A Clean Eating Guide to Dining Out
One of the most common questions I get is “Can I still go to restaurants while eating clean?” or “How do I eat clean when dining out?”
My quick answer to both questions is – Yes, you can still eat clean at restaurants. The main trick is to prepare ahead and ask questions. Even while you’re dining out and ordering your meal, you still have some semblance of control over what you eat. Sure, it’s not as much control as to when you’re making your own meals, but you are allowed to make changes and ask questions.
Eating clean doesn’t mean you never enjoy your meals. In fact, the goal is to enjoy food that much more. You can still have the occasional treat or indulgence. And you can still go out to eat with your friends or family.
But there is a better way to eat out, a way to have the healthiest experience possible!
Here are Eight Simple Ways to Eating Clean While Dining Out:
🍽️ PREPARE AHEAD
Avoid making poor decisions by planning your meal. Many of the tips on this list can also be done if you plan and know what you’re walking into by checking the menu, finding the healthiest choices with protein and vegetables, and researching the nutritional information.
If you know what to ask in advance, it will make it much easier to ask the waiter questions. With the waiter standing by your table, waiting for your order, it can be easy to panic and make a choice without much information, so try to have as much knowledge of the menu and restaurant as you can. Look for the healthiest options on the menu that are high in protein, fiber, and nutrients but low in simple carbs, sugar, and sodium.
Also, prepare by not going starving. By this, I mean don’t restrict yourself of food all day because eating out while “starving” and ravenous will be a significant trigger to order more food, unhealthy food, and heavy food. Try having a small snack or protein shake about an hour before you go or eat lighter meals consistently throughout the day.
🍽️ BE AWARE OF KEYWORDS
A few keywords on every menu will be a giveaway for what to avoid and what to enjoy.
Most likely, you’ll want to avoid (or alter) meals that have the words “pan-friend,” “crispy,” “dipped,” “scalloped,” “breaded,” “Cream,” “alfredo,” “fried,” “smothered,” and “rich and creamy.”
Similarly, meals including the words “grilled,” “broiled,” or “steamed” will most often be your healthier options. These are cooked with less oils and (most likely) less sodium. You will also want to look for dishes made with whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, barley, or oats.
I am a huge fan of protein, specifically clean animal protein sources, because these are the most effective way to eliminate cravings and lose weight. Eating meat will help you feel full and satisfied without filling up on empty carbs, like pasta or bread rolls.
If you’re ordering animal protein, try to choose the leaner cuts of meat, such as flank steak, tenderloin, and sirloin. However, chicken and fish are going to be your best and safest options for protein when eating out (both of which are low-fat but high-protein).
My favorite way to order fish and chicken is grilled, but you can also enjoy them steamed, blackened, baked, broiled, or sautéed.
🍽️ CHOOSE WATER
If you’re going to order a beverage in addition to your water, make sure it’s not a sugary drink filled with empty calories and processed flavors. Avoid all sodas, margaritas, piña coladas, and other exotic mixed drinks. Instead, try getting a glass of red white, a light beer, or a simple martini. But, always make sure to drink one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage. This will help prevent hangovers and dehydration.
🍽️ SLOW DOWN AND HALF IT UP
Splitting your meal in half is a common suggestion for eating out because it really does work! When you order, ask for half the meal to be boxed up immediately. Or, ask for a to-go box so you can put half the meal away before you start eating.
Many restaurants, especially in the US, will serve two or three times what you need for a typical meal. Do you know that stuffed feeling after a large meal that is sometimes painful? We are trying to avoid that by splitting your meal in half. This will also save you money by making this into two meals, rather than just one!
Another way to save money and avoid overeating is to go slowly. It can take your brain about 20 minutes to get an “I’m full” message from your stomach. By eating quickly, you’re not giving your brain time to decide you’re full and shouldn’t eat anymore. This is a good reminder to focus on your company and the conversation while taking time to taste and savor your meal as a bonus.
🍽️ SAUCE AND SODIUM
Don’t underestimate the difference sauce can make on your meal. Yes, it adds incredible flavor, but it can also add unnecessary fat, sodium, and calories.
Look for “light” sauces or dressings and be sure to choose fewer foods with sodium-high sauces such as soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Ask to get the sauce, condiments, and dressings on the side so you can choose how much you truly need. I like to lightly dip my fork in the dressing before taking a big bite of salad. I’ll use way less dressing this way (compared to just dumping it all on) and still fully enjoy all the flavors.
🍽️ ASK ABOUT OIL AND PREPARATION
Wherever you eat, oils are a huge touchpoint and are often overlooked while trying to make healthier choices. Many restaurants will automatically cook food in inflammatory oils or extra butter to heighten flavor.
Instead, ask for things to be grilled or steamed without oil. Or, ask the chef to use olive oil or fresh lemon as the dressing. And try to stay away from canola and vegetable oils. In my humble opinion, it’s better to cook something in a touch of real butter than fake oils.
Remember, you have the right to know what you’re eating! So, feel free to ask lots of questions about the oils the kitchen uses while cooking and preparing the food.
🍽️ DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK
The most important thing to remember when dining out is that you are allowed to ask! Whatever the question is, you have permission to ask the question or ask for what you want. Knowing how your food is prepared, what sauces are used, etc. can be the difference of hundreds of calories and tons of unnecessary fat and sodium.
This is the food you’re putting in your body, so don’t be afraid to ask questions or make changes! I know it can be uncomfortable, but it’s your responsibility to know what you’re eating, and the more you ask, the easier it will be, I promise. Who knows, you may even inspire someone else to more thoughtfully consider what ingredients they are adding to foods.
Some changes you may want to make are how the food is prepared (grilled, rather than fried), what oil is used (olive oil rather than canola oil), and what the side is (salad, or steamed veggies not fries!) You can also ask for no bread if you’re getting a sandwich and double the vegetables. Most restaurants will give you a garnish of vegetables, so ask them to double the serving (the odds are, you won’t be charged for this, but you can ask to be sure) so your body is getting more nutrients and you feel satisfied with your portions. Also, be sure to request that your veggies aren’t cooked in lots of butter or canola oil.
Many places will have the option of ordering “off-menu” as well. You can ask what vegetarian dishes are available or if the chef can prepare grilled chicken and steamed veggies, even if it’s not on the menu.
The bottom line is, you can still eat healthy and clean when dining out!
You don’t need to swear off restaurants or grabbing a meal at your favorite restaurant with your friends, I promise. With a few questions, savvy substitutes, and preparations, you can fully enjoy the meal and trust you’re still sticking to your clean eating journey!
Allow yourself to have a good time eating out with your friends or family! Enjoy the food you’re eating with the knowledge that your body will thank you for the nutrients and likely less stomach aches. Your body is your own, and you have permission to feed it the best food available.
Have fun, CRUSHers! And feel free to drop some of YOUR best tips for dining out below in the comments. 👇👇👇👇👇🙏