Kezia over at The Whole Food Diary is one of my best friends, and we’ve been doing this health journey together for the last 8 years. We met at school and immediately hit it off. Basically, all of our conversations center around health and food. We inspire each other and bounce new ideas off one another. I asked her to guest post for me. She is absolutely amazing at eating out and still keeping it healthy. She has priceless tips for those of us that still want to enjoy the occasional meal out but don’t want to sacrifice our health to do so. Also, I highly recommend following her Instagram account. Her pictures are very inspiring! @thewholefooddiary

By Kezia at The Whole Food Diary

In a perfect world, every time we found ourselves eating out it would be because we’d found a place that prepared food with the same values we have at home. Well sourced local and organic food, changing with the seasons, cooking pastured meats, fairly traded ingredients, and raw dairy. However, the nature of life, of being sociable and travelling, is that you find yourself in places that don’t necessarily have the same values as you. So how do we navigate the restaurant scene, adapt, and stay healthy on the road while still enjoying food?

For each person, finding your best options will look different. Depending on who you are, where you are, and why you are eating out, your choices will change. For example, I do sometimes make small chosen concessions for an experience in a moment, and while I’m not afraid to be different and sometimes appear boring, I do think we should be prepared to have an element of flexibility for the sake of relationships and respect!

How you make choices is also going to depend on whether you are finding a restaurant while on vacation and wanting to indulge a little, or on the third work trip of the month while taking little exercise. Lots of factors are going to affect how and where we choose to eat but for me these 10 thoughts below help me choose my plate regardless of where and why and I’m eating out.

10 Tips for Eating Out

1 | Research! Before you arrive somewhere, delve into the restaurant options! Sometimes the best places are hidden! Do a search for ‘organic restaurants’, or get on an Instagram hashtag like #paleoaustin or #austineats, or ask friends who live in the area. Sometimes the best hidden gems are not the ones with big signs! If the restaurant has been chosen for you, you can still sometimes benefit from a little research. I will always do some digging on a new place. I’m looking for things like what their values are. For example, do they try to find local organic food? Where does their meat come from? Those are things that can avoid excess questions when I arrive but will definitely guide my ordering! Often a menu will say beef from ‘such and such a ranch’, and while it sounds great and ‘farm to table’ like, I’ll always research that online and see if it actually means anything in terms of quality. Then before ordering look over, and then beyond the whole menu and take your time to find the right option. Be sensitive asking for options, but don’t be afraid to do it politely.

2 | Think unprocessed. What plates have had the least done to them? Usually I’ll be looking at the salad section but it might also be simple fish or cooked veggies, or a soup dish. I’m trying to find the food with the lowest potential for having been cooked in bad oils, frozen, prepared with additives or sugars, etc. Sidenote here: Don’t be fooled by ‘gluten free’ or ‘light’ menus as healthy options. Look for the real food, that is still as close to how nature made it as possible. 

3 | Ask for the dressing (or sauce) on the side. I often ask for simple balsamic vinegar or lemon juice instead of dressing altogether. Dressings can carry a whole host of hidden ingredients, and calories (which I don’t count but I do stay aware of) and even when they’re perfect, sometimes the amount is just overdone so by having it on the side I can choose if, and how much, I use.

4 | Ask to leave off the meat or dairy. One of my ‘non negotiables’ in eating is organic meat and dairy. Unless I know that beef is organic and grass fed, fish is wild, and dairy is raw (or at least organic) I’m not going to eat it. That’s a personal conviction (having worked in the meat industry!!) and I know it’s more extreme than what most would choose but to me, it matters more than my meal. A note on protein: The need for protein often governs people’s choices but sometimes it’s ok to let a balanced diet go a little. For a meal or two. We don’t eat out much, so when we do, it’s ok for me to have a meal without much protein. I would rather have a healthier, cleaner meal and make up my protein later, than eat something less healthy or meat that’s not raised well just to hit a number of grams of protein in a day. My body will manage. 

