9 Practical Tips For Eating Healthy (ish!) At Restaurants


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Welcome back to episode 3 of The Health Investment Podcast!

If you listened to episode 2, you know that this episode is the first in a series of PRACTICAL tips for eating healthy (ish!) at restaurants, while traveling, throughout the holiday season, and more!

If you like this series, let me know [see contact info above]. Maybe you even have an idea for a future series. Awesome!

I’m always curious to learn what you want to hear MORE of and less of. And, let’s be honest…your ideas are usually better than mine!

Alright, enough of that…let’s get to the episode!

HOME VS. RESTAURANT MEALS

When we cook at home, we’re in total control of all ingredients, spices, and oils. That’s why home-cooked meals are usually the best option from a nutritional standpoint.

But who wants to cook every single meal, every single night??

I definitely don’t!

One of the beauties of eating out is relinquishing control. I mean…how nice is it to have someone else cook (and buy the groceries!) every once in awhile?!

Even though eating at restaurants can be super fun and delicious, it’s important to note that eating out—however convenient it may be—also comes with a downside.

More often than not, chefs and owners are on a tight budget, which means they often use the cheapest ingredients in their dishes.

When it comes to food, “cheap” (unfortunately) usually correlates to poor quality and less nutritional value.

For example, most restaurants use vegetable oils—also known as refined seed oils—because they’re…you guessed it! CHEAP!

When heated, reheated, and reheated again (as they often are in restaurants), these oils release a higher concentration of aldehydes. Aldehydes are toxic chemicals that have been linked to many conditions like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s.

I’m not going to get into the dirty details of vegetable oils in this episode because I want to keep it short and sweet, but I’ll put links to additional resources in the show notes [see links above] in case you want to read more about aldehydes and vegetable oils. 

Even though restaurant ingredients are often cheap and less-nutritious, it’s perfectly fine to indulge every once in awhile. 

Nutrition is certainly important, but relaxation and socialization are ALSO necessary for a healthy existence!

As you know, I’m ONLY interested in sharing strategies that ACTUALLY work for simple weight loss and sustainable wellness. That’s why I’m so excited about this episode! Following these tips—consistently!—has really helped me to revolutionize my own health.

If it’s convenient, grab a pen or pencil to jot down some notes. If you’re driving, PLEASE don’t write ‘em down! Just visit the show notes to view the episode summary.

Alright, here we go… Here are 9 practical tips for eating healthy (ish) at restaurants… 

TIP #1: WHEN POSSIBLE, SKIP THE SALAD DRESSING AND/OR SAUCE. 

The base of most dressings and sauces is usually one of the aforementioned unhealthy, ultra-processed, cheap “vegetable” oils, like canola oil.

(Again, visit the show notes to learn more about the harms of these oils. I’ll link a blog post I wrote, titled: “Canola Oil vs Vegetable Oil: Which Is Healthiest?”)

Dressings and sauces are also usually loaded with sugar.

So just ask for your salad or entree without the dressing or sauce. 

Don’t even ask for it on the side; just skip it altogether! I’ve found that I ask for it on the side, half of the time my request is lost in translation and it usually ends up on my dish anyway. But when I ask for the dish WITHOUT the sauce, 9 times out of 10 my request is met!

To replace the restaurant-made dressing or sauce, I just ask for a side of olive oil. Usually there’s always salt and pepper on the table, so I use that tasty trip—olive oil + salt + pepper—to jazz up any meal.

Often, my salad or entree tastes even better than it would have if it were doused in the provided dressing or sauce. This tip is a win-win! 

TIP #2: JUST SAY NO TO BREAD. 

First of all, skip the bread bowl.

Or, if the rest of the table wants bread, just tell yourself, “I don’t eat bread before my meal because it just makes me hungrier.” 

Yes, that’s right. Bread induces hunger!

Dr. William Davis, cardiologist and author of the book Wheat Belly, wrote a really great article on his blog titled, “Wheat and Hunger.” I’ll link to it in the show notes. It’s a great one!

In the article, he explains that wheat and related grains are potent appetite stimulants. 

