Staying healthy when you're out with friends is easier than you think. A registered dietitian shared her go-to tips with Self!
Hey there, I'm Jessica Jones, a Registered Dietitian and cofounder of Food Heaven Made Easy, an online resource for delicious and nutritious living. I've counseled hundreds of patients throughout the years. One of the questions I'm most frequently asked about is how to enjoy a meal when out on the town, without falling off the health wagon. Many wonder . . . is it actually possible to attend happy hour with friends and not completely derail your healthy eating goals? My response is always a resounding, "Absolutch." This is how you do it.
- Offer to pick the restaurant. We all have those friends who will opt for a sports scene with greasy bar food when they choose the venue for your night out. You go and are disappointed to find that the only option on the menu that is less than 2000 calories is lemon water. Not fun. In these situations, you have to take matters into your own hands. Offer to be helpful and research a restaurant in advance. Try to find someplace healthy yet delicious with options that everyone can be happy about. One of my favorite restaurants these days is Seasons 52. (Have you been?) They have a ton of fresh and local plant-based entrees, and list all of the calories right there on the menu. Most meals are under 500 cals a pop and are finger lickin' good.
- And scout menus in advance. So maybe you can't take matters into your own hands by choosing the restaurant for the night. In these situations, your best bet is to do some research. When you find out where you'll be heading, check out a menu online to get a sense of what you're working with. This helps ease anxiety because most of the time, you'll find that there actually is something healthful you can chow on. If there isn't a menu online, call ahead and ask the staff if they have any plant-based solutions. If you don't see any options, don't be afraid to ask them to whip up something special just for you. I recently went to Mexico and ended up at a restaurant that wasn't serving anything but meat and buttery carbs. I kindly asked the waiter if it was possible to sauté whatever veggies they had in the fridge to give my seared trout some life. They did and it was great (photo proof above.)
- Go ahead and have a taste. Maybe you opt for a grilled salmon and kale Caesar salad with the dressing on the side, but your friend wants to go HAM on fettuccine with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, and French fries. Having a cute little taste of a calorie-rich meal never hurt anybody. Go ahead and have a bite—if you are inclined—but try to leave it at that. Studies suggest that we get the same satisfaction from one small portion as we would from a whole plate.
- And try to stick to water. When you're trying to keep it healthy while eating out, water is your BFF. A milkshake, soda, or juice can quickly add up in calories and sugar. I always say it's better to eat your calories vs. drinking them—unless we're talking about a balanced green smoothie or a bowl of vegetable rich soup. Then, by all means, drink away. Sometimes restaurants may even have herb-infused "spa" waters to make the agua feel a little more special. Whatever the case may be, try to keep those drinks as close to H20 as you can.
- But know that red wine is your friend. You don't even have to say it. I already know. Water is great, but a night out with friends will most likely will include a glass of bubbly or two. Right? In this case, try to choose drinks that contain less calories and sugar or fresh blended fruit and vegetables as part of the base. For example, using club soda as the mixer can significantly cut down on calories and help you stay hydrated while getting your sip on. Red wine is also a great option. Steer clear of creamy milk-based alcoholic drinks (hello, Mudslide). We have this "Healthy Tips for Drinking" video if you want a more comprehensive guideline.
- And sides are too. Vegetable-based sides are a healthy eater's goldmine. It's always a good idea to see if the menu includes healthy veggie sides like sautéed broccoli or grilled asparagus. These can help you boost the nutrient profile of your plate and significantly cut down on the calories. Some restaurants will even let you order a set of three plant-based sides as your "meal." An example of three sides I would go for are a non-starchy vegetable (for vitamins), beans (for protein), and a starchy vegetable (for carbohydrates).
- You can always split dessert (and the fries). Chocolate molten cake, crème brulee, vanilla bean ice cream . . . need I say more? We all want to enjoy a delicious treat when we go out to eat, and we should. My only recommendation is to split one or two desserts amongst the table, especially if the portions are redonkulous (redonkulous = more absurd than ridiculous). Fries are another example of a special treat when going out. These can also be split amongst all parties involved.
- But most of all, have fun! Regardless of the menu and what you choose to order and/or eat, fun should be had. While eating healthy is great, there will always be some things out of your control. Remember that if you do go a little overboard at dinner, you can always take your workout up a notch the next day to balance it out.
For more tips and tricks for nutritious living from Jessica, check out her website, Food Heaven Made Easy.
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