The moment has come. One of your friends has asked you to join them for dinner at their favorite restaurant tonight. What do you do? Avoid the situation and stay home? Go out and ruin all the progress you’ve made?
Whether you’re on the Pure 21 Wellness Challenge currently or looking to maintain the lifestyle long term, it’s possible (and encouraged) to enjoy a meal out.
Below are our top 10 tips to enjoy a night on the town while staying true to your diet, progress, and goals.
- Swap out healthier alternatives.
Don’t be shy. Request healthier, Pure 21-approved substitutions for menu items. For example, if an item is fried, ask for it grilled. If it comes with fries, ask for a baked sweet potato or a side of vegetables instead. Simple substitutions like this make all the difference. Restaurants want you to enjoy your dining experience and will – more often than not – make accommodations for you.
- Ask for extra veggies.
A typical “side” of vegetables can more accurately be described as a garnish. That is to say, there are hardly ever enough vegetables for a full serving. Ask for a double serving on the side instead. Most restaurants won’t upcharge you for this.
- Ask how the food was prepared.
Restaurants’ descriptions of their dishes are typically an ambiguous motion toward what your meal might contain. However, the oil it is cooked in and unhealthy toppings may not be mentioned in the menu description. It is a best practice to inquire about how your food is going to be prepared, and the toppings that may come with it. If you’re more of a shy person, it is valid to assume that anything fried/cooked in oil is probably prepared with vegetable or canola oil. Air on the side of caution and choose something that does not need to be dropped in sizzling oil.
- Beware of the low-carb options.
Let’s talk about “low-carb” meals. “Low” in relation to what? Just because something is “low in carbohydrates” doesn’t mean that the carbs present are good ones. For example, you could eat 2 muffins instead of 4 and you would technically be having a lower carb meal, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy to have 2 muffins for breakfast. Your best option is simply to pick the healthier meals on the menu, or investigate the ingredients in these “low-carb” options before you order.
- Ask to box half your entrée.
Restaurant servings are much larger than the average person should consume in one sitting – especially as part of the Pure 21 lifestyle. In fact, restaurants are serving 3-4 times the appropriate portion size. Request half your meal be stored in a takeout box before your meal ever gets to the table. Alternatively, you can split an entrée with your dining partner instead and skip the leftovers.
- Don’t ignore the appetizers.
Believe it or not, the healthiest options are often hiding in the appetizer menu. Appetizers are typically on the smaller side, so you can mix and match a variety of flavors without an excess of calories. Ask your waiter to be sure of the actual size served.
- Don’t destroy the health of vegetables.
We love a good vegetable dish, but at a restaurant, they’re often accompanied with a large serving of creamy sauce like coleslaw, processed meats like bacon bits, and fried items like crispy onions. Instead, load up on raw fruit salad or lightly marinated vegetables.
- Watch the add-ons to salads.
Remember, the menu won’t always disclose every ingredient. Always ask what is included, as even salads that are mostly made up of raw vegetables can come loaded with calories via cheese, processed meats, and dressings. Take the typical Caesar salad in most restaurants: it’s piled high with chicken or shrimp, cheese and mayo in the dressing, and buttery croutons. Keep the salad fresh and light to avoid unwanted calories or fat.
- Choose your dressing wisely.
Many salad dressings contain sugar, high levels of fat, and lots of sodium. Steer clear of thick, sweet types of dressing such as French, Ranch, or Ceasar. The healthiest salad dressings are the simplest. Go for a balsamic vinaigrette or Italian dressing instead.
- Check the menu before you leave home.
Most chain restaurants post their menus on their websites. Go into the night with a plan before you’re at the host(ess) stand. This will keep your temptation low and your excitement high. Of course, if you don’t see anything that fits your Pure 21 lifestyle, pick another restaurant. There are plenty to choose from.
BONUS TIP: Drink water throughout the meal.
You know water is an important part of the Pure 21 Wellness Challenge, but it’s extra helpful when dining out. Not only will it slow you down so you can better savor the flavors of your food, drinking water along with bites of food gives your brain time to receive the message that you’re full before your plate is empty.