Five Restaurant Tips For People Who Love Food

Top Tips for Healthy Restaurant Choices

September 13, 2011   17 Comments

Snack Girl has a problem with "Restaurant Survival Guides". Ummm, when did a trip to a restaurant become a trial?

Is the next season of "Survivor" going to be filmed in an Applebee's? Recently, I saw a blog post entitled "Happy Hour Survival Guide" and I thought - when did happy hour become an hour to be endured and not enjoyed? sheeesh

We are not at war with restaurants. They can be wonderful venues where chefs create delicious food for our consumption - and we don't have to clean up after the meal!

There is one LARGE problem that has changed our relationship to restaurants. There has been a steady creep UP in portion sizes since the 1970's.

A study in 2006 revealed a typical restaurant meal has at least 60% more calories than the average meal at home (see Survey: Restaurants dishing out extra-large portions).

I don't actually need a study to tell me that the amount of food that gets served to me in many restaurants has changed. I just look down at the plates that arrive and say old fogey things like "When I was a kid, I woulda got served half this much!".

Which brings me back to the subject of kids menus (see Kid's Menus: Is This The Best We Can Do?). I criticized a local restaurant, Judie's, for their choices on their kids menus.

It turns out that the manager of Judie's, Brooke, lives around the corner from me. Instead of posting my frustration for the entire world to read, I coulda just knocked on her door! ooops.

She graciously met with me last week to discuss the kids menu and I learned a bunch about being a happy restaurant customer. Brooke said she likes talking with customers about how to make Judie's better.

Judie's openness is probably why it has been around for such a long time (and it always seemed packed).

After our meeting, I decided to put together a few of my own tips so that you can enjoy restaurants without fear:

  1. Avoid chain restaurants. Check out my previous post on this issue: Can You Get A Healthy Meal Here?
  2. Order the food that you actually want. For example, if fries come as a side ask if you can substitute a salad (if you don't want fries).
  3. Ask if 1/2 portions are available for the dish you want to order. At Judie's many of the items can be served in half portions and they will charge you 1/2 the price.
  4. Try to choose between a high calorie drink (such as soda, wine, beer) OR dessert. Drinks and desserts are empty calorie TREATS and indulging in both can torpedo your healthy intentions.
  5. Enjoy yourself.

That's right! Don't spend the whole time worrying about olive oil, butter, or sour cream. Life is too short for constantly assessing the calorie content of everything that crosses your lips.

With a couple of limits, you can still have a great time, be reasonably healthy, and enjoy food cooked by someone else.

Do you love restaurants? What are your tips for enjoying them?

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17 Comments:

Love these tips! So many people need to learn to follow them. I used to be such An unhealthy restaurant eater! I could eat well over 1000 calories and I didnt Even know it!

on September 13, 2011

In my journey of eating healthy, I've come to love real food: healthy ingredients prepared in creative and innovative ways. These restaurants tend to cost a little more, so it means instead of eating out a couple times a week I now only go out a couple times a month. I've also become stubborn when my friends want to go out: if they want to head to a chain or somewhere I know I won't enjoy a healthy meal, I'll politely decline (then invite them over to my house instead).

Love this post!

on September 13, 2011

Actually, one thing Judie's does that I love is their Small Meals (I might be getting the name wrong). They are the perfect size. Although I tend to offset it with a mojito (they make the best, minty-mojitos I've had), but there you go. Mint is a vegetable, anyway.

on September 13, 2011

This is a great post! It is hard to eat out and not go over caloric intake. These are great tips to follow! Also, if places are not as great as Judie's to do half portions and charge half price, ask that the other half be boxed up. Then you can eat the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. This is a great way to eat frugal as well!

on September 13, 2011

"Don't spend the whole time worrying about olive oil, butter, or sour cream. Life is too short for constantly assessing the calorie content of everything that crosses your lips."
Yes. This. Thank you. I do understand the importance of calorie counting for those who need to do so, but as someone who has done it, let me tell you that there is no greater way to suck the joy out of a meal than to make it nothing but numbers.

on September 13, 2011

As soon as I saw the picture of the restaurant I had nostalgia! I went to umass!! awww...

on September 13, 2011

I would never had thought to ask for 1/2 portions. I think that's a great idea, and will definitelty try to remember that the next time I dine out.

on September 13, 2011

The only benefit to going to chains is that many now have their nutrition facts posted online so you can make healthy choices before you even get there - sticking with that choice then becomes the hard part. I find that if I write it down in my Weight Watchers tracker before I go I am more likely to order it instead of changing my mind when I get there - it's like I've already committed to it.

on September 13, 2011

good post! i didn't know about being able to ask for half sizes, but to be honest, since my eyes are far larger than my stomach (and then i force my stomach to accommodate my eyes!) that there's very little chance of me actually ever asking for a half size...

but the good thing is, i almost never order drink or desert. I grew up in a chinese family and my dad's pretty darned stingy, so either we never eat out, or eating out means just getting the entree. No drink (water please!), no appetizer, and certainly no desert! Of course, modern day restaurant portion make up for that in plenty anyway! (although it does make me wonder at the people who do go in for a full 5 course meal involving, drink, appetizer, entry and desert. oh wait that's 4 item (three course) isn't it lol)

i think my number one "yay" about your tips is the "don't worry about calorie counting" bit. Eating out is a treat and should be taken as a treat. It's a social event, so enjoy yourself with your friends. You don't have to match them bite by bite, but certainly go for what you WANT to eat and not "what's the best deal for my money" or "what's the healthiest on this menu." The reason being that, if you're really craving fries, eventually you're going to end up eating it anyway, potentially late at night when you can't stop thinking about it.

