Knowing what to look for on a menu is a must when maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Making choices that don’t derail the hard work you put in during your workouts or contribute to unnecessary weight gain isn’t as challenging as you might think. With a few simple fundamentals, you’ll be navigating any menu like a pro and leaving satisfied, and not over-stuffed.
Here are six things to consider when going out to eat and navigating a restaurant menu:
1. Stick with unsweetened beverages. Order water, tea or a fresh green juice, and leave room for your body to use up more calories from the food you’re ordering. Making a point to drink a full glass of water while deciding what to order will help you be less tempted to dive into drinkable calories or complimentary appetizers.
2. If bread or chips and dip are part of the experience, go for one small piece of bread (instead of a whole loaf) or just a handful of chips (rather than all of them, then indulging in another refill) to avoid an overload on starchy carbs, extra oils and salt.
3. When figuring out what to order, look for well-balanced entrees, or create one by combining different items on the menu. First, choose a lean protein (like seafood, chicken, turkey, tofu or lean red meat), then build around it with vegetables (like greens, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.) and a carb option (like quinoa, brown rice or pasta) based on what’s offered in the menu. Most restaurants offer entrees that look like this, and if you don’t see one on the menu it’s usually as easy as asking – ala carte ordering isn’t unordinary anymore, and leaves room for more variety.
4. Look for key words, like ‘cream sauce’, ‘butter’, ‘cheese’ or ‘oil’ – if a dish includes much of any of these ingredients, you can expect your meal will be extra high in fat calories, so instead of avoiding these options, if something is covered in dressing, sauce or topped with cheese, you can request ‘no or light cheese’, ‘cooked in no or light oil’, or ‘dressing/sauce on the side’ to help bring down the fat ratio.
5. Portion sizes matter. Ordering a lunch size version or taking half of a large entrée home is a great way to cut back on caloric-overload. If you’re ordering ala carte, or combining dishes, ask for an extra plate and portion out moderate amounts of each item instead of diving into one dish at a time.
6. Desserts don’t have to be off limits, so long as they aren’t working their way into every meal, every day of the week. And, instead of indulging into one restaurant sized serving all to yourself, split something with a friend or take half home for later.
There is nothing inherently wrong with saucy, salty, savory meals or sweet treats when they are intentionally, and moderately, built into a healthy lifestyle. Remembering that it is the accumulative of all the little things that create the bigger picture is important when it comes to our nutritional habits, and living in a way that promotes a healthy, happy mind and body.
Kelsey Lee is a fitness and lifestyle personality. Her experience ranges from the aesthetics spectrum of body transformations, to the dynamics of everyday functionality – always including proper and practical nutrition, cardiovascular, resistance and core training. Kelsey Lee creates candid mix and match workouts, v-log and adventure videos. She loves to help people from all walks of life, make fit matter and live more intentionally, and has been doing so since 2005. Follow her on Instagram: @kelseyleedotcom