Going out to dinner with your favorite people is a fun part of life and shouldn’t be something you feel like you have to avoid when you’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle. When we're working out, eating well, and doing our best to live our healthiest lives, there can be this anxiety about going out to dinner because we worry that it might slow our momentum, or worse, get us totally off track. But really, if you get strategic when it comes to splurging, you can afford that occasional treat meal (without the guilt). And you can also become a master at tweaking a menu so it works for you and your healthy lifestyle, and you won't have to stress about a girls' dinner out. Once you do that, you can actually have some pretty balanced meals when you're out and about! Let's get into it...
Before you get there...
1. Plan ahead.
If you know you’re going out to a restaurant, make it a priority to have a healthy day beforehand. Bonus points if you can squeeze in a workout that day too! Check the menu before you go and have an idea of what you’d like to order… this will help you feel calm and collected once you get there, rather than being tempted to order something that’s not the best option.
2. Decide if this is just a regular weeknight dinner out or if it's your "treat meal".
If it's going to be your "treat meal", choose your treat before you go. Will it be the bread, a drink, your favorite pasta, or dessert? That way you don't go for ALL of it right when you get there. Unless it’s really “worth it bread” (or a New York bagel), I think the bread basket is usually a good skip, and you can even ask your waiter not to bring it so you’re not tempted. Whatever it is that you want to treat yourself to that night, just prioritize that and work the rest of your meal around it so it "fits in". Example - if you want some wine and want to share a dessert with your bestie or your date, go for a grilled fish with double vegetables and skip the bread and potatoes or carby sides. Enjoy your treats without any guilt!
If it's just a regular weeknight dinner, make some substitutions and order like a pro with the tips below.
At the restaurant...
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for some substitutions or changes to an order. No matter where you’re eating, it's pretty easy these days to make a few changes to get something that is structured similarly to the healthy meals you'd be making at home. Try to order a healthy source of protein and some vegetables, get a fat in there to keep you full (avocado, extra virgin olive oil, nuts) and then modify the rest! Some ideas:
Let's get specific - how to order at your favorite restaurants...
Alright, I asked on instagram what your go-to cuisines are when you're dining out, then looked up a ton of different restaurant menus, and came up with lots of suggestions for your next order! Here we go...
Try going bun-less / protein-style or have it wrapped in lettuce & order a size of avocado to go with it. Switch the fries for a salad.
Fish is a safe bet with a double side of veggies. Ask how the veggies are cooked - are they fried or sautéed? Ask about the sauces - not a bad idea to get the sauce on the side and get some lemon wedges to add extra flavor.
Start with an order of ceviche and avoid the chips. Swap them for cucumbers if you can. Fajitas are an easy, healthy choice for dinner! Careful of the chips/ rice/ beans/ tortillas – choose just one of these carbs, not all of them! Salads are a good option with a protein & a side of guacamole. Switch a creamy dressing for olive oil and lemons or limes. Tacos - eat one taco with the tortilla and skip the other tortillas (or see if you can lettuce wrap the others!).
Start with a seaweed salad and order mostly sashimi and cucumber-wrapped (rice-less) rolls. If you don't see cucumber-wrapped rolls on the menu, ask if they'll do it! Try to avoid anything fried/tempura/or "dynamite", and then split a regular rice roll or two with your dinner date.
Grilled chicken / fish / steak + roasted veggies + a side salad. Check out the sides - there's usually some good vegetable options there.
Go for vegetables, curries, lentils, sauces made with coconut milk, grilled meat or fish. Stay away from fried, breaded options, and do your best to resist eating all that naan... not easy!
Chicken satay with peanut sauce or vegetable spring rolls (not the fried ones) are great appetizer options. For your meal, go for coconut milk curries (I love yellow curry!) with a protein like chicken or shrimp. Ask for double vegetables in your curry instead of the side of rice. If you ask, they often let you choose which vegetables you'd like to have in your curry - so I'll usually say easy on the potatoes, add extra broccoli or snow peas, and no rice. Or order a veggie stir-fry - ask if you can have it steamed or without the sauce and add a protein. Chicken larb is another delicious option, and again, you can switch the rice for veggies, or ask to have it as lettuce wraps.
Not an easy one to make healthy! Skip the Lo Mein and really saucy dishes and order a Buddha's Delight, which is usually steamed veggies and protein like chicken or shrimp with a sauce on the side. Steamed veggies are your BFF when you're out for Chinese. While I'm not usually a fan of them at home because there are just so many more delicious ways to enjoy our vegetables, when you're out for Chinese, it's the way to go. That way you avoid the super high-sodium and sticky, sugary sauces that are all over the menus. For appetizers, try ordering lettuce wraps with the sauce on the side. Just say no to the fried options - crispy noodles, egg rolls, fried rice, fried noodles, etc etc. Sweet and sour and kung pao dishes are best to avoid as well!
Check the appetizers menu for a hummus plate or guacamole and switch the pita and tortilla chips for sliced veggies. Order a salad and add some grilled protein, but watch out for the dressings and cheeses and croutons. Always a safe bet to switch a creamy dressing for a vinaigrette, or even better, some olive oil and lemon wedges or balsamic. You can always go with a bun-less burger (see above for burger ordering ideas) or a protein entrée and add veggies.
You didn't think I'd forget cocktails, did you!? The biggest thing you want to watch out for when it comes to drinks is the sugar content. All of the colorful, sweet, fruity drinks are usually loaded with sugar. The menus won't always list it, but there's almost always simple syrup added into the drinks or agave when it's a "skinny" cocktail - ask your bartender before you order. Keep it simple and order your go-to alcohol (tequila for me!) + soda water + limes/lemons, and then add some extra flavors with fresh ingredients like muddled mint or cucumber or raspberries, or add just a splash of fresh juice like grapefruit or orange. If you're ordering a "skinny marg", ask to leave the agave out and add extra lime. Cheers!
Lastly, when the meal is over...
No guilt allowed! Whether it was your "treat meal" or just a random Tuesday dinner and you happened to go overboard a bit… it’s ok! It doesn’t mean you’re completely off the wagon or that you "ruined everything"! Believe me, I've heard that often from clients, and we all feel that way from time to time. But tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to eat the foods that will make you feel great and help you reach your goals. The guilt and negative self-talk is worse for you than overindulging at dinner. Just enjoy it and move on at the next meal!
Hope that helps and gives you lots of inspiration for your next dinner out. Did I miss your favorite type of cuisine? Let me know in the comments below and I'll add it in!
July 28th, 2016
June 23, 2017
Lindsay is a Holistic Nutritionist who lives for a great meal, a beautiful farmers market, daily matcha lattes, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Weeknight Bite is Lindsay's happy place where her nutrition practice, simple recipes, and wellness tips come together to inspire you to live a healthy, balanced life.