Ordering out is a landmine. Sometimes what you think is the healthy choice, turns out to be not-so-healthy. Remember that time I found out that salads were most definitely not the healthiest option to order? That “Safe” salad I was about to order had more than 1000 calories in it! What?!?! A salad is lettuce and veggies! Astounding.
So what happens when you get a craving and want to go to a restaurant? I usually crave sushi or Mexican food. Those are my go-to cuisines. Sushi is usually a safe bet because it’s healthy and I only need a little bit of it before I feel full. Mexican food is a little trickier.
Below I have some tips and suggestions on what to avoid, or consider, the next time you’re in a restaurant.
Chinese, Thai Food and Vietnamese Food
Chinese food is something I don’t eat often (maybe once a year if that) now that I know what a calorie is! Seeing the reality of the sauce-slathered food options and how many calories I was eating in them really turned me off.
I recently went out to dinner with my friend Robyn at an Asian cafe. They had Indian food, Japanese, Chinese and Thai options. One of the dishes we ordered was NOT a healthy choice–it was slathered with peanut sauce. But the “lightened up” dumplings and the hot and spicy broth I ordered were definitely healthy options.
So what can you order at a Chinese food restaurant? Your best best is steamed veggies that aren’t drowning in rich sauce. Steamed veggies with rice are healthy and relatively low in calories. You can ask them to give you some sauce on the side and dip the veggies into it –just don’t go overboard.
Learn to eat with chopsticks—they help you eat less and savor your food.
Soup is an easy choice. Most of the soups I’ve had at Chinese restaurants are broth-based and not cream-based. It’s delicious and fills you up, too. I love the hot and spicy soups they have! (Now I’m craving Won Ton Soup.)
Stir-fry vegetables are good. And don’t think you’re just going to eat veggies, you can get noodles or brown rice, too, just be mindful of serving sizes. Maybe have a little bit and save the rest for leftovers.
Seafood. Shrimp is super low in calories. I think it’s 9 pieces of shrimp for 100 calories. As long as it isn’t deep fried, it’s a good choice.
PHO. It’s vegetarian friendly, or you can get meat (of various types) in the soup. The serving sizes are usually pretty big and I’ve never been able to eat it all at once. The leftovers are just as good, too.
Avoid: anything fried, “crispy”, “battered” or “smothered” in sauce. Fried rice is tasty but so high in calories and carbs. While sweet and sour sauce is delectable, it’s also packed with sugar and calories. Ditch the deep-fried spring rolls, go with steamed dim sum.
Japanese Food and Sushi
Japanese food is kind of a general term and most of the Japanese food I eat is sushi. Most of my recommendations are sushi. But a lot of the same rules for Chinese food apply here–avoid sauces, get steamed veggies, etc.
Sashimi (no rice) and nigiri are good because it’ s less rice than the rolls and a big hunk of fish on top. Vegetable rolls are usually low in calories.
Your best bet: Edamame, cucumber salad, tossed salads, miso soup and seaweed salad.
Avoid: anything fried, “tempura,” pot stickers, anything with cream cheese in it (sadly, the Philly roll is my favorite!).
Mexican food is my favorite. Slathered with sour cream, cheese, spicy, crunchy, guacamole-covered goodness. Unfortunately, the diet can go so awry at a Mexican restaurant. You don’t have to deprive yourself, though, there are better options.
Choose bean burritos instead of cheese/beef ones. Ask for soft tacos—the crispy ones are deep fried (which didn’t occur to me until recently–duh!).
Enjoy tons of salsa—it’s mineral-rich and good for you, without the calories. Sour cream, cheese topping and large helpings of guacamole are all high in calories, which is why I love them I guess.
My favorite things to order are fish tacos. As long as they aren’t fried and dripping in sauces, they’re relatively low in calories.
Dishes with black beans in them will fill you up with the fiber. While black beans are very nutritious, refried beans are often cooked with fat.
Try a taco salad–as long as it’s not in a fried taco shell. Gazpacho soup, pozole soup or black bean soup is a good choice too.
Fajitas. Meat, vegetables, minimal “extras” = perfect Mexican dish while watching your waistline.
Avoid: The chip basket!!! So many empty (and tasty) calories. The crunchy taco shells are fried, so try soft tortillas instead. Other calorie-bombs are quesadillas and nachos.
I don’t eat a lot of Italian food because of the calories involved. When I do go I want the super amazing ravioli stuff with cheese and oozing in sauce, or thick lasagna with tons of cheese. None of the options *I* want are going to do me any favors on the scale. Thus, I avoid it. I know that Italian food is one of people’s favorites cuisines, so it’s not ideal for me to say “just skip it!”
I seem to like soup, right? Well minestrone is a great one! Super low in calories. Seafood is low in calories unless it’s fried or breaded. Same with chicken.
Marinara sauce isn’t too bad. It’s definitely a better option than Alfredo. Pick a pasta that is tossed with veggies, garlic and olive oil to save some calories.
I’ve seen healthier menu options on menus that include seafood (shrimp and pasta is good), steamed vegetables included, and a green salad is always a good start to a meal.
Avoid: the bread basket, creamy white sauces, anything fried (like mozzarella sticks).
What are your tips and tricks for eating out? Do you have a few “safe” things you order at restaurants?