5 Ways To Eat Clean When You Dine Out
Whenever I visit Houston, Texas, my first stop is FUEL Kitchen and Health Bar. Why? When I travel, I do my best to remain true to my nutritional philosophies regarding meals: keep them as natural as possible, keep them as healthful as possible, and keep them as close to 20% of the calories coming from fat as possible. FUEL helps me do this by providing pre-packaged, delicious meals designed by nutritionist Keith Klein.
Unfortunately for the health conscious frequent traveler, not every city in America is lucky enough to be armed with a FUEL. Instead, their choices are limited to the numerous fast food and sit-down chains that are in their area. The question becomes, then, “How do I make sure I’m eating as healthy as possible when I’m traveling and have to visit one of these establishments?” Here are five tips that may help you stay on track, even away from home.
1. SCAN & PLAN
Prior to hitting any particular restaurant, it’s always a good idea to plan your meal before you get there in order to assure yourself you’re making the most healthful choices possible. A majority of restaurants now publish their menus on-line, along with the nutritional facts for each of these meals. One fast food chain, for example, provides a “nutrition calculator.” This calculator allows you to choose foods from their menu and then add them to the calculator. The calculator will let you know how many calories you are consuming, along with specific protein, fat, and carbohydrate grams consumed. Definitely very convenient!
Other restaurants however, don’t make it quite so convenient. Therefore, it becomes necessary for you to act as your own advocate and do the calculations for yourself. Scan the menu for items you may be interested in ordering, then check out their nutrition information to make sure you’ve made a wise decision. This way, once you get to the restaurant, you can quickly rattle off the meal you’d like to order with confidence as opposed to ordering and hoping you’ve made a good choice.
2. SAUCE ON THE SIDE
Many restaurants are guilty of smothering their entrées with thick, cream-based sauces in order to add moisture and flavor to their items. One of my favorite Chinese eateries is definitely guilty of this. Problem is: I really do love the sauce that the dish is typically swimming in. Unfortunately, most sauces are loaded with fat, sugar, and sodium that can really do a number on the meal you once thought was healthy. The typical restaurant salad is also a victim of “dressing drowning.” Order a house salad with blue cheese? More than likely, you’ll end up wading through the dressing to find the lettuce!
To avoid this overload but still allow yourself the flavor of the sauce or dressing, simply ask for it on the side. This way, you can dip your food (or even your fork) lightly into the sauce and still get the flavor it provides without overdoing it. For example, I happen to think my husband makes the best Thousand Island dressing on the planet! However, I’ve also seen him prepare it, and the amount his waitresses dump on the salads would far exceed what I’d be comfortable consuming. So I opt to put some in a small ramekin. As I eat, I’ll lightly dab my fork tines into it, and then spear and eat my salad that way. I still get all of the flavor I love from the dressing, but by the time I’m finished eating my salad, I still have half a ramekin full of dressing! This means I’ve eaten far less in fat and calories I would have originally consumed if I’d let a server portion it for me.
3. MAKE SPECIAL REQUESTS
Have you ever ordered something that sounded perfectly healthy only to have it come to you doused in butter and oil and seasoned with so much salt you left the restaurant feeling like you just ate a salt-lick? This was my exact experience the first time I ordered my now favorite meal at my favorite restaurant.
The dish sounded perfect: “Boneless, marinated chicken breast with lemon, olive oil, garlic, and fresh rosemary grilled with fresh diced tomato and served with sautéed broccoli.” A winner, right? So I thought until it was served to me. The taste of the chicken and broccoli were completely overwhelmed by the overabundance of olive oil and salt and I simply couldn’t enjoy the meal. Fortunately, the waiter noticed I had hardly touched my dinner and asked if everything was ok. I explained my issue, and he returned my meal to the kitchen. It came back grilled very lightly in oil, no added salt, and my vegetables were steamed.
