I'm going to tell you a secret. I don't eat out very much.
Okay, maybe that's not much of a secret. I used to eat out a lot. I gained weight, spent a lot of money, and had high blood pressure in my late 20s.
As a short, stocky, 40-something mother of two, I just don't have the metabolism (or the budget), for frequent eating out. All my eating out budget goes to daycare. Plus, have you ever tried to eat out at a restaurant with a toddler (age 1 to 4?) Miserable. Not fun. For anybody. They just want to run around.
But sometimes, you just gotta. You are on vacation, on business travel. You have to eat lunch with your coworkers for a going away lunch. You want to go on a date with your husband. How do you navigate?
Here's how I navigate:
salad, paleo, vegan, sandwich, smoothie, let loose
You have to balance your intake with "how much" you are eating out. If you are training for a marathon, you can probably let loose a lot.
But if you are the average American? Maybe not so much.
On the few times that I eat out, I try to be healthy, and I go through the list above.
1. Salad. I pick this most often. In Southern California, you can get a salad pretty much anywhere. And because people like salad, it's generally good salad - not just iceberg or plain lettuce. You can get main dish salads with protein, roasted vegetables, raw vegetables, beans...you name it. And the best thing is that you actually get vegetables. Now, you will always hear "beware the salad", and sure, if you are going to top it with croutons, ranch dressing, and lots of cheese, it can be a calorie bomb. But if you get the dressing on the side and fill it with produce, you are on the right track.
2. Paleo. A lot of times, your salad will also be paleo. I am not personally afraid of proteins on my salad. Chicken, shrimp, eggs, beef - protein keeps me fuller longer. But if you are at a place where you cannot get a decent salad - aim for something paleo. Let's face it - some restaurants avoid fresh vegetables. They are hard to store, go bad, and if you want them to last, you are buying them from somewhere that grows them for shelf life, not for taste. Longer-living vegetables like hard squash, broccoli, and carrots can be your friend. It is pretty easy to get a paleo meal at an American place (fish, steak, or chicken and a side of steamed vegetables), or a Chinese place (stir fry, hold the rice!)
3. Vegan. I don't know about you, but there is something about rice, meat, and cheese together that just make life so delicious - whether it be a burrito or pizza, it's hard to say no to. So that's why sometimes, you best option is something vegan. This may be a bean and rice and salsa burrito, a vegetable taco, a tofu stir-fry, or a bean-based salad.
4. Sandwich. Have you ever been rushing through an airport and desperate for something to take on the plane? Enter the humble sandwich. Even if you are eating at a restaurant, it can be a good bet. Keep it simple with two slices of bread, a protein, and some vegetables. I'm not going to tell you to leave off the cheese and mayo either. If you pile it with tomatoes, lettuce, and onion, you are at least getting some produce. But you have to leave it at the sandwich. Unless you have fruit or a simple green salad as a side dish option, skip the side. Mac salad, potato salad, or chips are not your friend here folks.
I also loosely define "hamburger" as a sandwich. If you are jonesing for a burger, by all means, have one. But just the burger. "Do you want fries with that?" The answer is no.
5. Smoothie. This may be a California phenomenon, but there are smoothie bars everywhere here where you can get a few servings of fruits in a meal for about 350 calories. Especially good on a hot day.
6. Let loose. Everyone has birthdays and anniversaries and special occasions. As long as your special occasions are once a month? Who cares, eat what you want. Once in awhile, you just want to have a beer, eat some pizza, and dunk your hot wings in blue cheese dressing.
So what did I do this weekend? We went out for breakfast. I got a sandwich (a bagel), I only ate half of it, and I saved the other half for later. My side dish? Fruit.