American restaurants are notorious for portion inflation. The problem is, we generally have a tendency to eat whatever we’re served. But why are we trusting restaurants to dictate what a proper portion size should be? Instead of cleaning your plate without a second thought, try these tips to hack your way through a potentially calorie-packed meal on the occasional night out.
1. Eat a half portion. When you order an entree at a restaurant that is known for its large, heavy plates — ahem, The Cheesecake Factory — ask for half of the plate to be placed in a to-go carton before the food is in front of you. That way, you can still have the satisfaction of cleaning your plate without the caloric burden. It also prevents the temptation of eating the entire meal in one go. You’ll stop when you’re satisfied, and you’ll still have an extra meal for tomorrow. It’s a win-win!
2. Order an app (or two) as your meal. Many appetizers are actually proportionally akin to a sensible entree, so it may be the perfect option if you have trouble controlling your own portions. Obviously, getting a plate of deep fried jalapeño poppers or mozzarella sticks as a meal isn’t the healthiest option. Instead, choose something not fried and veggie-centric, like fresh spring rolls, a tapas plate of tacos, or salad/soup. It’s cheaper, and the smaller portion sizes will allow you to indulge in a glass of wine or a small dessert alongside.
3. Get the sauce on the side. When applicable, take your sauce on the side. That way, you can control how much goes on to your food. Less health-oriented eateries are apt to drench salads and slather on the gravies. This trick gives you a little bit of control over how much dense sauce you actually need. Certainly, in some upscale restaurants, this isn’t really an option, but portion sizes aren’t likely to be as oversized either.
4. Ditch the drinks. Alcoholic drinks are heavy on your waistline (& wallet). If you’re going out to eat, stick to one drink, or none at all. Drinks can add up quickly — both in dollars and calories. It’s great to have a glass of wine with a nice dinner, but save yourself money and calories by cutting it off there when eating out. The same holds true for sugary sodas.
5. Embrace spices and acidity. Choose dishes that are bursting with flavor. More bland, mellow flavors encourage overeating, while complex flavor combinations can satiate you sooner. For starters, opting for mustard instead of mayo can save you a lot of calories without sacrificing flavor. The same is true for replacing creamy salad dressings with balsamic vinegar, or oil and apple cider vinegar. If you enjoy spicy foods, those are always a good choice to discourage overeating while ensuring contentment.
6. Go heavy on the veggies. Veggies are always a smart choice, especially instead of fried or overly creamy options. Veggie soups, salads, sautéed greens — these are all vastly better choices than creamy, starchy, or grainy sides. Go green to eat clean.
7. Plan ahead. If you know you’re heading to a top-notch steakhouse with your friends on Friday night, eat light on Thursday night and Friday morning. That way you can allow yourself to indulge without the guilt at dinner. Not that you should feel guilty about indulging once in a while — but let’s face it, it happens to all of us. The best way to overcome it is to plan ahead and enjoy yourself.
8. Choose one splurge only. In other words, don’t get high-calorie drinks and appetizers and dessert. Choose one, and enjoy it. Go for a mixed drink, but nix all of the other extras. Or, maybe go for a scoop of post-meal ice cream and forgo the alcohol and fried options. By allowing yourself one treat when going out, the meal will still feel special without overdoing it on your stomach. You’ll be able to wake up the next day and get right back on track with your healthy lifestyle!
9. Ask plenty of questions. If you’re trying to avoid allergens like dairy or gluten, or if you want to know how a particular food is prepared, don’t be too embarrassed to ask your server. Many restaurants can accommodate those with food sensitivities, even if they don’t advertise themselves as such. You need to make the smartest choices for you, so don’t let unwarranted shyness get in your way.
There’s no need to be afraid of going out to eat when you’re trying to become healthier. Yes, it will be a little bit of a splurge, but it’s important to be able to go out and enjoy yourself with friends and family — mentally and physically. It’s just food, after all. If you fall off the health-wagon a little bit, it’s not the end of the world. Just be sure to enjoy yourself and avoid stressing out over it. By utilizing the above tips, you can ensure you don’t go overboard on food while still living your life and enjoying every second of it. After all, eating healthy isn’t about deprivation — that’s a sure way to a few empty pints of cookie dough ice cream. It’s about a positive attitude, smart choices, and moderation.