healthy beverages (and no alcohol)
A sweet soda or juice beverage can cost you hundreds of additional calories on a night out, so try sticking with low-calorie, unsweetened options like light iced teas, club soda, or water. Of course, warns WebMD, you’ll also want to avoid overdoing the alcohol beverages when you’re out to eat. Not only can they contain between 150 and 450 calories on average, but they’ll also leave you dehydrated.
4. Stop when you feel satisfied
We may have all been urged to clean our plates in childhood, but it’s time to rid yourself of that habit. Your mealtime objective should be, first and foremost, to eat until you are satisfied. Stay mindful and aware of your body’s level of fullness — if you keep this thought in mind, you may feel satiated sooner than you would otherwise realize, notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Choose My Plate website. Drinking water and eating slowly are both helpful practices in staying mindful of your body and not overstuffing yourself. There is no shame in bringing a doggie bag home — in fact, you’ll be saving a few bucks on your next meal!
5. Avoid stuffing yourself on snacks
It’s hard to resist that plate of greasy nachos when it comes your way, but do your best to avoid such pre-dinner temptations. Fatty appetizers can cost you hundreds of calories, and that’s before you’ve even reached your entrée! The same rule applies even for tamer pre-lunch or dinner bites, such as the bread baskets served by many restaurants prior to meal service. After two or three buttered slices, writes Fitness, you’re in the hole about 200 calories (and counting). It’s better to skip out on these empty calories, instead focusing on a light beverage or a vegetable-based appetizer.
More from Life Cheat Sheet: