How To Have Fun At Restaurants... And Still Eat Healthy!

It's a new day, and you're feeling good... You've stocked the fridge with fresh organic produce and last week's over-indulgence at the ice cream parlor or county fair is a distant memory. You're determined now to spend at least a month, well definitely a week, but for sure a few days preparing your own meals, eating healthy, detoxing and getting back into the swing of healthy living and looking after yourself. With that, the phone rings and your friends (or beloved life partner) would like to meet for dinner at a restaurant.

Your plans are crushed, but not only that, you're actually looking forward to eating out and that somehow compounds your feelings of dismay. Relax, with a little bit of good information your newly devised healthy eating plan won't suffer at all!

Now, you've probably enumerated your options already:

  1. Order a raw carrot as an entre and ruin any chance of interaction with the rest of the human race for the rest of your days.
  2. Give up in failure and order everything on the menu in alphabetical order and eat like there's no tomorrow. Or...
  3. Say you're not hungry and sit at the table pretending to compose a symphony by whistling while everyone is eating their meals. None of these options seem to quite cut it.

So how can you make it through a business trip, vacation or simply eating out at a restaurant without feeling that you've let yourself down in the healthy eating department?

Firstly I encourage everyone to cheat on their diets. Life wouldn't be much fun otherwise! I personally recommend that you let your hair down a little when eating out. If you're eating healthy at home most of the time, a few indiscretions when you eat out occasionally are not going to impact your health at all. So relax. A well-balanced lifestyle and well-balanced diet make for well-balanced and happy people, a wise person once said - or if they didn't they certainly should have. A good rule-of-thumb is to allow yourself one cheat meal out of every 9 meals, if you need it. This means that every 3 days you can allow yourself one cheat meal if you need it and not feel bad about it at all!

With that said, if you're still looking for some ways to make your eating out experience a little more healthy, here are some ideas that I've come up with over the years for eating healthy whether you're eating out for the evening or even living out of a suitcase for a week traveling around for business meetings:

Stick to the simple things on the menu

Steamed vegetables, steamed rice and baked potatoes are healthy choices. For those that eat fish, look out for steamed or grilled fish. Those that eat meat can try grilled chicken and other meats instead of fried.

Order a salad but avoid the dressing

Commercial salad dressings are notoriously bad for your health. The salad is healthy, but often the dressings are little more than highly refined and oxidized oils from corn, soy and safflower; mixed in with chemical preservatives, refined salt, white sugar, chemical colorants, monosodium glutamate (MSG), homogenized milk by-products and acidifiers. Just seems a little wasteful to all of that on a fresh salad!

Fortunately, these days it is getting more popular to take your own dressing along to restaurants, feel free to join this trend and don't forget to offer your dressing to your company! In Europe it has always been popular to mix your own salad dressing with the olive oil, vinegar and a dash of lemon juice that most better restaurants have available for their guests - ask your waiter, you may be surprised to find out that they have everything you need to mix your own.

Stick to simple sauces

A lot of things are hiding in restaurant sauces, a lot of calories of course being one of them. But restaurateurs and fast food moguls figured out long ago that if they put in enough sugar, salt and MSG in the food you will keep coming back for more - and the best part for them is that you won't even know why! These addictive ingredients are specifically chosen for that reason and they also stimulate fat production. Both sugar and MSG cause the pancreas to produce a spike of insulin which starts the fat storage process and excess salt retains fluid among other more serious health problems too.

Look out for simple, more traditional sauces like pesto, guacamole and basic sauces made out of simple ingredients such as olive oil, garlic and basil. For example, any sauce with mayonnaise is going to be full of mystery chemical ingredients that you probably don't want to be eating. Likewise, most restaurants don't want to store and refrigerate fresh dairy so they use exclusively homogenized milk and cream which if consumed long-term will definitely have devastating effects on your health. Also, that pasta with mushrooms and cream sauce that you order, may not even have any real cream in it. It's far cheaper for restaurants to make their cream sauces out of hydrogenated vegetable oils and other chemically altered ingredients that use real cream. The problem with complicated sauces and milk-based sauces is you really never know what you're actually eating.

Decide whether you will eat dessert before you get to the restaurant

I've learned the hard way in life that even having a bad plan is better than having no plan at all. If you decide that you will definitely have a small serving of ice-cream after your meal, you will enjoy the experience more because you have already prepared mentally to have it and enjoy it. You are also less likely to make an impulse decision based on the otherwise well-meaning advice of the waiter, or your friends and order the large ice cream sundae topped with chocolate sauce and syrup.

Use a secret weapon

Take a digestive enzyme supplement before eating your meal. I like to keep a bottle of digestive enzymes in my bag and take one when sitting down to eat at a restaurant. A digestive enzyme supplement will help prevent stomach problems or gas often associated with eating out, but its benefits don't stop there. Restaurant food is not the most nutrient dense food in the world, everyone knows that - but a digestive enzyme will help your body use as much of the nutrients that are in the food as possible and also help it digest the usual restaurant food suspects of excess fats, carbs and sugar! I use Namaste Naturals - Digestive Enzymes and recommend it to my clients for the simple reason that it works well and achieves results, you can order it from our online store.

At home, you can make healthy choices and be in complete control of the ingredients going into the food that you prepare with caring for yourself and your loved ones, and this is good. In a restaurant however, you need to accept that ultimately you have no control over what goes into your food and that's too is ok! Eating out is a time to share precious moments with loved ones, be adventurous and try out new tastes. It's all about finding that beautiful balance that makes life such a magical experience.


0 #4 Chris van der Merwe 2010-08-09 08:59
Thanks Bonnie, I also want to point out that it's good to think in terms of a new way of looking at value for money. Now, more than ever we have the choice to eat at deli's and restaurants that offer some organic and local produce. The portions may be smaller and the price may be a little higher, but aren't we getting better value for money because the food is improving our health and not making it worse?

Bonnie, I think you are right - if you've been working really hard on eating well and you feel you deserve a cheat / treat dessert that you really like, you may as well pay a little more and get it from a place that makes it the best. Firstly you will probably get a smaller, but tastier portion. But secondly, higher end places will sometimes offer some of the ingredients as organic and with no trans fats.

Quoting Bonnie Rush:
But when I think I want something that is not in my best interests it is best to have it at a restaurant where I pay a shamefully high price for nothing of value so it reminds me to enjoy it for the moment as I cannot afford it on many levels.
0 #3 Chris van der Merwe 2010-08-09 08:36
Thanks for the heads up about Tender Greens, Michael. That is one of the things that I like about our community's comments and feedback is that it gives us the opportunity to share information about places that we have eaten where the food was good and healthy. So if you know of a good place, please share it!

Quoting Michael Daligdig:
It also helps to choose a restaurant where you know you will have healthy choices such as Tender Greens...
+2 #2 Michael Daligdig 2010-08-09 07:13
It also helps to choose a restaurant where you know you will have healthy choices such as Tender Greens. Many ethnic cuisines such as Thai, Moroccan and Japanese also have many healthy choices for food.
+1 #1 Bonnie Rush 2010-08-08 21:45
:lol: As usual you have a way of making the hardest situations for us health foodies into something doable and taken the guilt out of it. You have a gift for eloquence and it then becomes fun to read what you are expressing - apparently a good lifestyle leads to good thoughts - that's encouraging.
What I have found is the longer I am not eating those unhealthy but enticing foods the easier it is to make wise choices and not feel deprived. But when I think I want something that is not in my best interests it is best to have it at a restaurant where I pay a shamefully high price for nothing of value so it reminds me to enjoy it for the moment as I cannot afford it on many levels.

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