6 Tips: Eat Well When Dining OUT

Part of the reason it's so great living in a bustling part of the country like the DC area is the abundance of interesting, fun, and different places to dine out. Besides, preparing meals at home and to pack for lunch is work that a lot of busy people can't find time to do consistently. Going out is an often more expensive but more convenient option, and many locals do it on the daily.

But eating out means kissing good nutrition goodbye, right? If it's a treat to go out and be served at a restaurant - or by a food truck - then we should treat ourselves and order the most luscious looking thing on the menu. Besides, how are you supposed to "eat healthy" at an Italian trattoria, a French bistro, a Chinese buffet, or a BBQ joint?

I'm here to tell you that it is more than possible.

Here are Jenn's Top 6 Tips for Eating Well When Dining Out - WHEREVER You Go:

1) Order water: H2O, that magical elixir of which all life is made and depends, should be an absolute on your table no matter what you're eating (or what else you're drinking). If you've forgotten just how important water is to your health and physique, take a look back HERE. In addition to helping you reach your daily hydration needs, a water glass that gets drained at least twice during your meal will help you feel satisfied and keep you from polishing off a plate that should really be taken home as leftovers. This brings me to Tip #1.5: if the occasion calls for a cocktail, drink a full glass of water at the table before taking your first sip of wine/beer/mojito, and endeavor to cap it at 1 drink for the meal.

2) Make protein the star of your plate: Lean eaters prioritize protein at every meal and snack. You don't have to be supping at a steakhouse to feature protein in your meal, however. Every kind of cuisine has delicious variations of cooking protein, like chicken, fish, beef, and tofu. The trick is to get enough of it at your meal and not have it dwarfed by noodles, wraps, and sandwich bread. Get at least a palm-sized piece of protein on your plate, or 4 golf-ball sized chunks. If you're a vegetarian, seek options that feature a protein-rich carbohydrate like quinoa or lentils. If you're not sure what the protein source in your meal is, chances are you should order something else.

3) Keep the carb portion small and singular: Sources of carbohydrates are myriad on a restaurant menu. In many dishes, the carb is the star of the show (think pizza, pasta, noodle stir-frys, risotto, pancakes, rice and beans). If the carb isn't the star of the dish, there are often several tempting starchy things surrounding the protein (think rice and naan bread at an Indian meal that may also feature potatoes...or think potato salad, cornbread and baked beans at a BBQ spot). "Street food", like knishes, empanadas, and pasties, wherein a flaky crust encloses whatever other food is inside, are notorious for being super "carby". To eat well while dining out, choose ONE carbohydrate element in your meal and have just one serving of it. A serving is, at maximum, about the size of your balled up fist. The average pasta entree at an Italian American restaurant has anywhere from 2 to 4 fists of pasta in it. Pasta makes a better side dish than entree.

[How many fists' worth do you think THIS is?]

4) Include a green vegetable: What to do with all the space on your plate vacated by the extra bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and tortillas? Fill it with veggies! If your salmon entree comes with a corn and bean salsa (your carb source) and spicy aioli (mayo-based sauce) but no veggie, order a small side salad as an accent, or ask for a side of their veggie of the day. Many Asian cuisines feature veggies either within a soup or a stir-fry or curry, but you'll notice that most Americanized sushi "rolls" do not. You're lucky to get a sliver of cucumber. Order some seaweed salad or steamed or sauteed veggies from the kitchen to accompany your sushi.

[This kind of "veggie" roll makes a nice complement to your sushi dinner]

5) Don't be shy about altering your plate: While many restaurant dishes are designed for flavor synchronicity, most chefs are happy to make substitutions when it comes to sauces and sides. Choose a dish that features a protein source you're excited about, make sure a green vegetable is in there somewhere (and doesn't take a microscope to see), keep the starchy carb to one serving (if the restaurant's bread bowl is THAT good, go ahead and have a slice but keep your entree to protein and veggies only), and enjoy. If you're cruising food trucks where the dishes are pretty much served as is, seek out a cuisine that features protein and veggies prominently, and preferably not hidden inside dough.

6) Dessert is not a foregone conclusion: Unless you're on a bad date and want to cut the evening short, chances are that the dessert menu is going to tempt you to linger longer at your table. Keep in mind that sugar lurks in a lot of savory sauces in main dishes and appetizers, so you may have already had quite a bit of sugar without knowing it. If others at your table really want dessert, order a decaf coffee or tea to enjoy and ask for a spoonful of your companion's treat. Ask your server to remove your spoon from the table at the next opportunity.

Feeling overwhelmed? If any of this seems beyond your scope, don't panic. It takes time to develop the skills for eating well intuitively, no matter where you are. Reach out to me for a Nutrition Consultation if you're looking to learn more and make some changes to your physique. Nutrition is key, but you happen to know some very good locksmiths at True Fitness and Nutrition.

Best wishes to all,