How to eat out and track?
You know how many grams of each macro you should have (protein, carbs, fat). You have been tracking your food every day. You’re on point. And then…
The weekend hits.
Someone’s birthday hits.
You’re going on a date.
What do you do?
“Cancel all my plans and make chicken and broccoli. I’ve got goals!!”
“No, but I should live my life! I’ve got plans! I want to be social! I was stuck inside for sooooo long and now I have making up to do!”
Which one are you? The answer doesn’t have to be so black and white. You CAN go out to eat and STILL stay on track! So how do you do it? Follow these 5 tips for success.
Look at the menu in advance.
Whether it’s a chain restaurant or a local gem, you can likely find the menu on-line. So before you go, check it out and plan what you’re going to order. You have plenty of time to look over everything, look up certain dishes or sauces, and decide what are the healthiest options. I actually don’t even look at the unhealthy sections. Why waste your time and torture yourself thinking about fried, high carb, high fat meals or desserts? Pass your eyes right over them, and focus on what will make you feel good.
If you can’t look at the menu in advance, don’t panic! Take the menu section by section, and ask yourself — does this sound light or heavy? Does it sound like something I would make (if I knew how) on my daily plan?
Know what to avoid.
Any sauce that sounds sweet (teriyaki, sweet and sour, Worcestershire, honey mustard, honey anything really) should be avoided, anything breaded (panko is a clue) and fried (regular fried, deep fried, tempura), are all clues that you should avoid that dish. Anything that sounds buttery, creamy or has a lot of cheese is going to be really high in fat. If it sounds like more than half of the meal is some sort of bread or flour (pizza, pasta, etc), it might put you over on your carbs for the day. Speaking of bread, pass on the bread. You don’t need it.
Open up the food journal app of your choice and start backwards. Enter what you plan on having for dinner the night you’re going out. Then see what you have left for carbs, protein, and fat and distribute them between breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I usually start by adding the foods I typically have and then adjusting portion sizes or even removing entire foods completely. Typically when you go out to eat, you’re going to be having more carbs and fat and less protein than you would at home. So that means on a day I go out for dinner, I might have a veggie egg or egg white omelet for breakfast, and a big salad with chicken for lunch.
But how do I track when I don’t know everything in it?
Repeat after me: It is OK (and normal) to not be perfect. When I track food from a restaurant, I typically don’t add each ingredient separately like I do at home. For example, if I have turkey chili, I might just search for “turkey chili” and then choose an option that is somewhat in the middle of the calorie range, and none of the macros seem wildly inaccurate. If it’s something I can easily add separately, I will. For example, if I had salmon with roasted root vegetables, I might search “grilled salmon” and “roasted root vegetables” separately and then guess on the portion size. Your whole hand (including fingers) is about 6 ounces of protein, a softball is about 1 cup. I always add 1 – 2 tbsp of oil to my food journal when I go out to eat. Chefs cook for flavor, and fats add a lot of flavor!
Even if you are new to tracking, there is no way to get better at it than to practice. It keeps you in the habit, it gets your brain thinking about portion sizes, how things are made, and with practice you will get better! And as you look up and enter these dishes, you will learn what their macronutrient breakdown is! So even if it seems daunting, don’t use going out as an excuse not track. Stay consistent and do the best you can.
I’m sure I answered some questions and raised 100 others, right? In the interest of keeping this post to article-size and not a book, more will come on this topic, so stay tuned! I’ll get more into what to order when eating out in a coming article!
Erica Giovinazzo, MS, RD, CPT