Dining Out & Eating Healthy: A Hard to Swallow Pill?
Updated: May 20
It’s the summer: potlucks with neighbors and meals cooked on the grill abound. Although I thoroughly enjoy a charcoal-cooked burger or some grilled veggies as much as the next person, there’s a common denominator here that has to be addressed - the fact that those two (DELICIOUS) foods require me to cook them. I staunchly believe you can love cooking and food and sometimes want a break from the former. With that in mind, I’ve got some simple, full-proof, and delicious ways for you to eat out and stick to your health goals this summer.
I could list some of my favorite restaurants and share what I typically order from them. That’d be easy enough, it’d be efficient, but it’d also be pretty dull. That said, it doesn’t matter what restaurant you’re heading into because the advice I will give works no matter where your taste buds take you.
Before we dive into what to order when dining out, let me lay out a couple of things to always avoid:
Bread and breaded foods
Sauces (and yes, this sadly includes most salad dressings)
Harmful oils (i.e., soybean oil, canola oil, the list goes on for days)
I recognize that the mention of “bad oils” might feel like it’s coming out of the left field, so I’ll elaborate on that point; oils, say, the soybean oil that almost every mayonnaise contains, is highly inflammatory and thus, one of the causes for bloating, blemishes, and other not-so-fun side effects. For that very reason, I make a point of opting for mustard instead of mayo when dining out because a) it’s plain awkward to ask your waiter what kind of oil is in the mayonnaise they serve, and b) it’s a condiment I’ve found tastes good on nearly everything! The hard truth is that the, I’ll admit, painfully delicious sauces served at restaurants are typically extremely high in inflammatory oils and sugar! That brings me to an important point: the oils I recommend you steer clear of aren’t the only seemingly ‘hidden’ harmful ingredients in restaurant food.
Take, for example, Buffalo Wild Wings’ Parmesan Sauce, a sauce not only available in their restaurants but also on Amazon and in Target and, thus, clearly in high demand: the recipe for the sauce calls for an obscene amount of corn syrup, sure, along with fresh basil, minced garlic, and other wholesome ingredients but I’m sorry to say that a couple of healthful components doesn’t cancel out the unhealthiness of the corn syrup.
Picture this: you’ve had a relaxing day with family and friends on the lake and are looking forward to wrapping up the evening with a tasty meal. You walk into, B-Dubs again, and order some wings with their signature garlic parmesan sauce with a side of vegetables and ranch dressing. Though this meal could be much worse, what appears to be a nutritious, clean meal on the surface is the opposite; as I mentioned before, the sauce your wings are slathered in is full of corn syrup, and the ranch is chock-full of soybean oil too. Way to make a depressing scene, no?
I'll illustrate this example so you can see how easy it is to dine out and think you’re adhering to your nutritional goals when you aren’t...and I’ve been there! The fact is that dining out can, in some ways, be a double-edged sword, for when you aren’t cooking, you don’t have control over what’s placed into your food. Nonetheless, all hope is NOT lost!
I know, I know. You’re likely thinking to yourself: what foods are left when the items listed above aren’t an option anyways? And will they even taste good?
By now, I’m sure you all already know the answer to that question: UMM, ABSOLUTELY!
Onto what I recommend you look for when dining out:
Unsweetened teas (I love ordering an iced one when it's a scorcher of a day), carbonated water, or just water with lemons or limes. If they've got a bar, they've got lemons and limes!
Burgers, sandwiches, etc., sans the bread (most restaurants will even offer to wrap your meal in lettuce instead).
MUSTARD, I (once more) cannot stress enough how amazing of a condiment this one is: no harmful oils are available everywhere.
Pro tip: Always look up the restaurant's menu you're heading to ahead of time because it makes knowing what to order so much easier and, yes, less stressful!
If you apply the simple, minor swaps I recommend, I have no doubts that this summer will be a relaxing, flavorful, and memorable one for you all. When in doubt, stick to the basics and focus on what matters: good food, good times, and good people!
Ah, foodies - to enjoy the warmth of a summer day without the grill's heat, causing you to glisten with sweat as you prepare your food. True bliss does exist!
Here's to health,
Contributor & Founder of The Wooden Spoon Healthy Eating Blog