There are days when eating six home-cooked meals just isn’t an option. But before you begin the celebration and declare a cheat day, we are here to tell you that it is possible to dine out and stay true to healthy nutrition principles. As long as you know what to order. For instance, a McDonald’s grilled chicken wrap, weighing in at 340 calories, is a perfectly suitable balance of protein and carbohydrates — as long as you hold back on the mayo. However, order a burger set meal and split it with your best friend, and its 2,638 calories still exceed the recommended daily intake in all categories.

So perplexing are the choices at restaurants that many athletes and fitness avid swear off eating out entirely, fearful of giving up control and blowing off their fitness regimen and programs. But inevitably, life demands the occasional outside lunch or dinner. Here, we take you through the dining-out experience in an effort to transform it into something you look forward to instead of dread. Once you learn how to navigate menus for healthy food choices, you can avoid gaining excess body fat and avoid reversing all the progress you have already made.


The Fight Against Body Fat

Before you enter a restaurant, you need to be aware of a few common traps. Restaurants usually serve customers who eat three meals a day and are expecting a treat. For someone following the nutrition principles of “a healthy body, a healthy life”, the food can look like a smorgasbord of past loves. Restaurants often base their menus on the taste of the food, not on the health aspects of the food. They want to please your palate and most of the time, things that please your palate are fatty and sugary.

A bigger issue on the fight against body fat is how much a restaurant serve customers. For example, the FDA recommends between four to eight ounces of meat per day, but it is next to impossible to find four to eight ounces of steak on a dinner menu. There is a tendency for larger portion now across restaurants. In industrial kitchens, half-inch pieces of meat can turn out dry and tasteless; however, one-and-a-half-inch slabs tend to be more moist and can be cooked to order. As a result, restaurants serve larger portions because they receive their steaks very thick, which allows them to stay moist after cooking.

But the problem with large portions is that people often concede to the “big plate” or “clear plate” syndrome. As children, many of us were told by our parents to clean our plates before we leave the table. As we grow older, the conditioning stayed put. Faced with the option of taking home a doggie bag and enduring the reproving glances from others at the table, many of us give in and finish the dish.

The key is to give up childhood habits that no longer serve us and instead do what we must to reach our goals. Do not be shy when asking the staff about portion sizes. Then, use what they tell you to plan the rest of your meal. Practice the “fist method” to measure portions, split entrées when appropriate and take extra food home to enjoy later. Always remember that restaurants are there to serve you, and not the other way around.


The Starter Course

When ordering appetizers, know what you are ordering for dinner first. If your entrée is an ala carte steak, then use the appetizer to get your healthy carbs and vegetables. If you are getting a pasta dish with no protein, order a protein dish to start. And no matter what type of restaurant you are eating in, choose foods that are nutritionally dense, but nor dense in calories, such as green and leafy vegetables.

Greens are basically like green water. Salad greens, broccoli, spinach salad — all these foods are fibrous, so they have a lot of bulk yet low in calories. They will fill you up and decrease the amount of food you take in the rest of the time you are there. Even the healthiest of salads can go awry with accoutrements — bacon bits, croutons and dressings. More often than not, restaurants use an industrial-size ladle to dish up salad dressing, which could add anywhere from 20 grams to 40 grams of fat. asking for salad dressing on the side allows you to control how much you use.

Soups are also a popular first-course, but beware. They can be deceivingly high in calories. Consommé or gazpacho soups usually have less fat than cream soups and soups topped with cheese. Bean and broth-based soups are also smart choices. Be aware that most soup is high in sodium, which can dehydrate your body, thus it is best to avoid them if you have high blood pressure.