Think about it…why do you think restaurants serve a bread bowl before dinner? Is it because they’re being super altruistic??

Likely not! The tasty bread in that cute basket is meant to stimulate your appetite so that you’ll hopefully order more appetizers, entrees, and desserts! 

Now that you know the restaurant is trying to pull one over on you, it’ll be easier to skip the bread bowl.

Going back to the first statement I made about this tip: Notice I said that you can tell yourself, “I don’t eat bread before my meal because it just makes me hungrier.” 

“Don’t” is a very powerful word when it comes to habit change because it gives you agency.

Whereas the word “can’t” takes your agency away and makes it feel like something is forbidden.

Even more powerful than just the word “don’t” alone is the combo of “don’t” + “because.” 

When I you say, “I don’t do X because of Y,” YOU hold the power. And you explicitly state the reason for this change.

I know I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but I just wanted to bring this up because I’ve used it soooo many times throughout my journey to healthier living. 

I ALSO wrote a blog post about this, so visit the show notes if you want to read it. It’s called, “Changing Habits The Easy Way—With ONE Little Word!”

Okay, back to the tip…

Now that you know that bread induces hunger, you’ll also want to skip the bun or bread on your burger or sandwich.

I’ve been doing this for years, and now I actually PREFER burgers without the bread. The meat and cheese alone are so juicy and delectable!

By avoiding appetite-inducing bread, you’ll save room for healthful (and filling!) things like veggies, salad (dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper—of course!), and protein.

TIP #3: IN THE SAME VEIN, JUST SAY NO TO BREADED ITEMS. 

You know how I mentioned that “vegetable” oils are heated, reheated, and reheated again, making them toxic?

Guess what the oil is mostly used for? Frying things!

When you avoid fried and breaded items, you do two things:

  1. You steer clear of those toxic oils AND
  2. You avoid stimulating your appetite 

TIP #4: ENJOY BITES OF SHARED DESSERTS. 

I like to look at the dessert menu just as much as the next person!

However, I’ve realized that eating tiny bites of one dessert—or even small bites of a couple desserts—is more satisfying than eating one entire dessert myself.

By the time slices of cake and pie come around, I’m usually too full to eat an entire piece myself. And eating multiple bites of ONE dessert just isn’t that exciting.

Sharing a dessert guarantees that I won’t stuff myself beyond the point of no return, and a couple of desserts with friends allows me to try different flavors!

So if you’re not too full and are dying for something sweet after your meal, order one dessert (or maaaaybe two) for the table to share; satisfy your sweet tooth with a couple of bites.

TIP #5: MAKE YELLOW OR DIJON MUSTARD YOUR BEST FRIEND. 

Often, ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey mustard, sweet and sour sauce, and other sugar-filled concoctions are the preferred condiments.

But get this: Typically…

  • 2 tablespoons of ketchup contain about 8 grams of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of barbecue sauce contain 12 grams
  • 2 tablespoons of honey mustard contain 10 grams and
  • 2 tablespoons of sweet and sour sauce contain 7 grams

Studies suggest that higher sugar intake from food and beverages correlates to chronic illness (like type 2 diabetes), dementia (including the more serious forms like Alzheimer’s), mental disorders (like depression), and more.

Even a mild elevation of blood sugar on a regular basis can be detrimental to your health.

Therefore, it only makes sense to avoid sugar as much as possible!

When you get in the habit of making yellow or Dijon mustard your bestie, you’ll avoid those sugar-laden condiments.

Mustard generally contains fewer than 1 gram of sugar per 2 tablespoons, so you can enjoy it with abandon!

TIP #6: DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR SUBSTITUTIONS. 

Some restaurants are very nit picky about this, but others are happy to accommodate!

If a salad usually comes with fried chicken, ask to sub grilled chicken, steak, fish, or even a burger patty.

If the burger comes with fries, consider subbing a side salad or a side of roasted veggies.

I meannn…

Now we’re REALLY cleaning up the usual burger order!

If you order a cheeseburger WITHOUT the bun, if you sub mustard for ketchup, and if you get a side salad instead of fries…you’re TRULY on the path to healthy eating success!

