If you know what restaurant you’re going to ahead of time, see if you can find their nutrition info online. Pick something that will fit into your caloric intake for that day, preferably something with veggies and lean protein (like grilled fish with steamed veggies) and stick to that choice once you get to the restaurant.
If nutrition info isn’t available, or if you don’t find out till the last minute, your best bet is to choose grilled over fried, choose something that includes veggies, and keep your portions small (have the waiter box up half your dinner before serving it so you don’t accidentally overdo it). Think moderation! Try to get in a quick healthy snack before you go so you aren’t starving. Feel free to ask the waiter about ingredients or how things are prepared. Watch out for things that sound healthy if you’re not sure what’s on it (Atlanta Bread Company has an avocado sandwich that has almost 1000 calories, probably because of the mayo on it!). Order without sauces, dressings, and cheese, or get them on the side and eat sparingly.
See below for more specific tips.
1. Skip the chips. Have someone put them as far away from you as possible. If you’re one of those people who can have one or two and then stop, that’s fine, but stick with salsa and go easy on the cheese dip or guacamole (avocados are great, but mayo and other junk are often added to guacamole dip).
2. Chicken fajitas are probably the best thing on the menu. Just eat the chicken and veggies though, and skip the tortillas. Flour tortillas are high in calories and low in nutrients.
3. If you’re vegetarian or just can’t stand fajitas, look on the menu for something made primarily with beans, not fried, and without cheese, sour cream, or guacamole.
4. Choose black beans over refried pinto beans, if possible (refried beans are usually not actually fried; that’s a bad translation from frijoles refritos, but they’re still not as good for you).
5. Stay away from margaritas! I love a frozen strawberry margarita, but they can have in the neighborhood of 800 calories! If you really want to drink, have a light beer, or a few sips of someone else’s margarita.
1. Skip egg rolls and spring rolls. Some aren’t as bad as others, but it’s tough to tell and they’re almost all fried and hence very greasy and high in calories.
2. Choose items from the menu that are mostly vegetables and don’t have much or any sauce.
3. Go easy on the noodles, including rice. It might be unavoidable to have some noodles, but leave most of it on the plate. All kinds of pasta are loaded with calories, and the kinds you get at Asian restaurants are almost never whole grain pastas.
4. If you have to have rice, get steamed/white rice over fried rice. It’s still rice, but at least it doesn’t have the added oil and egg and whatever else they put in it.
1. Skip the bread. It’s usually soaked in butter or oil and covered in salt. Have a bite or two if you can resist having more, but otherwise, keep the basket on the other end of the table.
2. Avoid anything that says it has a creamy or cheese-based sauce. Marinara is better but it can have a lot of sugar. Look for a wine- or lemon-based sauce (not lemon-butter!) or no sauce at all.
3. Go easy on the pasta. If you can find a dish with no pasta, that’s best, but it’s also rare.
4. Wine is healthy in small portions. Feel free to have one glass, but remember that one glass of wine has around 100 calories, so work that into your daily intake.
1. Choose smoked turkey or chicken over pork or brisket.
2. Go easy on the bbq sauce. I know that is sometimes the best part, but it often has a lot of sugar. Pick mustard-based sauces over sweet tomato-based ones if you have a choice.
3. Skip the bread or order a sandwich and give away half the bun. If you get side bread, ask for it to be made without butter.
4. Order non-fried veggies for sides. I love fried okra and mac&cheese, but they are so full of fat and therefore hundreds of calories.
1. Choose grilled chicken over beef or fried chicken.
2. Watch out for works like “crispy” when referring to chicken (that means fried). If you’re not sure what something is, ask, or just skip it.
3. Ask for no cheese.
4. Ask for no sauce or sour cream. Use ketchup or mustard or salsa instead.
5. Skip fries or anything resembling fries. Choose apple slices or other healthy side alternatives when available.
1. Make a plan before you go, depending on the type of buffet. Picking something you know is healthy ahead of time, including the type of food and how much you will eat, can really help you avoid going back for an extra trip or two (or three…).
2. Forget the “get your money’s worth” and “all you can eat” mindsets. Don’t feel pressured to eat more just because you paid for a buffet. Remember that while you may get more food for your money, you will be getting more damage to your health too.
1. Find out what’s in it before you order. A lot of smoothies are made with whole milk, full-fat yogurt, or even ice cream! Only order smoothies made with fat-free or low-fat ingredients, or have as little as you can.
2. If you can get it made with Splenda or other sugar-substitute, or just without any sugar, do that. Fruit smoothies can have a lot of sugar just from the fruit, so any added sugar is going to send the calories through the roof.
3. Choose a veggie smoothie over a fruit-only one. It’ll have better nutritional content and less sugar.
1. Check the ingredients. If it has a lot of nuts or the chicken in it is fried, pick a different one. Try to find one with a lot of interesting veggies.
2. Order without cheese and dressing, or get them on the side and just dip your fork in before each bite.
3. Skip the croutons and tortilla strips or only eat one or two. They tend to be high in fat and calories and low in nutrients.