Here is another reader question — “where are all the healthy dining out options?”
Yea, that is a good one. When I quit sugar for 6 months, I couldn’t really eat out anywhere. Sugar is in everything from breading to sauces to salad dressing. I saved eating out for my “cheat days” and did a lot of cooking at home. But I am not so strict now and have decided on a few places I will enjoy when I have lunch with a friend or dinner with my husband.
Basically when I go out to eat, I have to temporarily suspend my beliefs and ethical views about food and just choose a “healthy”-ish option and enjoy spending time with people and not having to cook. That may change over time as I become more passionate about where our food comes from, but that is where I am at now. I shop at stores like Whole Foods + Trader’s Joes and make conscious choices in my personal purchases. When I go out to eat, I make the people more of a priority than how much I care about where that cow lived and how they were slaughtered. It still matters to me, but right now I still want to live “normal life” with friends.
Fast Food Places
With that being said, there are obviously healthier choices and really bad choices when you eat out. I think it is safe to say that any fast food restaurant can’t possibly have quality food on any level. The fact that a dollar menu exists tells you that their food is not quality. If you think about raising a chicken (for example), slaughtering and processing that chicken, shipping it, preparing the meat, and then adding on whatever goes with it like bread, lettuce, sauce, etc — there is NO way it can cost a dollar and even slightly resemble REAL chicken. It’s not cost effective. So instead fast food companies create and engineer food-like products that may or may not have any component of what they claim it to be. Just Google the ingredients for Taco Bell’s “taco meat” or McDonald’s “chicken nuggets.” No thanks!
So fast food is out. Any exceptions? It’s up to you. (I might have to give Chickfila a pass on this one — they’re better than average fast food).
More Expensive Fast Food
What about places like Chipotle, Panera, Tropical Smoothie? Well, I think they’re okay in moderation. Again, it depends on how much you or I care about where our food comes from. I go to these “higher end” fast food places occasionally. I usually find I don’t feel super great after I eat, but at least I know I am eating real food. You can always go on their website and look up their ingredients. Beware of Tropical Smoothie’s smoothies….even without the added sugar (turbinado or Splenda [turbinado is a fancy way to say less refined brown sugar + Splenda is an artificial fake sweetener that has been linked to cancer]) — which they add unless you specifically tell them not to — they still have a high sugar content. Not the end of the world to occasionally enjoy, but they’re certainly not as healthy as you would guess. For example, their Island Green smoothie (spinach, kale, mango, pineapple, and banana) sounds like it’s got to be good for you. Yea, well it’s got 83 grams of sugar. I can’t tell on their site if that includes the added sugar or not, but wow, that is A LOT. Their Mocha Madness smoothie (listed in the “indulgent” section) has a whopping 117 grams of sugar.
Sit Down Restaurants
Okay, now moving on to restaurants. Just because you’re paying $15-$30 for a meal doesn’t mean it’s any better quality. It just means you’re in a sit down restaurant being served by a waiter and get free bread and drink refills. You’ll have to weigh what is more important to you. It’s also hard to tell exactly what is in your food. I have gotten sick eating at many restaurants after getting used to my own cooking. They add a lot of extra oil and butter while cooking, give you bigger portions than you should eat, and offer you the choice of free bread, side dishes, unlimited dishes, and even appetizers. I don’t usually have all that at home when I cook! This usually leads to overeating, bloating, and a crash into fatigue a few hours later. I’m sure you’ve felt the “food coma” even while still sitting at the table because you ate too much.
So the typical restaurants – Applebees, Chili’s, Cheesecake Factory, PF Changs, Outback, etc – aren’t super great either.
There are restaurants that specialize in healthier food. You can always look up restaurants in your area that promise to use organic, non-GMO ingredients in their recipes. I have a lot of friends who to go to more healthy restaurants and really enjoy it. Right now, I just want to go where my friends want to go when we hang out, but I draw the line at a lot of places. I don’t eat fast food anymore and I try to make healthier choices when at restaurants.
Finding Places to Eat
If you want to find healthier places in your area, check out these resources.
How to choose carefully when you do eat out:
If you’re local to me, here are some places to consider:
Use this search engine to find healthier restaurants in your area:
Where I Land / Why Does This Matter?
Our body doesn’t know when it’s a night to eat dinner at home and when it’s a night out with friends. Your body responds to what you give it. I started paying attention to how I would feel after I would eat out and I realized it was rare for me to eat a meal at a fast food place or a restaurant and actually feel GOOD afterwards. I usually got bloated, cranky, and fatigued. Since I started paying attention to my body, I have realized I have a choice. I can either eat something that will make me feel good and nourished, or I can eat something that will make me sick, even just a little bit.
I’m not at the point where I can or want to control my food 100%. I am happy to make the food I know I like and is healthy at home. When I do go out with friends, I try to choose a place that won’t make me sick. I do ask friends if we can avoid certain restaurants or fast food places that I know don’t agree with me.
Sorry if it feels like I didn’t answer the question, but sometimes there aren’t easy answers. Tell me if you have found a favorite healthy restaurant!
Easy Ways to Eat Healthier Out of the House
- Order water and drink a lot of it.
- Offer your friends most of the bread or chips that arrive when you sit down.
- Get a side of vegetables instead of fries or mashed potatoes.
- Ask the waiter as many questions as you want about the dishes you’re interested in.
- Skip the appetizers and dessert (save this for special occasions).
- Try to eat slowly – pause between bites and talk. Don’t rush.
- Be mentally present – stop eating when you know you’re full.
- Bring your leftovers home instead of eating everything there.
- If you meet up for coffee, skip the pastries and snacks.
- Don’t eat out late.
- Order a salad – you will get full + there are many delicious options out there.