Mastering the Menu: The Dos and Don’ts of Dining Out This Holiday Season

Mastering the Menu: The Dos and Don’ts of Dining Out This Holiday Season

With the holidays on the horizon, we will all be eating out more than usual, which can mean thousands of extra calories consumed. The Calorie Control Council reports the average holiday dinner can ring in at 3,000 calories. But dining out doesn't have to mean ditching your diet -- you can have your cake and eat it, too. How best to master the menu? Follow these easy dining dos and don’ts at your favorite restaurants this holiday season.

Ask Questions and Make Requests: Remember you are the customer and the customer is always right. Inquire about specific ingredients and cooking methods, request that your server ask the kitchen to go light on the sauce or dressing, and even politely ask for no bread or chips as appetizers. Never be afraid to speak up!

Start the Meal off Right: Make smart choices from the start whether that’s skipping appetizers altogether or choosing vegetable-based dishes. Garden salads, (non-fried) spring rolls, soups, and tuna tartare are good choices. Be careful not to fill up on this first course if you’ve also ordered an entrée. On the other hand, a few healthy appetizers, or a salad and an appetizer, can constitute a healthy, hearty meal that cuts back on hefty calories commonly found in entrees.

Choose Good For You Greens: Going veggie doesn’t only apply to appetizers. Selecting grilled or sautéed vegetables over carb-heavy sides like potatoes or rice will give you more nutrients and fewer fats and calories.That being said, don’t let a salad fool you –avoid salads full of cheese and bacon, like Caesar or Cobb, and rich dressings.

Manage Portion Sizes: Whether this means ordering a half-size entrée, selecting the a la carte option, or opting not to finish your entire meal, managing your intake is key to minimizing calorie intake and maximizing your health. This doesn’t mean you need to waste your food though. Feel free to take your leftovers home. You can even ask for a to-go box as soon as the food arrives so that you’re not tempted to eat the whole thing!

Practice Mindfulness: Mindless eating can happen anywhere, but especially at a restaurant when food is all around us and we’re usually pretty hungry. Try eating slowly, taking sips of water, and enjoying the conversation with your dining partners. Put your utensil down between every bite so you can be sure to chew thoroughly. Rushing often causes overeating, so if you slow down you’ll be able to judge your actual level of satiety.

Watch Out for Key Words: When reviewing menus, keep an eye out for the words used as an easy way to determine what to order and what to avoid. Do order dishes when you see words like steamed, roasted, baked, grilled, poached, or blackened as these foods are often prepared without extra fat or oxidized oils. You can be sure you’re packing on the calories when food is breaded, fried, pan-fried, deep fried, creamed, scalloped, or au gratin so skip over these options quickly!

As you sit down for meals out this season, remember to be realistic, too – a splurge once in a while is a part of life. So long as you eat healthy, whole foods the majority of the time, you will be in great shape during the holiday season and always. Now who’s ready to make a reservation for healthy dining?


Haley Whitley is an instructor and nutritionist with Pilates ProWorks, which recently launched NutritionPro, a monthly digital meal program designed to empower people to prepare and enjoy healthy, delicious meals at home and to incorporate mindful nutrition into a healthy lifestyle.






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