When I was a kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, eating out was a special occasion. It usually meant we were celebrating a birthday, holiday or some other special event. I think this was normal for the time, but I also had a mom who thought her food was much better and definitely cheaper than what we could buy out. This is still debated today, since many of her “specialty” dishes can now be bought pre-made at Whole Foods or Costco. Yes, Mom…your food is waaaay better than Costco’s.
But I have a secret to tell you that may come as a surprise. Eating out is no longer a special occasion. When you eat out every day for lunch and pick up take-out dinner four or more times a week, eating out has probably lost its magic. Not only is it not a special occasion, it’s not even special…it’s just part of your everyday life. We now live in a time for many households where the home-cooked meal has become a special occasion.
Why does this matter? Well, there’s the obvious reason that restaurant food is often high in fat, calories, sodium and sometimes a host of other unwanted ingredients (take for example, this grilled chicken sandwich).
But the other reason this is important is the mindset we have about eating out. Like I mentioned, for most of us born before 1980, eating out was considered special. This imprinted in our minds that restaurants were for celebration, and the food we would eat in this environment was also something special. Perhaps a dish mom would never make, or a long, lingering meal that started with appetizers and ended with dessert. There was a certain “feeling” that eating out provoked and it was fun, social, celebratory and well…special. At least that’s how it was for me.
What I see with my clients is that they are still living in this reality today. When they eat out they immediately revert back to their childhood and go into “special occasion” mode. This usually results in ordering way too much of food that they would probably never make for themselves. But it’s not a special occasion…it’s just a Tuesday night. Which was very similar to what happened Monday night and probably Saturday night, as well.
There’s an underlying and much more long-term issue with this when looking at children. What do you get when you have a family that eats out almost every night for dinner? Well, you get kids who don’t know how to cook for themselves. You get kids who end up eating out for the rest of their lives because they never learned basic cooking skills; they never learned to appreciate/respect preparing food or cooking itself.
I spend a lot of time and effort encouraging people to eat at home more. I know that not everyone will listen. I understand the lure of eating out. It’s convenient. It’s easy. It’s comfort. But if you’re anything like my clients and would like to lose weight, maintain your weight, or just get healthy….you need to start thinking about what you’re doing when you step into a restaurant. You need a strategy.
Here are my best tips for eating out
Get your head in the right place. Remind yourself that this is not a special occasion…this is not a fancy restaurant…you are in a place you frequent often and probably know the menu by heart. You don’t need to share an appetizer, you don’t need a fancy drink (skip the Arnold Palmer and order water) and you certainly don’t need dessert.
Order “As If.” Order the same way you would as if you were at home. Do you put butter and sour cream on your potato at home? Do you fry anything in your kitchen? Do you eat a basket of bread before dinner? Do you eat 16 oz of steak in one sitting? Do you put that much cheese on your salad? Do you use that much dressing? I could go on and on…
Get Creative. Order in portion-controlled sizes like soup or have a side salad and an appetizer. Order sauces/dressing on the side. Get anything in a wrap or sandwich on a salad or in a bowl instead. Order double veggies and skip the starchy sides. Have one slice of pizza with a side salad. Go with seafood or shellfish. Share an entree.
Use The Plate Rule. Utilize the plate method when ordering. Make half your plate fresh veg or salad, and then leave the remaining quarters for lean protein and high fiber carbs. This will eliminate ordering one-note dishes like pasta or giving in to a burger and fries.
I also have some food principles that I share with my clients when eating out. For one, I mandate no cheese in restaurants. That means no cheese on salads, in omelets, on burgers, or in sauces. It’s simple and effective because it makes you think before you order and of course you will save hundreds of calories by not having it. Save the cheese for when you’re home and you can control the type and the portion.
Is eating out a special occasion in your house? How do you get creative in a restaurant when ordering? Do you eat out often and if so, how do you keep it healthy?