Tips For Staying “On Diet” When Dining Out with Friends & Colleagues
One of the most frequently asked questions once committing to a new healthy lifestyle is, “How do I maintain this when dining out and/or traveling?” It’s easier when your the chef or when you are dining out with your family – but what about the awards moments when your friends or colleagues invite you to lunch or dinner?
Dining out is more a social event than an eating experience – catching up with friends, celebrating a life event, etc. It can be awkward when you’re ordering a salad at the burger joint or asking for just a cup of soup at a Chinese restaurant. Of course, no one wants to be “that eater” who everyone dislikes inviting out and, trust me, aren’t you often hesitant to order something different than everyone else for fear of being different?
The Difficulties with Dining Out
A restaurant is a business – which means they care about two things – increasing customers and decreasing the bottom line. The best way to do that in the restaurant world is to produce great tasting food at the lowest price possible. This means sacrificing healthy ingredients. The oils used in food prepare some of the lowest grade, inflammatory oils (canola, peanut, etc). Proteins are often conventional (grain and antibiotic fed) as are the fruits and vegetables.
“Chain” restaurants are often the worst as they are mandated by corporate to follow specific their company’s guidelines for food quality and preparation. Just because the advertisements say “Eat Fresh,” “Finger Licking Good,” “Have It Your Way” or “I’m Loving It” doesn’t mean anything (Ps. Isn’t it funny how you know which one is which – that’s advertising for you!)
There is a growing movement of organic, farm-to-table, grass-fed healthy restaurants, whose owners are committed to higher-quality food and preparation methods – but conventional restaurants still dominate the market.
Even in non-chain restaurants, you might believe you’re ordering a healthy option only to find out the fish was farm-raised and the salad is filled with pesticides/herbicides, tainted with grains and toxic dressing oils. To make matters worse, most restaurants don’t offer nutritional information and the average wait staff only knows which items sell the best and how to suggest what you should order based on their ability to generate additional tips.
Dining Out Is Possible – But You Have To Be The Educated Consumer
This article isn’t to scare you away from dining out, instead, it’s to show you that it is possible to make “healthier” decisions when dining out and here’s how to:
Use Online Databases to Find Healthier Locations
One of the challenges when traveling is finding good food on the go. There are several online databases that can help you find a place to eat when traveling in the US:
The Eat Well Guide: https://www.eatwellguide.org/ This website has over 25,000 hand-selected restaurants across the US that offer grass-fed, organic and free-range food options. They even have a “guides” section for some of the most popular cities at https://www.eatwellguide.org/guides
Happy Cow: https://www.happycow.net/ This website locates vegan and vegetarian restaurants by City and/ or Zip code. Don’t dismiss it just because it’s vegetarian – these types of restaurants often adhere to better food choices and the use of healthier oils. PS. A LOT of vegetarian restaurants offer non-vegetarian options just like most restaurants offer vegetarian options. Think outside of the box!
Google: www.google.com As silly as this may sound, google can find anything. Become familiar with the following search options “Near Me” or “City/State” and “farm to table,” “Grass-Fed Restaurants,” “Organic Restaurants,” “Non-GMO Restaurants”
These three options help me to find locations when dining out on the go or while traveling.
Research The Restaurant Before Going
One thing I do before dining out is to visit the restaurant’s website as most will have their menu posted online. This allows me to see what dishes they offer which suggests how easy or hard it will be to dine there. I look for the proteins offered (beef, fish, chicken, pork, game meat) and what pairing they have (side dishes and accompaniments). Next, I look to see if they offer any descriptions (grass-fed, gluten-free, vegan/vegetarian) or substitutions. This allows me to envision ingredients in the kitchen so that if I have to eat there (a work luncheon or dinner) I could perhaps ask for the chicken from one dish to be paired with the accompaniments from another dish. When in doubt, salads are always an option but watch out, sometimes the salads are the least healthy dish on the menu!
Call The Restaurant In Advance – Ask For The Chef or Manager
Restaurants are looking for diners, and if you call to ask for information most will give it to you. I preface the call by saying I have dietary restrictions and want to see if they can accommodate me (remember – you are their boss b/c you carry the $). Most restaurants today are familiar with food allergies and restrictions so perhaps an, “I am allergic to corn, wheat, dairy, rice and soy” or “I’m sensitive to corn fed proteins” could be a great way to find out if you should pick another location. This can also take off the pressure of being the one who asks 1,000 questions before ordering a meal or being pressured into just ordering something in haste to “fit in.”
Start With Salad – But Know How To Spot An Unhealthy One
Salads are generally the best way to begin your dining experience as they often contain raw vegetables, nuts, and seeds, which are a great way to stay on track with your new diet. When ordering a salad ask if the dressing is mixed in or can be put on the side (Side is always better b/c you can control amounts and even the dressing). Ask for oil and vinegar instead of what the pre-paired dressings. Salads turn unhealthy quickly – so watch out for deli-sliced meats, fried proteins or other meats, salted or roasted nuts and or seeds (often cooked in canola oil), croutons (grains), etc.
I know this might sound crazy, but when you’re at a restaurant they have a massive kitchen, hundreds of ingredients and an entire team of people who can cook for you. Their menu shows dishes they are familiar with and can make in less than a few minutes. But that doesn’t mean you are limited. BE A REBEL AND GO OFF MENU! Consider scanning the menu for what is in the kitchen and then ask the waiter if they can prepare a dish for you that isn’t on the menu. Often you will get a unique stare and then tell you to want the protein from this dish, the side from this dish along with the garnish from this dish, and this appetizer without the dressings. Be sure to tell them what oils to cook with
I hope you realize there are hundreds of other tips I could write down but then this article would turn into a book (there’s an idea!). Ultimately remember this – you are the one in control of your health and healthy eating options. If you feel awkward when dining out b/c you’re the one asking for alternatives – check your emotions – that’s you, not your friends. And if it is your friends/colleagues – time to find a new circle of people to hang with!