5 Ways To Eat Healthy When Eating Out

Young people eating in a Thai restaurant, they eating with chopsticks

Americans are eating out and getting food to go more than ever – sometimes up to 5 nights a week. With busy schedules and an abundance of convenient dining options, it’s hard to avoid.

But takeout food can be unhealthy. With obesity and diet-related chronic conditions in America on the rise, it’s important to watch what we’re eating. According to the National Institutes for Health, more than two thirds of adults and one third of children in the United States are considered overweight or obese.

It’s healthiest to cook at home, where we can control sugar, salt and fat. When faced with the inevitable reality of eating out, how can we make the healthiest choices?

Drink lots of water: Many of us don’t drink enough water throughout the day – and we often mistake thirst for hunger. To avoid overeating, drink a glass of water before you go out to eat or order takeout. Also, avoid sugary drinks, such as juices or soda since the sugar is just quickly absorbed into the body which isn’t great for our blood sugars.

In addition, staying hydrated by drinking water or sparkling water may make you feel less tempted to order alcohol, which brings on the cravings and loss of inhibitions that can lead to overeating.

Don’t restrict, modify: Instead of not ordering a particularly tempting item, modify it to make it healthier. Ask for grilled salmon instead of fried chicken on top of a salad, or add a healthy fat like avocado to a sandwich and skip the processed meat, such as bacon.

When possible, look for whole, natural foods as well as foods that are baked, broiled, poached, steamed, or grilled. And choose one indulgent topping rather than all of them – such as having only ranch dressing on a salad and holding the bacon bits and cheese.

Sharing is caring: Sharing menu items with family and friends is a great way to monitor portion control and your budget. It’s also a fun way to explore the restaurant’s offerings.

If children are with you, encourage them to share a meal with you instead of choosing from the kids menu, which often features fried or cream-based dishes. This helps set up an early example of healthy eating.

Get creative: There are many sections of a menu that can provide healthier options. Order from a senior or an a la carte menu, or from small plate selections, which all tend to have more reasonable potions. Try building a meal with these smaller plate options, such as a side of grilled chicken, side of whole beans, grains, steamed vegetables, or a small salad.

Chain restaurants in California are required by law to have nutritional information available to the public. Look up this information online before going to the restaurant to see just how many calories are in each of the dishes. You can also check out the fat and sodium content as well.

View it as an occasion: If you view going out to eat or taking out food as a celebratory occasion or treat, you’re less likely to do it. Take your time and develop “mindful eating habits” – thinking about what is going into your body and how it relates to your overall health. Slow down, enjoy what you’re eating, and form a healthy relationship with food.