Beth is a CNA who works nights, with not one, not two, but three teenagers. She loves her job, but the only time she gets to see her family is at the dinner table — if one of the kids doesn’t have sports or band practice and if she can manage to get takeout on the table. Making dinner is just not possible most nights. They don’t eat out, but they eat restaurant food a lot.
Hank and Vivian have been married for fifty-two years. Vivian isn’t as mobile as she once was. Hank can cook canned soup, or — his speciality — frozen pizza, but most nights they go to their favorite restaurant because Camilla works there. Camilla is the bubbly waitress and Hank and Vivian are her favorites. They eat out a lot.
Jaden’s Mom is in the hospital. She fell in the nursing home and broke her hip. He works remotely so he’s the only one of his siblings that can stay with her. She’s pretty sharp, but has the beginning of dementia, so it’s calming for her if her son visits every day. Jaden enjoys cooking, but a hotel microwave and minifridge aren’t really an amateur chef’s best friend. So Jaden is eating out a lot more during this season of life.
There are as many unique reasons to eat out as there are people. For many of our caretakers and senior loved ones, eating out is just a way of life. For others, it’s a necessary part of a particular life season.
That doesn’t mean there are less healthy options. Making healthy choices will help support our immune systems during times of stress. Small choices add up. Here are 10 simple tips for choosing something a little healthier on a restaurant menu.
1. Order the Salad with Extra Protein
Most salads come with a protein topper like steak, chicken, or a boiled egg. Vegetables are fibrous, so they’re often digested faster than grains and leave us feeling hungry only a short time after eating. Order the salad with extra protein. You’ll feel full faster and stay full longer. If you’re really short on cash and time and a fast food side salad is your best option, order a salad with a bare hamburger or chicken patty on top. The employees might look at you a little funny, but they’re usually quite accommodating.
2. Ask for a Double Order of Vegetables
Most restaurants give you multiple options for sides. Fill up on those vegetables by choosing a double order of your favorite, or make your plate really colorful and choose more than one vegetable side. Another way to get in your daily fruit and vegetable quota is to swap out the unhealthy side for a side salad or steamed veggie.
3. Go For a Colorful Plate
It’s easy when you’re hungry and not paying attention to get a plate of food that’s completely colorless. From the fried chicken swimming in white gravy with mashed potatoes, to the rolls on the side — that’s a heart attack waiting to happen. Try adding some color to that plate. Sweet potatoes instead of white, carrots, sliced tomatoes or seasonal fruit, or a green of your choice can all add a vitamin and mineral boost to that plate. Studies have shown that the more colorful your plate is, the more variety of vitamins and minerals you’re getting and the healthier you’ll be in the long run.
4. Skip the Bread
Say no to the free pre-meal bread basket. Unless you regularly patronize a very expensive restaurant that is known for grinding its own whole grain with a mortar and pestle in the back :D, the extra empty carbs won’t be doing you any favors. If you don’t want to give bread up completely, use that side roll or sandwich as a treat meal.
5. Ask for the Dressing on the Side
Many restaurants send out their salads pre-soaked in dressing. It doesn’t look like a lot, but there’s way more dressing on that lettuce than meets the eye. Dressings are often loaded with sugar and oil. Ask if you can get it on the side so you are in control of how much of that is drizzled on your dish.
6. Order Water
Replace sugary sodas, iced teas, and alcohols with water. Especially if you eat out often, your body will thank you. If you really dislike just plain water, ask for a slice of lemon on the side.
Sometimes our bodies crave the sugar in drinks. If cutting back seems too much at this time, try cutting out one sugary drink a day and replacing it with a glass of water, then two, and then, when you feel ready, keep your sugary treat drinks to just the dinner hour. In time, your body will crave sugar less and water more.
7. Avoid fried foods
Fried foods are dangerously delicious. Studies have shown that regularly eating fried foods increases your chances of an early death. The oils in these foods build up in your system over time and, left unchecked, will clog pipes and secrete toxins that lead to a less healthy, happy life. If consumed at all, fried foods should be rare treats. Instead, opt for raw or steamed veggies and baked or grilled meat.
8. Skip dessert
Get into the mindset that dessert is a treat. Not the, “I survived Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday…” type of treat. It’s easy to fall into that trap when life is especially difficult because sometimes surviving the weekdays are an accomplishment. However, the extra sugar in any dessert is only a temporary balm for life’s ills. It will come back to haunt you later.
If cutting out dessert completely is not really something you’re ready to do at this time, try ordering a small serving of fruit, a coffee, or even a bowl of jello instead of a slice of pie or bowl of ice cream. Your body will thank you later.
9. Don’t wait until you’re “starving”
If at all possible, don’t wait until you feel like you’re starving to death to order food. This is the same as the old adage, “Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry.” You’ll end up with way more food at your place than you really need. Even though your subconscious is telling you that you need lots of food now, no one has starved to death by saying no to the pre-meal bread basket.
10. Slow down and enjoy
Modern life is fast-paced, stressful, and overwhelming at times. Take the time to slow down and savor every bite of food. Listen to the music playing on the speakers and the clink and chatter of those eating around you.
Put down your phone, or, if you’re alone, don’t check your email or your Twitter or Facebook. Take a deep breath in between bites. Whether it’s a crazy, colorful meal with family or friends, or a quiet moment by yourself, enjoy dinner as a brief, necessary pause in your day.
Adding dinner to the list of non stressful moments in your day will help keep that stress level at a minimum. Even if you do decide on cake for dessert, taking a moment to slow down in this fast-paced world is definitely a healthy choice.