Your social life doesn't have to suffer just because you want to eat healthier. In fact, you can still dine out with friends and stick to your healthy diet. The trick is to bypass high-calorie menu items and instead order off the menu or ask for wholesome twists on the restaurant's dishes.
"Restaurants do not like to advertise this because it makes more work for them, but pretty much anything on a menu can be cooked to order," says Cristina Rivera, President of Nutrition in Motion, P.C. "The key to ordering off a menu is in the preparation."
We consulted four top nutrition experts who reveal simple, healthy, off-menu items available at most of your favorite restaurants.
Ask for protein-rich eggs and you're good to go. "I'm a big fan of eggs," says Amy Hendel, nutritionist and health coach. "Usually at diners, cafes, and even pit stops, you can get hard-boiled or cooked eggs. If cooked, ask them to substitute a bit of oil for butter, and see if they can throw in vegetables or a side of sliced tomatoes. If hard-boiled, add fruit or a salad on the side, and put on the dressing by the teaspoon yourself."
Even if your favorite pizza place doesn't have Hendel's healthier option on the menu, chances are they can whip it up: a thin crust pizza piled high with veggies and light on the cheese.
Ignore the fattening sandwiches at your local deli, and instead ask for a simple variation around 350-400 calories. "Order a turkey avocado sandwich: two slices of whole grain bread, turkey, avocado, mustard, and as many fresh veggies as you'd like," says Kristen Carlucci, RD, registered dietitian and nutrition expert for Pitney Bowes Inc.
According to Rivera, your best bets are sashimi, edamame, miso soup, oshitaki (spinach with sesame seeds), and teriyaki chicken or tofu.
Hendel suggests an order of the leanest cut of beef or grilled chicken, accompanied by a dinner salad with dressing on the side.
Tons of nutritious off-menu meals are available at many Greek/Mediterranean restaurants. "Order salad with feta cheese and dressing on the side; pita filled with salad and hummus; or salad with hummus, garbanzo beans, and dressing on the side," Hendel says.
"To keep things healthy, choose tacos with grilled or shredded chicken or beef, and spice them up with lots of salsa fresca," says EA Stewart, RD, nutrition consultant and author of The Spicy RD blog. "I usually choose beans as a side over rice, as they are much higher in fiber and fill me up." You can also indulge in some heart-healthy guacamole, just not too much, as avocados are still high in calories.