Even though I'm more of a homebody these days, I still travel a lot for work and occasionally for pleasure. And when I travel, I eat out a lot.
Social gatherings with family, friends, and colleagues frequently involve restaurants, too. If I can eat out healthy, so can you—and I’m going to show you how.
Done correctly, eating out can be a fun experience that also supports your health goals. With these seven dining-out strategies, you can make smart choices at nearly any restaurant.
No matter what your personal goals are, the end destination is always the same: To feel better than you ever have. My Ultimate Health Roadmap provides short, actionable steps you can take RIGHT NOW to be the best version of you. The guide is FREE, and you can only get it here.
Strategy #1: Scan the Menu Beforehand
If you’ve ever spent 15 minutes glued to your menu, deciding what you want to order when you’d rather be chatting with your dining guests, you know how valuable previewing a menu can be.
Almost any restaurant has an online menu. Perusing beforehand can help you decide what you’ll order, determine any modifications you might need to make, and figure out other ideas to make your meal enjoyable rather than agonizing.
You might even call or email the restaurant to ask whether they can do specific modifications or explain ingredients you’ll be avoiding when you eat there.
Knowing what you’ll order before you arrive will help you relax while everyone else is studying the menu diligently. This is a great opportunity to people-watch, too!
Strategy #2: See the Menu as Suggestions, Not Absolutes
You’re well aware that a heaping dish of penne alla vodka won’t help you reach your weight loss and other goals. (Plus, the gluten and dairy are no-nos on The Virgin Diet.)
But restaurants often get “healthy” wrong. Consider salads: Top a perfectly wholesome bowl of grilled chicken and leafy greens with sugar-loaded dried fruit and raspberry vinaigrette, and you’ve turned dinner into dessert!
Read more about why restaurant salads can become unhealthy in this Medium article.
The simple solution here is to substitute. If you want an entrée salad with a different dressing, minus the croutons, with slivered almonds instead of candied walnuts, you’ve got every right to ask for that.
Likewise, you can ask for a different side with your protein entrée. If you want wild salmon but not the garlic risotto it’s paired with, just ask your server to substitute a healthier side from the menu instead.
Strategy #3: Watch Out for Red Flags
Any entrée described as breaded, fried, crunchy, creamy, or glazed is a sign that you’re drowning a perfectly good protein option in gluten, dairy, or other food intolerances.
Sometimes those options are perfectly clear, such as “teriyaki salmon.” Other times, menus aren’t always so transparent.
I’ve ordered perfectly innocuous-sounding chicken entrées that arrived breaded or drowning in sauce. At that point, you have the option to send it back (and anxiously await your entrée re-do) while your companions eat, or eat that entrée and suffer the consequences.
So don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be very specific about ordering your lean protein and non-starchy veggies grilled, baked, or broiled. Many restaurants now offer gluten-free menus, but be aware that other food intolerances like soy and added sugars can slip in unannounced. Worth repeating: Ask rather than assume.
Strategy #4: Double Up or Cut It In Half
Restaurant portion sizes are often huge. You’ve got several alternatives here. One is ordering two appetizers or tasting plates such as grilled chicken skewers and sautéed broccolini instead of a single main course.
If you opt for an entrée, see if someone at the table would like to split it with you. Chances are there’s another person watching the scale or their wallet! No? Cut it in half and bring the other portion home. Think of it as a buy one, get one free!
Strategy #5: Eat Before You Go
Nothing ever starts on time. With that 7 p.m. dinner reservation, you may not be seated till 7:30 and the entrée doesn’t arrive until 8:15.
But you know what does arrive earlier? That bread basket with piping hot baguette and honey butter. You’re feeling good after a glass of pinot noir, and… well, you know how that story ends.
The simple solution is to eat something before you go, such as a loaded smoothie or a Co-Co Crave Fiber Bar. By the time you get to the restaurant, you’ll feel satisfied (but not stuffed) and ready to mingle with your company.
Loaded smoothies are a great way to crush hunger and cravings so you arrive at your gathering comfortable, not ravenous. My Smoothie Guide has over 50 delicious and easy-to-make recipes to help you keep cravings at bay and avoid overdoing it at dinner. (It’s free, so grab yours here.)
Strategy #6: Don't Invite the Enemy to the Table
Speaking of the breadbasket: If nobody at your table objects, pass on it before your server sets it down.
If you need something to munch on before your salad or entrée, ask for a small bowl of olives or crudités.
Or try having one of the veggie sides as an appetizer. It’s a great way to up your veggies, and roasted asparagus or Brussels sprouts make an awesome starter.
Strategy #7: Three Polite Bites and Fork (or Spoon) Down!
We’ve all been at that meal where we had to try dessert. Maybe you’re with a potential client who insists you try the tiramisu. Or you’re dining at a restaurant with a world-famous pastry chef.
Regardless of your company, you don’t have permission to go face-down in the entire dessert. But I’ve got a cool way to indulge without a disaster: Have three polite bites and put the fork or spoon down.
A few caveats. One, this is for folks on Cycle 3 of The Virgin Diet and Sugar Impact Diet. Two, I’m talking about three bites you would eat on The Rachael Ray Show, not during an 11 p.m. fridge raid. And three, if that dessert has gluten, dairy, or other food intolerances, even a tiny bite can create a reaction. Proceed accordingly.
Once you’re done, ask your server to remove your plate. Trust me: your dining partner will have no problem finishing that cake.
Remember, you’re in charge at restaurants! Ask your server questions before you order. Taking Protein First Enzymes before meals can help break down food and offer a little bit of extra protection if gluten or dairy sneaks in. (No, that does not give you permission to indulge in these highly reactive foods!)
This unique blend of digestive enzymes and select botanicals helps promote efficient digestion of proteins found in gluten, lactose, and casein so you can break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates like a pro!* Order Protein First Enzymes here.
The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.