5 | Ask for a dish un-fried or un-breaded: You can sometimes really open up your options by seeing if the chef can cook something on the menu by grilling instead of frying, or without using the breading. Breading is usually going to be white refined grains, maybe sugar and additives, extra salt and who knows what cooking oil. So keep it clean and simple. There’s a taco shop we love where I get a fried avocado taco, but unfried, so that instead of batter, and questionable oils, I get good raw healthy avocados. (I also ask for it in a bowl instead of a corn taco shell.) Fish also often comes breaded and in a good restaurant it’s usually possible to ask for it un-breaded, and most things that are fried could be grilled instead so always ask about options!

6 | “Can you add any other veggies to that?” Bump up the nutritional value of your meal by seeing if you can add in an extra portion of vegetables somewhere. This might look like ordering a side of steamed veggies, pimping up a salad or breakfast omelet, or adding an extra portion of vegetables to a pizza. Take a look over the menu and see what they have. I will often ask to sort of combine two of the salads, to leave off the meat and cheese, but double up on the vegetable options! Or I’ll order a vegetable omelet with ‘double veggies’. This way I get all the fuel I need without being tempted to top off with a slice of bread, or the extra fries that someone pushes to the centre of the table!

7 | Keep snacks in my purse. When I’m at home I try not to snack, but because it serves me well and helps me make good choices, I keep healthy snacks with me on the road. Being armed with options means I’m not searching on a menu for something to make me feel full but rather something to eat with people and enjoy without compromising the quality of what I put in my body. If I’m still hungry, I can add a snack in later. If I know I’m going to a place with less than great menu options, I’ll even eat a small snack before so that I don’t go in hungry and can make better choices with the menu.

8 | Don’t eat mindlessly. When we’re away from our norm it’s easy to be mindless about eating. Without thinking, we’ve delved for bread before the meal, an extra latte, and we’ve said ‘sure I’ll have a pastry/ice cream/etc’. To keep it clean on the road, choose your food.  Work out what’s worth it. If you can pause for just 5 seconds before eating/drinking/ordering you’ll make a few different choices. I ask myself, ‘Am I really hungry?’ If I’m not, then ‘Is it worth it for the experience?’ ‘Am I going to be glad I ate this in an hour/tomorrow morning/when I get home from the trip?’ Once I establish that I really actually am mindfully choosing food, I then enjoy it wholeheartedly. And food tastes so much better when you think about it, and know you won’t regret it afterwards! If you want to indulge, it’s ok, just make sure you really choose it.

9 | Put a hold on dessert… until you’re home. Unless you hit a real winner of a spot, dessert is likely to be filled with refined sugars and flours that do you no service and may have immediate gratification yes, but no more. I have a sweet tooth though and when everyone around the table is tucking in it’s sometimes hard to say no! So I don’t say no. Or not exactly. Instead I tell myself, ‘not yet’ and I make sure I always have extra dark chocolate with me when I travel. That way as I sit at the table and people are ordering dessert around me, I tell myself I can go home and eat half a bar of good quality dark chocolate if I want. Suddenly all the sugar laden dessert doesn’t appeal in the same way. I might order a black coffee, or herbal tea so I can enjoy something and then I just remind myself how I would feel after eating dessert and also that by waiting just till we leave the restaurant, I can have my cake and eat it too in the form of quality dark chocolate that I won’t feel in my system, and won’t regret. An all round win.

10 | Don’t feel the need to clean the plate** Statistically, people eat more when they eat out, and eat with others, but at the same time, eat a significant percentage less if they ask for a to go box at the start of the meal. So, if you know a dish is going to be more than will just fill you nicely, ask for a to go box before you tuck in. Alternatively, split a dish, or ask for a half entree. Then eat until you feel satisfied, not until you’re stuffed. There’s no quicker way to ruin a good experience for you and your party than to comment on the way up from the table about how you overdid it, indicating there is already regret surrounding the experience!  A note: This is cultural. Growing up it was bad manners to leave food on the plate and we were taught to politely and gratefully finish what we were served. However more and more, and in different parts of the world it seems acceptable to leave food on your plate. I still can’t do it at someone’s house, but at a restaurant I’m happy to. *

(**to avoid waste I try to have the restaurant leave off anything I know I won’t eat rather than leaving it.)

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