What did I learn from this experience? I learned it’s ok to ask for a dish to be prepared according to your specifications. I’m not suggesting you attempt to change the entire dish! If the fish of the day is salmon and you want sea bass, well, order something else. What I am saying is that it’s ok to ask the waiter to make small adjustments for you. Some of these adjustments could include cooking with light oil or, even better, no oil and just have the waiter bring some olive oil to the table. For foods that are already marinated, you could ask to make sure no additional salt is added to the dish. If the dish is smothered in a cheesy cream sauce, simply ask them to hold the sauce, or substitute it for a tomato-based one (if one is available). Does your entrée come with creamed spinach? See if you can get steamed vegetables instead. All of these slight adjustments can help keep your meals a little bit more in line with your healthy habits.
4. SEND IT BACK
So you made all of your special requests but when your meal is served, it’s nothing like you asked for. I went to lunch with my friend, Giselle, the other day and I clearly heard her say to the waitress, “Please, no cheese or sour cream and if you would, please put the red sauce on the side. That’d be great.” The waitress nodded and scribbled in her note pad, so we were pretty sure she’d heard the request. However, when her meal came out, the chicken burrito had sour cream and red sauce on top, and there was cheddar cheese spilling from the inside.
And here is where my advice comes in: if the meal you asked for doesn’t come back the way you requested, don’t be afraid to send it back! I’m amazed at how many people will still eat a dish they’re not satisfied with simply to “save an argument.” However, it may help to keep in mind that you are paying for that meal, so don’t you think you should get what you paid for? Also, you’re attempting to eat as well as you can while you travel, and if the only option you have to get a semi-healthy meal is by making special requests, then don’t you feel it’s important enough to have the food prepared the way you requested?
The truth is, most restaurants are very accommodating and will either offer to take your meal back for you (let them!), or they will acquiesce to your request and have the chef re-do your meal. In Giselle’s case, she very politely reminded the waitress again of how she’d asked for her meal prepared, it was returned to the kitchen, and a cleaner version of her original dish came back in its place.
5. SPECIAL DELIVERY!
Now here’s a real problem: what if where you are traveling to is very remote and really doesn’t have any viable options, especially if you’re a hard-core “clean eater” who absolutely needs to know the “how much?” (serving size) and “how is it prepared?” behind your foods? Don’t panic because you’re in luck! There are companies that will prep your food and deliver them to your hotel…nationwide! Both Icon Meals and Fuel Meals (not to be confused with FUEL Kitchen and Health Bar) allow the customer to choose either from their vast “signature meal” options or, the customer can choose to customize his meals by choosing the type and amount of protein, starch, and vegetable. (1,2)
On a recent trip to Vegas, my husband and I placed an order from Icon Meals. To cover the four days of the trip (we counted travel home as a day), we ordered a total of 24 meals. The afternoon of our arrival, our food was ready for us, delivered only a few hours earlier to the concierge in Styrofoam containers on dry ice. While we did try out a couple of the world famous restaurants in the evening with our friends, it was great to know that we had healthy and tasteful meals available to us throughout the day so that we could stay as close to “on schedule” as possible to our typical eating regimen. Also, the Icon meals were reasonably priced. This meant we saved a fortune in dining costs by not having to pay several times a day the ridiculous prices charged by the hotel’s numerous restaurants.
Whether traveling for work or for vacation, eating healthy on the road always poses a problem for the person trying to keep it healthy. Keep in mind that no one eats perfectly all of the time and traveling is one such situation that makes it harder to stay on course. Just do what you can by being your own advocate–understand how to make the best choices possible from what is available to you and you will fare well no matter where your travels may take you.
About the Author
Elizabeth Anastasopoulos, a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, spends significant time in the gym training her athletes. However, her time as a figure competitor in the OCB directed her passion towards nutrition and nutritional counseling. She is currently pursuing her Diploma in Comprehensive Nutrition, and she plans to continue her education by obtaining a certification in sports nutrition as well.
Her greatest joy, though, is her family. She is a proud wife, as well as the mother of an 18 year-old daughter and of 9-year old twins. As a family, they enjoy multiple outdoor activities and traveling to various destinations.
1) Icon Meals [Internet]. Available from: https://www.iconmeals.com
2) Fuel Meals [Internet]. Available from: https://fuelmeals.com