There are lots of reasons to love going out to eat. With nearly 9,000 restaurants across the state of Arizona, there are also lots of options.
Dining out is a great way to treat yourself to favorite dishes that you don’t like (or don’t know how) to cook. It’s also a great option when you're too busy to spend time in the kitchen. Sometimes, it’s simply the easiest way to get together with friends.
Yet sticking to a healthy diet can be tricky when you're at a restaurant— especially when you're tempted by large portions and the urge to splurge. With a little planning, though, and some menu smarts, you can enjoy a night out, and stick to your healthy-eating goals.
Some things to keep in mind before you arrive at the restaurant:
Have a light snack first. Grab a piece of fruit or a glass of skim milk before you leave home. You’ll take the edge off your hunger, and have more control when you're ordering. If you go in super-hungry, you're more likely to over-order, and then overeat.
Choose your venue carefully. Look up the restaurant’s menu online before you go to make sure it includes some healthy choices. Some restaurants post a menu outside the entrance so you can take a look before you go inside. If not, you can always ask to see a menu before you’re seated.
Ask questions. Before you order your food, ask the server how it’s prepared, and what comes with it. For example, a salad might come with cheese and croutons, which are high in fat. Ask if they offer low-fat substitutions, or simply order the salad without them.
To help you navigate the menu, try these tips for each course:
Appetizers. When ordering your appetizer, go for salads, fresh fruit, steamed vegetables, broth-based soups, seafood cocktail, or raw veggies with a yogurt dip or salsa. Stay away from anything fried.
If you tend to go overboard with the bread or tortilla chips, take a small portion, then ask your server to remove the rest.
Main course. Foods described as fried, basted, au gratin, crispy, escalloped, pan-fried, sautéed, stewed, or stuffed are typically high in fat. Instead, look for entrées that are steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached, or roasted. You might also:
- Order a smaller portion size. You may be able to get a half-portion or lunch-sized portion at dinner.
- Have a salad first (with light or fat-free dressing!), then have an appetizer as your main course.
- Ask for healthy substitutions. For instance, ask for sauces and dressings on the side, and vegetables prepared without butter.
Dessert. Lighter sweet options include fruit, sherbet, sorbet, or angel-food cake.
Finally, remember to enjoy the whole experience of eating out, including the atmosphere and good company. Eat slowly, and enjoy every bite.
Sources: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; American Heart Association; Arizona Restaurant News, November 2019