When you begin trying to create a healthier lifestyle for yourself, eating out can be one of the most frustrating and complicated things you have to deal with! For a while I just felt like I had to avoid it altogether (which honestly would most likely be the best thing to do), but sometimes that just isn’t possible. We all need a break every once in a while, and I would personally go crazy if I knew I couldn’t go out to eat with my family or bring home dinner every once in a while.
The difficult thing about choosing healthy items when eating out is that at most places, you’re going to simply not be able to eat as well as you would at home no matter what you decide to get. So ultimately this is a difficult blog for me to write because although I’ve come up with a few things to help make the decisions easier, it’s definitely still not going to give me a totally healthy meal that I feel 100% confident in. I would always recommend organic food, grass fed, hormone free meats, and raw, natural ingredients. So at the end of the day you will have to decide for yourself where the boundaries are in what you’re willing to eat and not eat when it comes to eating out. I don’t feel comfortable fully endorsing many (if any) fast food restaurant items, so I just wanted to share some tips on how I’ve become more comfortable with my decisions while eating out and when I allow myself to break some of my own rules.
1 – Skip out on dressings and sauces as much as possible. Some of the primary ingredients in most prepackaged dressings and sauces are soybean oil, corn syrup, sugar, and flavors and preservatives. Definitely not real, quality ingredients. So my suggestion would be to either ask if the restaurant serves oil and vinegar for their salads, bring along your own homemade dressing, or avoid dressing altogether. Many restaurants have little bottles of oil (typically olive oil) and a vinegar like balsamic vinegar stashed away somewhere in the back for this exact purpose! Add a little of those to your salad for a much lighter and healthier option! In the past I have even made a small bottle of oil and vinegar with some spices or some other homemade dressing and stashed it in my purse. People may think you’re a little crazy, but I’m over caring about that by this point 🙂 My health is more important! Lastly, you can always just skip the sauces altogether and just add some fruit or salt and pepper to a salad. If that’s not possible for you, at least use a very minimal amount of salad dressing, since they nearly always give WAY more than you would ever need to use. They usually give me two packets of dressing with any salad I get, and if I use any I typically use about half of one packet.
2 – Try to avoid most forms of bread. This was probably the most difficult decision I made at the beginning of my healthy journey. I LOVED sandwiches and burgers, so cutting out bread and buns meant cutting out some of my favorite things to eat. But don’t worry, there are ways around this! One of my favorites is ordering a burger without the bun and asking for a lettuce bun instead. Simply put a piece of lettuce under your burger, pile on all of your toppings (preferably without most of the sauces) and then add another piece of lettuce on top! You still get your burger fix, but without all of the terrible ingredients in many buns like white enriched flour, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, preservatives, soy products, and occasionally azodicarbonamide which is even banned in a few countries. One of the only places I get burgers anymore is at Hardee’s because you can get their all natural burger which is grass fed, free range, and free of many other dangerous additives. Still probably not perfect, but about as close as you can get when eating fast food! There are also a few other restaurants like Outback that currently have grass fed or other healthy burgers.
The sad thing is that even getting whole wheat bread at a restaurant is usually not much better than white. Most of them have the same ingredients and some even have extra artificial color added to give it that “wheat” look. If you’re really craving a sandwich, sometimes turning it into a salad may be the best way to go, or at minimum ripping off most of the bread since there is always SO much of it on the sandwich. Wraps can be a better option as well. Not all wraps are exactly healthy, but some are made with healthier ingredients. You can always look up the ingredients in a certain menu item’s bread or wrap before purchasing it if you’re unsure what to choose!
3 – Fried foods should almost always be avoided. It’s sad but true (and also a rule I have a hard time not breaking!) Believe me, I know that they are delicious, but they are mostly fried in hydrogenated soybean oil or some other highly processed oil along with a bunch of preservatives and additives. There is the occasional restaurant that will use another oil, but the typical places like McDonalds, Wendys, and Burger King fry all of their fries in many of these awful ingredients. Most fried chicken is sadly fried similarly. So if at all possible, stick to grilled nuggets or sandwich meat, or grilled chicken on your salad. Or you can opt for a baked potato, fruit, or a side salad over fries. If you have the option, sweet potatoes are usually an even better choice than regular potatoes as they’re more nutritious and also typically contain fewer chemicals or pesticides. If you do decide to choose fried foods, try to choose a restaurant like Chick Fil A that uses peanut oil, or Chipotle that uses non GMO Rice bran oil.
This all may seem pretty overwhelming and you may be wondering what on earth you can possibly still eat out, but I promise, it’s possible! Just do the best you can and try to keep the tips that I’ve mentioned in mind when making your selections.
Some of my favorite items to get include the cool wrap or grilled chicken from Chick Fil A, Hardee’s all natural burger with a lettuce bun, grilled chicken salads from Wendys, Chick Fil A, or Zaxbys, Fajitas from local mexican restaruants, “skinny” sugarless smoothies from Smoothie King, smoothies or salads with sprouted grain rolls from Panera Bread, grilled chicken burrito bowls from Chipotle, and grilled fish or chicken with vegetables from many local restaurants like O’Charleys, Logans, Applebees, etc. Your selection may definitely seem narrower, but you’ll feel so much better while still satisfying that fast food craving. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Just stay focused, and remember the primary ingredients that you’re trying to avoid. Simply googling the ingredients in the meal that you’re tempted to buy should definitely help remind you of exactly why you don’t want to get it 😀