TIP #7: PLAN ON GETTING A COCKTAIL? ORDER ONE THAT’S SUGAR-FREE! 

Most specialty cocktails are loaded with sugary syrups (like agave), candied fruits, and juices, which translates to: they’re filled with sugar, sugar, and more sugar!

If you want to order a cocktail, keep it simple. Follow this formula:

YOUR SPIRIT OF CHOICE + SODA WATER + CITRUS

My favorite combo is tequila + soda + lime, but sometimes I’ll order vodka + soda + lemon (crazy, I know!). 

By skipping the restaurant’s fancy cocktails, you can avoid drinking 25+ grams of sugar in just one drink!

And if you already skipped the barbecue sauce and salad dressing, that means you could avoid upwards of 50 grams of sugar in just one meal!

TIP #8: WHEN ORDERING APPETIZERS, DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT THE SALADS + SIDES. 

Most of the appetizers on menus are breaded, fried, and/or bread-based.

Think about some of the most common apps: wings, nachos, fried calamari, cheesy fries, spring rolls, queso + chips, soft pretzels with cheese, mozzarella sticks…the list goes on!

When you scope out the salad and side dish sections of any menu, you’re likely to find healthier options.

Consider ordering a side of steamed veggies and a big salad for the table to share!

You may still decide to order the fried calamari and have some bites of that, but at least you’ll balance it out with some greens.

And now for the final tip…

#9: PREVIEW THE MENU ONLINE BEFORE YOU ARRIVE AT THE RESTAURANT. 

This is a great way to pinpoint the healthiest option ahead of time so that you don’t feel rushed when it comes time to order.

Here’s a glimpse into my “What should I order?” thought process:

  • First, I check to see if there’s a wild fish option. I’m always looking to boost my intake of omega-3 fatty acids; eating grilled fish topped with extra virgin olive oil is a great way to do that! 
  • If there’s not a tasty-looking fish option…does some other protein sound good?
  • Or, is there a dish that’s entirely vegetables? I always love to load up on those!
  • Which sides does the restaurant offer? Are any of them healthier than the ones offered with my entree choice? If so, I make a mental note to ask for a substitution.
  • Speaking of sides…are there any veggie options that’d be good to share for an appetizer?
  • Will my dish come with a sauce or dressing? If so, I make ANOTHER mental note to ask for olive oil—and possibly mustard!—so that I can conjure up my own concoction.

If previewing the menu isn’t an option, no worries! 

Right when you sit down, you can scan the menu to find the healthiest options. 

And there you have it! 

Healthy (ish!) eating OUTSIDE of your home IS possible! 

After a bit of practice, these 9 habits can become second nature, which means they’ll be easier to do consistently.

A NOTE ON CONSISTENCY…

And consistency DOES matter.

Let’s do some simple math (even though I’m not a mathematician!)…

Say you eat restaurant food—and takeout! Takeout counts too!!—a total of 10x/month (which could be a modest estimate!)

And say one of the full meals you USED to order—we’re talking appetizer, entree, cocktail, and dessert…the whole shebang—contained 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 50 grams of sugar (again, this is probably a modest estimate. In any traditional restaurant meal, you’re probably eating A LOT more vegetable oil and sugar than that!)

If you consistently follow the tips from this episode, you could avoid 40 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 500 grams of sugar each month.

That means over the course of a year, you’d avoid 480 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 6,000 grams of sugar!

That’s insane, right?

If you didn’t do ONE other thing to improve your health for an ENTIRE year and just followed these 9 tips when eating out at restaurants, you’d likely notice significant changes in your weight and health.

Small choices never seem significant, but they truly add up. Consistency pays off!

All of that being said, if ordering takeout and eating at restaurants is your MO—no matter how many tips & tricks you try, you’re still going to be at a disadvantage when it comes to optimizing your health.

Home is not just where the heart is…it’s where the healthiest food is!

That’s all for today! I’ll catch you next week on episode 4, the second episode in this series.

In episode 4, I’ll discuss practical tips for eating healthy (ish!) while traveling! You don’t want to miss it!


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