Your healthy-eating plan should make you energized and slim—not a hermit. But it’s all too easy to feel like you have to turn down delicious-sounding invitations to stay on the slimming straight and narrow.
Say yes to that next dinner date. We’re here to help you navigate the temptations of 12-ounce porterhouse steaks, fettuccini alfredos and bottomless bread baskets. There are smart—and easy—ways to keep your order in check without sacrificing flavor. Here’s how to eat slim when you’re dining out—without making a big deal about it.
If the menu is available online, scope out all the options and choose what you’ll eat before you even set foot in the restaurant. If you’re not sure what’s in a dish, you can side-step the awkwardness of asking the waiter in front of your dinner companions by calling in advance to ask. Bonus: Your waiter will also love how prepared you are! “When it’s your time to order, you won’t need to ask questions or stumble over the menu,” says Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, author of The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition
Eat a small healthy snack at home, like an apple or a cup of broth-based soup, so you won’t be famished and therefore more likely to nibble on appetizers or downgrade the nutrition of your order. “A protein-plus-carb snack beforehand, such as a handful of nuts or a small protein bar, will keep you from diving into the 500-calorie basket of chips,” says Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
It may not be the epitome of polite to jump in and order first, but it’s a slimming strategy. “If you wait to hear what everyone else is eating, you might be swayed to ‘follow along’ and order something you hadn’t intended,” Bowerman says.
Remember this one little rule about soups and salad dressings from Kathryn Bloxsom, RD and blogger at HaveFruitWillTravel.com when you’re trying to slim down at the restaurant: If it’s opaque, take a pass. “Opaque dressings tend to be mayonnaise-based and creamy, opaque soups are usually loaded with heavy cream,” she says. “These pack serious calories and fat in tiny packages.” Opt for vinaigrette or portion your own oil and vinegar. When it comes to soup, choose broth-based.
You already hold the mayo. You’re well on your way to perfecting your restaurant order, but you should also say no to any special sauces, which are often mayonnaise-based. “Use any type of mustard or vinegar instead, or try seafood cocktail sauce, ketchup, BBQ sauce and other lower calorie sauces,” says Hope Warshaw, RD, author of Eat Out, Eat Well
. Request sauces, dressings and even cheese, on the side so that you have complete control over how much goes on your plate—and onto your belly.
Good news for carnivores: Beef isn’t off the table. “Lean cuts of beef can be found on menus by looking for the keywords ‘choice’ or ‘select,’” Bloxsom says. “‘Round’ is also usually a leaner cut as well. No matter the protein—chicken or fish only has to be your standard order if you like it—what will determine the effects of your dinner on your waistline is the preparation. Grilled, steamed, or poached beat sautéed or smothered and, of course, deep-fried should be avoided.
If you’re looking for the most virtuous side on the menu, read no further than the steamed veggies. “They’ll fill up your plate and stomach without filling you out,” says Bloxsom. If you must have some form of potato, go for plain baked over mashed or French fries. Though white potatoes are extremely satiating, mashed versions are filled with butter and cream and fried, well, they just soak up oil.
Sipping beverages laden with sugar and alcohol is an all-too-easy way to stagnate weight loss. Water, seltzer, and unsweetened tea are your best picks. “If you’re having an alcoholic drink, know that a glass of wine or a bottle of beer has fewer calories than a shot of anything, Bowerman says. “And once you get into mixed drinks with sodas, fruit juices, etc., you’re looking at hundreds of calories.”
Before you ask: Yes, there should be leftovers. If you tend to pick at your plate and end up eating more than you should, ask for a box at the beginning of dinner so you can pack away half of your serving. This also helps you feel like you’ve really indulged, since—with half the portion stowed away— you’ll get to clear your plate.