Ordering Healthy Food at Restaurants

During college, I gained about 50 pounds. I went from being very active in sports in high school to leading a college lifestyle of little exercise, staying out late and eating fast food. At one point, I had clothes in my closet that ranged from a size four to a size fourteen. I put on the weight within just two years. I was fed up with the person I saw in the mirror and knew something had to change. I was never the dieting type and the few times I had attempted a diet, I always felt too hungry and quickly gave up. I decided to make a lifestyle change. I decided to kick the fast food habit and get back in the gym. Initially, I avoided going out to eat and drinking alcohol.

I started cooking more meals at home, by baking and using my grill. The weight started slowly coming off. I believe it’s due to the fact that I wasn’t cooking with butter, creams, etc. I started grilling my food using low sugar marinades and salt free seasonings. Not only did my cooking taste great, it was healthy. I learned that I should eat a meal every three hours consisting of a lean protein, complex carbohydrate and vegetable.

Once I hired my nutritionist, I learned the importance of cooking in bulk so that my meals are prepared and I’m not tempted to get fast food. You can cook all your meals and take your cooler wherever you go. It’s true. I do it every day. However, there will come a point in time when you go out to eat with friends or family for a special occasion. There are times when I get sick of my cooking and I just want to show up and let someone else do it for me. That is normal. Instead of making bad restaurant decisions like I did in my past, I have researched and found restaurants in my area that have healthy items on their menu or will cook to my liking.

It’s always a smart idea to research your restaurant ahead of time. Most restaurants have a website and list their menu online. Don’t be afraid to order something that is not on the menu. I have been known to order a grilled or steamed dish with no butter and no oil. That doesn’t make you picky, it means you are in control of your health. Knowing HOW to order is important to ensure your success with your weight loss goals.

Along my weight loss journey, I’ve learned some important tips that helped me order healthy when going out to eat.

Mexican Food:

If I go out to eat Mexican food, I skip the chips and salsa. My husband loves that part of the meal, so he orders baked chips. Most restaurants will accommodate your requests and this will allow you to make “better bad choices.” As a meal, I stick with shrimp tacos with corn tortillas. When ordering, keep in mind that your body needs a protein and a complex carbohydrate at each meal. Shrimp is a great source of protein and corn tortillas serve as the complex carb. These dishes usually come with rice and beans, which are also carbs. Be aware of how much you are eating and try to avoid over eating in order to keep from storing extra fat. I usually add a tiny bit of beans on my tacos and skip the rice.

Again, when ordering my meal, I make sure to ask the waiter or waitress to have the chef cook my food without BUTTER OR OIL. If your dish comes out sizzling, it has been cooked with butter and/or oil. This adds extra fat to the meal. I typically eat two shrimp tacos and feel satisfied after my meal. You want to avoid feeling too full.

Chinese Food:

When I want Chinese food, I go to P.F. Changs. I just love the atmosphere there. I order the Buddha’s Feast with all of my food steamed. The meal comes with steamed shrimp, tofu and vegetables. I also order steamed brown rice as my complex carbohydrate. Once you get into the habit of thinking about what your body needs as fuel, you will get away from thinking of food as entertainment. This is a realization that has really helped me along my weight loss journey.

Again, don’t be afraid to order something that isn’t on the menu. Most restaurants will grill chicken, seafood and other meats to your liking. Steamed or grilled vegetables are always a healthy choice as well.

Steak House:

If you go out to a steak house, a great choice is ordering grilled chicken breast, a plain baked sweet potato and grilled vegetables.

Italian Food:

It has been tough for me to order at Italian restaurants because I love bread and cheese, however, you can ask for whole wheat pasta instead of white. If you have the choice of dark or white sauce, go with the dark and ask them to put it on the side. Most sauces are loaded with sodium and by putting it on the side, you have control over how much you use. Check the menu or ask your waiter for any dishes made with turkey versus beef. Another option is to make a clean version of lasagna at your own home. Simply substitute low fat cheese and cottage cheese in your ingredients.

Salad Bars:

A new trend in my city is the opening of salad bars. There is one in my area called Salata. I love the concept because you can order a bowl full of lettuce and load it down with healthy toppings. For example, choose your protein first. I typically order grilled shrimp or chicken. I also choose two pieces of whole wheat bread as my carb, even a slice of avocado as a healthy fat. Then, load your salad down with extras: carrots, mushrooms, cucumbers, sliced egg, etc. I choose a fat free dressing on the side. I skip the croutons and soup for safe measure.

Cooking at home:

My husband and I have a habit of recreating dishes we try in restaurants. If we try something that is delicious, we look up the recipe online and make our own clean version with fat free or low fat ingredients. This saves us money and weight gain. It allows us to make an entire dish to last us several meals versus spending the money at a restaurant for only one meal.

Here is a list of foods that we typically eat each week. I hope this helps you plan your healthy meals or give you an idea of healthy options to order when out at a restaurant.

Choose a lean protein, complex carbohydrate and vegetable at each meal.

Extra lean turkey, extra lean beef, egg whites, tilapia, mahi, shrimp, fat free cottage cheese, greek yogurt, tofu, chicken.

Complex carbohydrate:
Oatmeal, grits, brown rice, whole wheat bread, corn or wheat tortillas, edamame, rice cakes, potato, yam, quinoa.

Asparagus, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, squash, spinach, cucumbers, lettuce (salad), etc.

I hope these tips help you out so you can enjoy time with friends and family while sticking with your weight loss and fitness goals.

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About the Author
Team Labrada athlete and spokesmodel, Kelsey Byers, is the author of Eat Clean and Follow Your Dreams, available on Amazon.com. She has a fifty pound weight-loss success story and inspires thousands of people daily through social networking. She prides herself in offering helpful tips on nutrition and exercise to help others make healthy lifestyle changes, just as she’s done. Kelsey is a nationally qualified NPC bikini competitor and internationally published fitness model.

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