I work in the restaurant industry...
Actually, my office is actually sits ON TOP of a restaurant. Therefor, I eat restaurant food for almost every meal of the day.
As you can imagine, it can be extremely difficult to stick to a low calorie diet when eating out for every meal. Over the last couple of years, I've tried to find ways to pick healthier options & modify menu items so that I don't consume a ridiculous amount of calories on a daily basis. I thought these tips might be helpful to others so I decided I'd share what I've learned along the way & what works for me...
Tip #1: Watch out for hidden calories!
Things that are seemingly "healthy" in restaurants have TONS of hidden calories. This is how their food tastes SO much better than the re-creation you try to make at home. For example, a couple months ago I went to Mastro's Oceanclub & ordered the Swordfish with a side of steamed asparagus. Healthy, right? WRONG. 1 bite into my swordfish & could taste the butter seeping out of my dinner. With further inspection, I noticed that the swordfish filet bad been butterflied (cut in 1/2), smothered with butter, & then re-assembled & grilled. The taste? Amazing. Healthy? Hell no. Lesson learned... When ordering fish, chicken, or steak in a restaurant order it DRY. Otherwise, butter, oil & other tasty but fattening goodness will be saturating your food.
Tip #2: Skip dessert
You can eat steamed veggies for dinner, but if you follow your healthy din with a scoop of gelato or even a 1/2 of a chocolatey dessert, you just set yourself back a few hundred calories. & you're not an ounce more satisfied or full, either. It's just not worth it. I've learned that you never stop after that ONE bite either, so it's better just to restrain... that way you never even know what your missing or how goooood it tastes.
Tip #3: Order everything on the side
Restaurants always put yummy but fattening sauce & dressing on their dishes. If you still want the flavor, but want to control how much dressing/sauce you're eating, order it on side.
Tip #4: Stick to the game plan
If your able to look at a restaurant's menu online, map out a game plan before you get there & stick to it. I tend to eat the same things every day because if I just go down to the restaurant and wonder to myself "Hmmmmm what do I want today?", I'll end up ordering fish & chips, truffle mac & cheese, a chicken sandwich with french fries... or something as equally delicious but also DEADLY.
Tip #5: Watch portion size
There is no reason to eat 16oz of ANYTHING. Typically, a good portion size is about 1/2 of the amount a restaurant gives you.
Tip #6: Oil is your worst enemy
Even grilled veggies can by high in calories if the restaurant coats them in oil. Try to say NO OIL when ordering your meal.
Tip #7: Don't go to a restaurant STARVED
I have so many friends that "save up" their calories all day so that they can splurge at dinner. I use the opposite technique & try to not be famished in a restaurant EVER. Why? Because that plan backfires. You'll end up straying form your meal "plan", eat all the bread in the breadbasket, scarf your food down before your body can tell you it's full & then go for dessert because you "deserve it" since you saved up your calories all day. GOOD JOB! Your dinner was around 6,000 calories. Better not eat for a couple more days!
Tip #8: Stay away from the bread baskets
Bread & butter = Empty carbs & calories.
Try to stay away from the chips & salsa, too.
Tip #9: Avoid the "fillers"
Whether I'm eating in my restaurant or another, I always stay away from what I call the "filler" side dishes that come on a main course. These would be the rice & mashed potato sides that come with your protien. I'd rather ask for extra veggies instead & fill up on those!
Tip #10: Watch the booze
A glass of wine runs you about 150 calories. 2 of those & your turning your light 400 calorie dinner into a 700 calorie meal. I'm not saying I never have a 2nd glass of wine, but just be aware that alcohol calories are empty calories just like that bread basket.
Hope my brutal honestly about restaurant dining helps someone out there! Just remember, that servers in restaurants are used to people being calorie conscious about their meals & there's no need to feel awkward or embarrassed about modifying your meal. If it makes you feel better, you can always tell your server you have a gluten allergy so that the chef will know to make your meal as healthy as possible.