Ask a Nutritionist: How Can I Make Smart Restaurant Meal Choices?

July 1, 2015
by Elissa Goodman for Thrive Market
Ask a Nutritionist: How Can I Make Smart Restaurant Meal Choices?

I love going out to eat, but I sometimes have trouble deciphering how healthy some of the menu items really are. What are some tips for making nutritionally sound choices at restaurants?

Everyone enjoys a night out, but no one wants to feel guilty on the way home. If you want to eat healthy, but you eat out often, then you may be sabotaging your own goals. Sure, the new FDA rules mandating that chain restaurants list calories will help, but the changes don't implement fully until next year, and if you're dining at an independent eatery, you're on your own.

With that being said, you can eat out while maintaining your health. There are plenty of options out there. You just need to remember a few tips, so that you can make more informed choices, which promote positive health:

1. Choose the right restaurant, focusing on establishments that are proud to serve whole, local, and organic ingredients.

Typically, these types of restaurants serve higher quality dishes, which often yield greater nutritionist benefits. There are so many amazing plant-based, organic restaurants out there. Before you choose a restaurant, make sure you do a little homework first. Don't be shy to look at their menu, so that you can inquire about anything you're unsure of.

2. Don't arrive to dinner absolutely starving.

You're more likely to reach for the bread basket if you haven't eaten much that day. Before you arrive, have a small handful of trail mix, a fig bar, or a few raw vegetables. Just a small snack to hold you over, so that you're not tempted by unhealthy appetizers.

3. Opt for lean protein sources and plenty of produce.

For those of you who do not enjoy vegetarian or vegan meals, choose lean meats for your main. Chicken and fish are both good choices. If possible, pasture-raised chicken and wild-caught fish are your best bet. Although grass-fed beef offers your body nutrients, there's no need to eat 14 ounces of it. Choose dishes that offer a variety of vegetables, taking advantage of raw plant-based foods whenever possible.

4. Pay attention to how your meal was cooked.

Yes, fish is healthy, but not when it's fried. Choose chicken, fish, tofu, or vegetables that have been roasted, grilled, baked, poached, or broiled. Fresh herbs and plenty of health-boosting spices are always a plus.

5. If you start with an appetizer, choose a light salad.

Eating deep fried mushrooms do not count as a healthy choice. In terms of dressing, avoid creamy options, choosing olive oil and citrus-based vinaigrettes.

6. If you have a sweet tooth, then you may have trouble finding a dessert that offers benefits.

Desserts are often meant to be overly indulgent. I always remind my clients that moderation is key. If you must order dessert, offer to share a small portion with someone else at the table. Look for options that offer nutritional ingredients, such as fresh berries, raw nuts, or figs.

Photo credit: Wendell via Flickr

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This article is related to: Diet, Food, Health, Nutrition

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