Eating out at restaurants or social gatherings can be a lot of fun. But sometimes, sticking to your health and wellness goals can be tricky.
It seems every time you are on the right path with healthy eating, seasonal celebrations, after-work drinks and date nights come along to tempt you back to unhealthy habits.
Gina Thayer, a registered dietitian with Banner Health, is here to help with tips to guide you in making smart, satisfying choices while enjoying yourself and having fun.
1. Plan ahead
One of the keys to success when dining out is preparation. Take a few minutes to plan your strategy.
For restaurant dining: Many restaurants have online menus you can review before you get there. If you know the menu in advance, you can make delicious, on-track choices.
“This gives you the chance to identify healthier options and make informed choices rather than being swayed by impulse decisions,” Thayer said.
For social gatherings: If you are unsure what foods will be served, prepare your favorite healthy recipe or bring a healthy-yet-tempting option so that you have at least one great dish to enjoy.
Also consider eating a small, nutritious snack before you leave home to help curb your appetite and prevent overindulging.
2. Control portions
Restaurant portions are notoriously large. They’re often enough to feed more than one person! And even though the food tastes great, these big portions can have more calories, fat and salt than when you cook at home.
“Consider sharing a dish with a friend or asking for a to-go box right away so you can pack half the meal before you start eating,” Thayer said. “This instantly cuts down on how much you’re eating.”
For social gatherings, don’t overfill your plate. Start with small scoops of things that look interesting to you, and then get seconds of what you like. Aim to have half your plate filled with colorful fruits and veggies.
3. Mindful eating
“Mindful eating is all about listening to your body, honoring your hunger and satiety cues and paying attention while you eat,” Thayer said.
Since you already know that portions will be large and calories higher, listen to your body while eating. Take small bites, putting your fork down between bites so you can savor each mouthful. Then stop when you feel comfortable and satisfied, not full.
“Try to remember a time that you overate and felt miserable afterward from being too full,” Thayer said. “Remind yourself that you can always have this food again another time. Stop while you’re still enjoying it.”
4. Watch for buzzwords
Be cautious of items labeled “creamy,” “fried,” “battered” or “crispy.” These are often indicators of higher calorie and fat content.
“Look for items that are grilled, baked, boiled, broiled, slow-cooked or poached as these terms use lower fat cooking methods,” Thayer said.
Salad dressings can also be loaded with hidden calories. Ask for dressings on the side or opt for vinaigrettes made with olive oil.
5. Limit alcohol
Alcohol can impair your judgment when it comes to food choices and also add extra calories. One cup of red wine has about 230 calories!
“Look for a light beer or have something with mostly soda water,” Thayer said. “Avoid blended drinks like margaritas or daiquiris as these are usually loaded with sugar.”
Follow up every alcoholic drink with a tall glass of still or sparkling water. This will help keep you hydrated and slow down how many drinks you have in an evening.
[Also read “5 Important Reasons to Try Dry January.”]
6. Satisfy your sweet tooth
“Eat a small amount of dessert as part of your meal instead of waiting until hours later,” Thayer said. “This will help satisfy your sweet tooth without going overboard.”
Take small bites and savor each one. Drink water between bites to slow down. You can also share a dessert with a friend or the whole table. Sometimes, just a bite or two is enough to satisfy cravings.
7. Enjoy conversations
If you can, position yourself away from the food to minimize mindless eating. “Cover your plate with a napkin or ask the server to take the plate away,” Thayer said.
Remember that going out is as much about the people as the food. Enjoy the company of others rather than focusing solely on the food.
8. Be kind to yourself
Remember, the occasional indulgence is okay. If you find yourself in a situation with few healthy options, choose the best available and enjoy it guilt-free. It’s all about balance in the long run.
Healthy eating is all about finding a balance between enjoying delicious foods and sticking to your dietary goals. By planning, making thoughtful choices and prioritizing moderation, you can savor special moments without compromising your well-being.
Dining out with friends and loved ones is more than just food – it’s an opportunity to connect, celebrate and create lasting memories.
If you’re finding it hard to make smart choices, speak with your health care provider or a registered dietitian who can help guide you. To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.