plus i've heard of people saying that eating out with someone who's constantly going "i have to choose the healthiest" or "lowest caloried" and are super conscious of their weight right in front of the people they're eating with, those other people feel very uncomfortable/annoyed. They're there to enjoy spending time with you, not really to be your health monitoring doctor!

in any case, in my book health is all about moderation anyway. eating out once in a while isn't going to exacerbate your health as long as you are conscious of what you're eating (know how many calories or how much oil you're intaking, but don't let that dictate all that you eat), and balance your eating out with healthier choices when you're at home. :D

on September 13, 2011

FTI: I had lunch at a Ruby Tuesday chain restaurant recently with my brother who loves seafood (with lots of butter!) and my daughter who is on Weight Watchers (as I am). I planned to just have the salad bar, but much to my pleasant surprise, they have added "New Petite Plates" which contain smaller portions and list calories! I had the Grilled Salmon at 425 calores, but I didn't have the potatoes, only a steamed vegetable and the salad bar, so it may have turned out to be less. (I did mention to the waitress that I didn't want any butter added to anything.) My daughter had Spaghetti Squash Marinara (265 calories), which we have made at home, but I've never seen offered in a restaurant. She also had a nice salad from the salad bar. We were both completely satisfied with the amount of food. It was the best WW friendly meal that I have had anywhere so far in a chain restaurant, except for Panera where you can do well if you look up the nutrition information before you go and choose wisely. Even Outback Steakhouse has light items on their menu now, and you can request your vegetables steamed and ask them to eliminate any extra butter or toppings you don't want - I've managed to have a nice WW friendly meal there also. The waitresses in both places were very helpful and accommodating.

on September 13, 2011

I completely disagree with you on this! It is hard to go to restaurants and not eat to many calories. Plenty of dishes are a whole days worth of calories or more just by themselves. These "survival guides" are helpful in ordering more reasonable things. It surprises me that you would so blatantly trash another person's efforts to help those of us who want to eat out without the enormous amount of calories!

on September 13, 2011

All good points. I would have never thought to ask for half portions.

You are right though, and I've noticed it also for years. They bring you way too much food.

However, you could eat half your meal, and then take the other half home for the next day. Depending on the food type that is.

on September 13, 2011

Cheers to you for telling people to stop counting calories when enjoying a nice meal at a restaurant. I'm not talking about lunch at burger king, but dinner at a nice restaurant with family and or friends. Also, portions aren't bigger. People just pay more attention now. Take it from a restaurant guy(me), food costs waaay more now than in the past. We aren't going to serve bigger portions and take a loss. That is just dumb. Also, we hate special requests in kitchens(if you want to play chef, do it at home or open your own restaurant) but a salad instead of fries is fine. As long as you don't start making up your own special menu items we usually have no issue with it. My advise as someone who used to weigh 245lbs and now weighs 165 is have fun when you eat out. America doesn't have a weight problem from having a nice steak once or twice a month, if that. It's all the other stuff you eat in between these rare nice meals that makes you fat.

on September 13, 2011

Good tips on portions etc. But I disagree with #5. Most of the naturally thin people I know tolerate food. It's a necessity--blood sugar, nutrition, etc. They eat because it's functional. If the rest of us learned how NOT to "enjoy" eating but ate to live instead of recreationally we'd all be thinner and healthier... although I will confess to being one of the people who hasn't quite gotten the hang of being largely indifferent to flavor yet, which is why I carry an extra 10 pounds--but that's better than what I used to weigh!

on September 13, 2011

Sue- Actually studies of cultures where thinness prevails show they DO enjoy foods just as much, if not more, than us. (one example- The French Paradox). I have never met a person, thin or not, that doesn't at least enjoy food somewhat.

on September 14, 2011

Good tips except #4 - I would never tell anyone to choose Soda, even as a treat,the US & Australia (where I'm from) have big probs with Obesity - let me tell you soda is BAD!! You do NOT need it!!

on September 15, 2011

One of my worst habits when going out was that I used to think that if I didn't eat everything on my plate,I was being wasteful(thanks in part to being guilt tripped as a kid when I couldn't eat everything laid out in front of me)But at the same time,I can't blame that on what I do now as an adult. I nearly always either share what I have or have the rest for later. I know now that I don't have to be a member of the Clean Plate Club and that it is ok to leave a little bit behind. Luckily,I'm usually with someone that will take the leftovers off my hands.
A trick that I sometimes use when going out is I just order a few side items a la carte sometimes or get an appetizer and a veggie,fruit or salad with no butters or oils. I am also improving my my resistance to the bread basket and bowl of chips. I would have to say that was the dining out habit I had to break myself out of. Luckily I never got into dousing my bread with olive oil or butter. Another strategy is if know I'm having a big lunch/dinner out is to eat light but healthier uring the rest of the day.

on September 16, 2011


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