Happy Monday! Today’s post is a little different because it’s written by my BFF- my older sister, Marissa. She’s the one who encouraged me to start a blog in the first place and has been one of my biggest supporters. She’s about to start her senior year at UNC and we’re actually taking a class together in the fall! She’s in the school of public health, shares my love for nutrition, and wanted to share a few of her tips for eating healthy at restaurants as a college student. Here’s Marissa!
When I first started learning to eat healthy several years ago, my go-to meal at a restaurant was a salad. I would pride myself in ordering the “healthy” option when my girlfriends would be getting fried foods, pizza, and burgers.
However, as I learned more, I began to realize that my salads weren’t quite as healthy as I had once thought. Further, there would be times I would deprive myself of what I really wanted in an attempt to be healthy, which was really not healthy at all. So in this post, I want to share some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way to enjoying the eating out experience!
1. Food = community
Every health article tells you to save your money and cook your own food at home, which is generally good advice. But in our society (especially as a college student!), relationships often revolve around meals. Friends are always asking to get dinner or dessert together and I would miss out on so many relationships if I chose to stop going out to eat.
Instead, I try to view the opportunity to eat out as a chance to develop relationships. So, if you’re like me and would prefer to always cook your own food, I’d encourage you think about the value of eating out with friends (and not necessarily the nutritional value). And, when you’d be eating alone anyway, I’d definitely encourage you to make your own meals at home.
As you might be able to guess, my favorite date spot with Liv is…Chipotle!
A trick Liv and I have used over the years is looking at a restaurant’s menu online before we go to get an idea of what we want to eat. Note: don’t overanalyze the menu! We literally spend two minutes or less just trying to get some ideas of what we want to eat so we can spend more time at the restaurant actual conversing with family members/friends!
2. If you want to eat healthy, really eat healthy.
Eating a salad at a restaurant might seem like a safe choice. But once you start digging around, you’ll find out many salads actually have more calories than something you may actually prefer to order, such as a burger or bowl of pasta. For instance, the quesadilla explosion salad at Chili’s has 1430 calories in it. (I’ll be the first to say I don’t regularly count calories—the point is that most people would never guess how quickly the calories in a salad can add up).
Calorie Quesadilla Explosion Salad
So here’s a tip: think through the ingredients before ordering a meal. In this quesadilla explosion salad, there are black beans, tomatoes, chicken, mixed greens, corn, tortilla strips, cheese, and salad dressing, plus it’s served with cheese quesadilla wedges. If I wanted this salad at Chili’s, I would ask for the salad without the tortilla chips, cheese, and quesadilla wedges (or I’d share the quesadillas around the table.)
If you’re eating out and really trying to make healthy choices, look carefully at all the ingredients in the meal. Cheese, bacon, salad dressing, croutons, tortilla strips, sour cream, candied nuts, oils and butters, etc. all have relatively low health value and can make your meal much less healthy. Try to avoid these (or just stick with one) and ask for substitutions when possible. Many restaurants are happy to give you extra veggies in place of cheese, sour cream, etc.
Furthermore, I always ask for dressing on the side. The calories in salad dressing add up really fast, and dressings are also typically high in sugar and fat. By getting the dressing on the side, I can just drizzle some on my salad (or dip my fork in the dressing before each bite). Just by making these minor adjustments to the salad, I’ve cut a couple hundred calories, feel a lot better about what I’m eating, and avoid a soggy salad.
3. Think outside of salads.
Obviously, I don’t order salads all the time, and fortunately, a lot of restaurants offer options such as lean meat like grilled chicken and salmon and whole-wheat pastas (just be careful with the sauce since white sauce is generally full of fat and calories). While these meals are naturally healthy, restaurants tend to add oil, butter, etc. which reduces the overall health value. So, when I order at a restaurant, I will ask for my meat, veggies, and pasta to be cooked with minimal oil and butter.
Luna’s Living Kitchen in Charlotte, NC, serves this incredible living burrito (sunflower seed refried beans, cauliflower rice, salsa verde, pico de gallo, onions, sprouts, and cashew sour cream wrapped in a collard leaf). No ingredients to be substituted here!
At one of my favorite restaurants, b.good, I always order their spicy avocado and lime quinoa bowl, which comes with kale, sautéed veggies, avocado, black beans, corn, feta cheese, grape tomatoes, lime, cilantro, chipotle puree, and a red pepper vinaigrette (it’s even better than it sounds!). As I mentioned before, I ask for the dressing to the side, but after the first time I ordered, I realized my kale was still really oily. The next time I ordered, I asked if my bowl could be cooked in minimal oil/butter, and they were happy to comply.
I apologize for the iPhone picture quality—it doesn’t quite capture how delicious this meal really is!
4. It’s okay to splurge
“Everything in moderation” is something my mom has always said—and it couldn’t be more true. While I’ve talked about some easy ways to eat healthier at restaurants, there are times when I just want to treat myself. If you’re really craving a particular meal, I would totally encourage you to order it!! I’ve learned it’s so much better to enjoy a favorite food occasionally than to deprive yourself.
The picture below was taken during a medical mission trip to India. We had been staying at an orphanage for over a week essentially eating rice and beans at every meal, so I was more than happy to splurge when we were treated to a farewell dinner at a nice restaurant! Plus, how often is it that I get to eat this kind of Indian food? Don’t worry, there were much more traditional foods on plates #2, 3….
Hopefully, this post has allowed you to gain better insight into the world of healthy eating at restaurants. If you have any questions at all, I’d love to stop back by and talk more in the comments:
Some questions for you:
-What’s your go-to meal at a restaurant?
-Is there one particular meal that you love to splurge on when eating out?