By Anran Shao and Elizabeth von Klan
For college students, eating out with friends constitutes one of the main ways we socialize. However, peering at the high-calorie, high-sodium options on the menu might make you hesitate to dine out frequently. Fear not—it is possible to dine out and socialize while at the same time nourishing your body! Here are a few tips geared towards choosing healthier meals without the worry.
1. Be aware of portion sizes and nutritional requirements
Restaurants of different cultural backgrounds may vary on their portion sizes and ingredients. For example, standard Americanized-Italian restaurants tend to double or even triple protein and carbohydrate portions and can be higher in sodium compared to the recommended meal. You may find other restaurants (like Japanese, Thai, Greek and Indian food, or more) are more likely to serve grilled meat or other non-fried options such a spring rolls and dips with less fat such as Tzatziki. Choosing these options may prevent overconsumption of protein and sodium, and also prevent you from eating excessive unhealthy fats. There are potentially healthy options at any restaurant of any cultural background, so don’t be afraid to ask the waiter/waitress if they have dishes that fit what you’re looking for. Which, speaking of…
2. Ask for it your way
Don’t be afraid to ask for changes in the dish you ordered. Many restaurants design their menus based on preference of their frequent customers, but cooks can still change up minor components in the dish if it appeals to your nutritional needs. For example, you can easily substitute the fries that come with your dish with a side salad instead. If the meat is fried, ask your waiter/waitress if there is a grilled option. To balance out your plate and increase your vegetable intake, ask for a smaller portion of meat and larger portion of vegetables. These details will help you keep healthy and more energized to hang out with your friends on a night out!
3. Drink water throughout the meal
Some people believe that drinking water during meals is harmful, but it actually can help to control overeating. Drinking water through the meal triggers signals transmitted to your brain that allow you to feel full, which can help with portion control. Try to refrain from sodas or other soft drinks as a replacement for water; these contain added sugars.
4. Choose a salad without cheese or meat
Even though a standard salad has a solid foundation with mostly raw vegetables that are high in vitamins and low in calories, many salads are accompanied by meats or cheese. For example, Italian antipasto salads have salami, spicy hams and cheese as well, negating the nutritional benefits of the salad itself. It may be a wiser option to choose a Caesar salad with grilled chicken to have more lean protein, as opposed to a fully-loaded Italian Antipasto salad. As for other salads on the menu, you can also ask to modify the salad to adjust the amount of meat and cheese added or remove it completely, and add more vegetables for fiber that will keep you feeling just as full. It’s also wise to ask for dressing on the side so you can make the decision of how much to add!
With these tips, you will be well on your way to sticking to your health goals without having to give up eating out with friends!