“Want to grab a pizza after the game?” “Let’s get a jumbo popcorn and soda for the movie!” “We’re running out of time—let’s just go through the drive through and quick grab something for dinner.” Do any of these statements sound familiar?
Whether it’s because you are out with friends or in a rush, fast-food restaurants are an easy, inexpensive, and convenient way to grab a meal or snack. Unfortunately, fast-food restaurants often offer large portions of high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sodium foods. So how do we navigate the menu to make healthier options, and how do we do this without feeling like the odd man out when we are with our friends?
Here are 7 pointers that will help you make healthy choices while still enjoying the time out with your friends and family:
- Plan ahead. Get familiar with the menus of restaurants you enjoy. Go to the restaurant websites and look at the menu and nutrition information ahead of time. Look for foods lower in calories, fat, and sodium and options higher in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Always have healthy snacks at your disposal whether it’s in your backpack, purse, sports bag, or locker at school. If you know you are going to be going from activity to activity, pack a meal or a few healthy snacks.
- Be sensible. It’s not that you can’t enjoy foods higher in calories from time to time; the key is to just not overdo it. Order the kid’s meal—don’t worry, you’re not too old! Kid’s meals are a great way to enjoy what you like in moderation. The smaller portions and alternative options (low-fat milk instead of soda; fruit in place of French fries) help keep the meal balanced. Share a meal. Order the small size when available. Skip the large, jumbo, and value-size options.
- Eat slowly and listen to your body. It takes about 20 minutes for our bodies to register when they are full, so when you feel satisfied, stop. Focus on the conversations and the time you are getting to spend with your friends rather than the food.
- Rethink your drink. Drinks are an easy way to add extra calories and sugar to a meal. Stick with water, low-fat milk, and calorie-free beverages. To jazz up your water, ask for ice and a lemon wedge—it’s surprisingly refreshing and it’s free!
- Speak up. Recommend a restaurant where you know you can make a healthy choice. Don’t be afraid to make special requests. Request that sauces, syrups, and other toppings be kept off to the side. Ask that foods be grilled, baked, steamed, or roasted instead of fried or breaded.
- Balance it out. Use the 80/20 Rule: Aim to make 80% of your meal filled with nutrient-rich, healthy foods (think lean protein, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and leave the other 20% for foods that you just simply want. Balance out the rest of your day with nutritious foods that are lower in calories and rich in nutrients.
- Eat out 3 times per week or less. Instead, invite your friends over for dinner—or better yet, make dinner together! Pack healthy meals and snacks when you are on the go.
If you know you are going out to eat, don’t stress. With these 7 steps, you can eat out, stay healthy, and still have a good time!