Eat out or eat at home? If it’s the former, there’s the internal debate of ordering something “healthy” or let the healthy eating go to hell in a French fry basket. 😊 Many of us opt for our meals in our own kitchen because it’s more economical and/or we get to decide exactly what we’re putting in our bodies. However, as Americas, we live hectic lives, so when it’s easy with zero clean up, it can be appealing. If that’s the route we take, it doesn’t mean we have to sabotage all our healthy habits.
Hopefully, we’re all trying to eat real food, which means the ingredients are what matters. Still, even for the conscious eater, it’s easier to turn a blind eye when sitting inside a restaurant. I’m guilty too, but just because our booties are in someone else’s chairs doesn’t mean we should treat our bodies disrespectfully. Toxins are toxins and will do the same damage regardless of where they’re hidden. I don’t aim for perfection 100% of the time, or recommend that for anyone. I do, however, have a few core beliefs, and when it comes to this subject, I believe the more often we eat out, the better our choices should be.
“It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.” -Zig Ziglar
That’s true for our food and health as well. “It’s not what we eat once in a while that matters most. It’s what we eat consistently.” -Misty Krug
MAKING BETTER CHOICES WHILE DINING OUT
First, if the opportunity arises to choose the restaurant, take that opportunity EVERY SINGLE TIME! If not, simply be thankful for the time to spend with loved ones and enter the situation with confidence. So, what creates that confidence? Like most things, knowledge, and when it comes to real food, the knowledge is knowing what’s in the dish. While it’s the norm for restaurants to publish their menus online, and sometimes even nutritional facts, it’s rare for them to publish ingredients; therefore, the only way to know exactly what we’re eating is to ask.
It’s ALWAYS okay to ask what’s in your dish, and it’s more and more common because of food sensitivities, allergies, restrictive diets, and conscious eaters. If something is processed, I rarely need to know every ingredient. For me to place something back on the shelf, I just need to know it has one of the major things I try to avoid. The same goes for a menu; I don’t need to know every ingredient to know I want to pass. If a dish includes one or more of the “foods” or ingredients I try to avoid, then it’s not necessary to ask the server about everything else in it….unless I’m curious about substitutions. Then I might start going down the list.
QUESTIONS TO HELP GUIDE YOU TO AN INFORMED DECISION
- Is it made in-house? If so, it will likely be fresher and have fewer ingredients.
- How is it prepared? This tells us a lot: what kind of oil they use, if there’s breading, how it’s seasoned, etc.
- What is the entrée served with? If it’s in front of you, you’ll likely eat it. Ask if you can make substitutions. If not, you can always ask them to bring it without the side.
- What kind of dressings do you have, and does it come on the side? If oil & vinegar aren’t listed, ask if they have them. Personally, I prefer a little clean oil, salt, and pepper, and most of the time, restaurants have it! If there isn’t a dressing you’re comfortable eating, pass on the salad. Just because they serve it, doesn’t mean you have to take it.
- Does it have meat/poultry and what kind? Even if you eat meat/poultry, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it while you’re out. I haven’t been able to find the rule book that states we must eat meat with every meal.
- Does it have fish or seafood? If so, is it wild-caught or farm-raised? Wild-caught is always what you want!
- Does it have dairy? Depending on where you’re frequenting or whether you’re allergic, sensitive, or passionate about avoiding it, you might ask a silly follow up question like, “does it have cheese?” You shouldn’t need to, but I’ve found that it’s necessary sometimes.
- Can I get it without the meat, cheese, sour cream, dressing, etc.? Most of the time, those can be left off; we just need to ask.
- Does it have soy? If you’re interested in meat substitutes, this should be your first question. The “fish” and/or “seafood” you’re ordering may contain soy as well.
- Does it have gluten? This is an obvious question if you are sensitive or allergic, but I’m including it in case you’re trying to be more aware of your gluten intake. I realize some people watch their gluten, not because they’re trying to be trendy, but because they are aware our gluten isn’t the same as it was years ago.
- Is it made with artificial sweeteners? We should always opt for natural sweeteners (stevia, honey, pure maple, monk fruit) when they’re available, but I would opt for cane sugar way before I would opt for high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are things I try to avoid at all costs! I’m very passionate about this subject.
- What kind of oil do you use? If it’s vegetable or canola oil, just know it’s not the healthiest of dishes, and it’s certainly not one I would consume often or consistently.
- Is it big enough to share? If you’re one to overeat, maybe this is a good time to pass.
- Is your water filtered? Get comfortable taking your own water in with you. Is it good etiquette? I don’t know, and I don’t care. If you eat out often and enjoy water with your food, then you’re consuming a lot of toxins. That doesn’t give you a reason to drink soda, so if that’s where you were going, good try! Lol. Opt for the water instead.
Food for thought (pun intended):
If you like the hot spots, you might consider calling the restaurant during their downtime, so you’ll be ready to order when you arrive. While it’s important to eat healthy, it’s also considerate and easy to plan. Trust me, your friends, family, server, and other restaurant guests will thank you. I worked in the restaurant industry for many years, and I don’t mind sharing that I truly appreciated those who called ahead as opposed to playing 20 questions right in the middle of lunch or dinner. That’s not fun or enjoyable for anyone involved.
A FEW EXTRA THOUGHTS…
- I’ve been known to take my own dressing, pink salt, etc. with me. It is ultimately up to the restaurant management, but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be happy to have you as a guest who brings their own dressing as opposed to you frequenting another restaurant, especially considering all the sensitivities and allergies people deal with. If they allow you to bring a birthday cake inside, certainly they’ll allow you to bring a condiment.
- Guacamole, pico, salsa, hummus (most of the time) are healthy alternatives, so don’t forget to ask.
- Asking the server about their favorite dish doesn’t serve you well in this endeavor.
It is true that there are some restaurants that will have little to no healthful options, including fast food, but I don’t think those are the places you’ll be frequenting often when you’re concerned about eating healthful foods.
And finally, if you’re going to make the conscious decision to eat “play” food, leave the guilt at the door, so you enjoy it. I would never suggest we put preservatives, additives, and dyes in our bodies, but if you’re making an informed and conscious decision AND it’s a rarity, do it without guilt.
HAPPY & HEALTHY