You’re at home, all set to prepare a healthy dinner that fits your weight loss plan when a friend calls. She wants to check out the cute Italian restaurant that just opened. You stare down at your refrigerator and sigh. What do you do? Eat out, figuring you’ll derail your healthy eating habits for the night? Or stay in?
As portion sizes in restaurants and fast-food establishments continue to get larger and larger, how can anyone on a weight loss program enjoy dinner out and stick to a low-calorie diet? It turns out, you can have your metaphorical cake and eat it too. With a little creativity and menu scouring, you can enjoy a great evening out that doesn’t leave you feeling guilty.
1. Make reservations
When you are waiting to be seated and start smelling the food from the restaurant kitchen, you’re alerting your senses. By the time you sit down, your body may be telling you that you’re hungrier than you actually are. Calling ahead and making reservations allows you to avoid lingering in the wafting aromas and reduces the time your head may decide it wants to eat more than your body needs.
Waiting for a table also gives you an opportunity to have a drink at the bar. As good as this may sound at the end of the day, alcohol is calorie dense. Indulging in a drink can also lower your inhibitions and numb hunger and satisfaction cues, which could lead you to overeat at dinner. And if you still must wait, even with a reservation, grab a drink such as seltzer water with lemon or lime for something to sip on.
2. Make substitutions & plan ahead
You don’t have to choose the specially designated low-cal menu dishes to stay on track. Find ways to substitute instead. Start your meal with a garden salad or a broth-based soup which can help you feel fuller by the time your meal is served. Rather than getting the garlic mashed potatoes, ask for double veggies.
Consider lower calorie options if you have a hankering for certain foods. You can make healthier choices with a few simple adjustments. Get a turkey, veggie or black bean burger instead of beef for a leaner option. Rather than French fries, ask for a plain baked potato. You can top it off with salsa or fat-free sour cream for added flavor. This way you feel satisfied without ingesting the added sodium, saturated fats, and extra calories found in fried foods.
One of the best tips is to plan what you'll eat in advance. You can usually find menus online, giving you the chance to weigh your options for lean protein, such as fresh fish, broiled chicken or grilled beef.
Also, try to be the first to order as you'll be less likely to order something unhealthy if you don't hear what others order first, especially if they’re not concerned about their food choices.
3. Portion control
These days, most restaurant portion sizes are outrageous. Some restaurants are notorious for serving grandiose portions that realistically could be divided into two or three meals for the average person. When you order a dish you know will be huge, or it comes and is much bigger than expected, ask the server for a to-go box on the spot. As soon as you get your food, cut the meal in half and stow it away for tomorrow. This way, you can stick to portion control and turn one meal into multiple meals. Even if the leftover portion is small, you can add a variety of Fresh & Free additions to create an entirely 'fresh' new meal! You can also save calories by splitting and sharing an entree with your friend — saving money is an added bonus.
4. Ask for dressing on the side
When ordering a salad, ask for the dressing on the side. By doing so, you can manage how your lettuce gets ‘dressed.’ Some dressings are surprisingly high in calories, so this will save you more calories than you may think. Another tip – ask for balsamic vinegar and olive oil and make your own natural version.
5. Hold the bread & chips
Your best bet is to pass on any bread or chips to start the meal. However, if you don’t decline, ask the waiter to bring them out with the meal, not before. Or, grab one slice and ask for the basket to be taken away. You'll be less tempted to stray away from your diet plan by not having the bread in front you. Trade butter for olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Try to resist the urge to order appetizers if you plan to have an entree as well. They may seem innocent based on their small size, but appetizers are usually packed full of unwanted calories.
6. Say no to soda
Soda is high in calories and sugar — it’s like adding another meal on top of the one you chew. If you want something flavored, opt for unsweetened ice tea or sparkling water with lemon. These choices are both refreshing, healthy and calorie-free!
7. Share desserts
Occasionally, it’s okay to go ahead and get dessert — just make sure you split it. If you’ve been making healthy choices, a few bites won’t set you back. Fruit is the best option, but if that molten lava cake is whispering to you, order one serving and ask for forks all around. Another option is to order a latte with non-fat milk.
Dining out doesn’t mean you have to derail your weight loss goals. We recommend avoiding or limiting restaurant meals, as studies have found a correlation between eating out and weight gain.1 However, when you do find yourself dining out, use these tips to make sure you stay on track and enjoy your dining experience. Above all, focus on the people as much as the food. Whether for business or pleasure, appreciate the opportunity to connect with family members, friends or colleagues.
Are you ready to commit to a weight loss plan? Contact us today for your free appointment.
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. A San Diego native and an endurance sports enthusiast, you can usually find her swimming, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple
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