We all love going to restaurants to eat out. Who doesn't? Being waited on, getting a bit dressed up to eat (compared to eating dinner in your pyjamas which I unashamedly do every night at home), seeing friends, having a glass of wine, and let's not forget being able to jump out of your normal weekly dinner routine. My dinner routine at home is very simple and almost identical every single week. I make a massive pot of red lentil Dahl with yummy roasted baby tomatoes and kale, a massive pot of brown rice, and a huge head of broccoli that I chargrill. I keep all of those goodies in separate Tupperware's in the fridge and my husband and I eat that for like 5 meals in a row…no jokes. Lucky for me, he doesn't mind being boring and eating the same thing night after night which I'm totally grateful for because 1) that means I don't have to sweat it out in the kitchen every single night creating new meals 2) it saves us a TON of money - batch cooking and buying in bulk is your friend when leading a healthier lifestyle and 3) we have zero food waste - I never throw away fresh produce that we didn't end up using because I only buy what we need. It breaks my heart to throw away food so we try and avoid that as much as possible.
In saying that - it does make going out to eat on the weekends THE BEST for me. I'm such a restaurant fanatic - I literally spend my free time on restaurant apps scrolling through random people's reviews of the newest restaurants in Cape Town. I'm such a loser, I know. But whatever - back to the point. I love eating out. I love trying new places. I love getting dressed up and perusing the wine list for a special wine I've never tasted before. It makes me excited. It's awesome.
What I also love is approaching eating out as a special yet necessary part of my life. I see it as a form of Self-Care and something that I treasure. I also see it as another opportunity for me to treat my body well and to give it nourishing food. As a Health Coach, leading a healthy life is integral to me. I don't see eating out as the perfect opportunity to indulge and let loose. Healthy living is a lifestyle and something that, I believe, we should embrace in all aspects of our lives, not just from Monday to Friday. So to do this I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I've collected over the past couple of years. You can eat out with a healthy eye. You obviously won't always have the healthiest meal since you can never know what goes on in the kitchen (and trust me, as a former chef I know the amounts of butter and salt that restaurants use. There's a reason food tastes more amazing in restaurants and butter is that reason). But you can try your best to make your meal healthier while still eating something amazing and original.
- Choose the restaurant yourself
Going out with friends? Awesome! That's the best. Why not take the liberty of choosing the restaurant? Most people hate doing this and would love someone in the group to step up and decide on a place. Put your hand up first. This way you have control over what options you have to eat. It sucks when you're trying to lead a healthier lifestyle and your friends decide to go to an all-you-can-eat ribs and chips place. You're losing before you've even sat down at the table.
- Browse the menu before you go
With apps like Zomato and most restaurants having awesome websites these days you can now easily look at the menu before going out. No more stressing at the table trying to decide what is healthy. Take some time before going out to peruse the menu and decide what you're going to have. Then you don't have to waste valuable time with your friends on looking at the menu.
- Be vocal and ask questions
Don't be afraid to ask the waiter questions. Want to know if there's dairy in the sauce? Do they have gluten free options? Can you get an extra side of steamed greens? Go ahead and ask! Most restaurants these days cater for a number of dietary requirements and chefs are accommodating. Just be gentle and ask politely - don't be arrogant about it. The nicer you are, the harder it'll be for the waiter to get irritated with your requests. Kill 'em with kindness.
- Add a portion of greens
It's always a good idea to add a side order of steamed veggies or salad to your meal. Eat that first to fill up on the green stuff. It's so easy to eat an entire meal at a restaurant without any vegetables. Even ordering a proper green juice (with mostly vegetables) is a great idea to up your vitamin intake.
- Look out for better ways of cooking
It goes without saying that the deep fried options on the menu are unfortunately not the best. Stick to steamed / stir-fried / grilled / baked / roasted options. But let's be honest when I'm going out for a burger I'll probably order fries / sweet potato wedges instead of a side salad. But I usually go bun-less simply because 1) bun + fries makes me way too full and I can't finish my meal which sucks 2) some restaurants just buy generic burger buns from the supermarket and those aren't worth it to me.
And let's bust one myth right now - ordering salad is NOT always the best option. Salads in restaurants (most of the time) contain a lot of added extras like fried croutons, bacon bits, or creamy salad dressings. Then you're better off with a toasted sandwich or a tomato based pasta in my opinion. When ordering salad make sure to ask for the dressing on the side and watch out for those added extras.
- Always order a glass of water
While I almost always have a bit of wine when I eat out (who am I kidding, I always order wine), I always make sure to order a glass of water alongside it. It's way too easy to drink too much wine and before you know it you're ordering another bottle and another and there goes tomorrow morning's workout that you planned. By drinking a glass of water for every glass of wine you can slow yourself down a bit. Check yo'self before you wreck yo'self. (I wish I was gangsta enough to say that out loud…doing so hiding behind my computer screen is much better...haha).
So there you go - I hope these six tips will help you on your next visit to a restaurant. What is most important is that you enjoy the experience. Don't get stressed out if you ate an extra bread roll or had a few too many glasses of wine. Just chill out. Enjoy it without guilt and get your act together again tomorrow. Life must be celebrated and eating is part and parcel of life's celebrations (to me at least). It's definitely not worth your time and money to stress while you eat. So enjoy! And remember - you are in control of your happiness + health. Treat your body with love!