If you've been reading my blogs, you should have the foundation of a whole foods diet. In summary, it's about getting back to basics and eating foods in their most original form. It's about eating clean, eating colorful and eating complex (as in complex carbs). You should know where your food comes from and if you eat animal products, ensuring that animal ate what its body was intended to eat (ie. cows should eat grass, not corn).
Going to restaurants is fun, easy and gives you a break from the kitchen. Unfortunately, eating out also has its drawbacks. Besides being substantially more expensive that cooking in, you have little control over the quality of ingredients, the methods used to prepare your meal or the actual ingredients used. Most restaurants use insane amounts of butter, oil and salt in order for it to taste rich and decadent (they want you to think it's a treat, which it is!). Unless specified on the menu, you can bet they aren't using organic products, grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, non-genetically modified corn and soy products, high quality oils or other ingredients. So what do you do?
First, if you don't go out to eat more than a couple of times a week, just enjoy yourself and don't worry about it. However, if you order in or go out to a restaurant more often, you need to be more diligent. Studies show that people who eat at restaurants more than 3 times a week end up consuming up to 60% more calories, fat and sodium than those who stay at home. The seemingly benign grilled salmon on a salad is almost always brushed several times in melted butter while grilling and usually heavily seasoned (salt or worse, MSG). Same goes with grilled chicken. Add in the dressing, cheese, nuts and a glass of wine and you're consuming a day's worth of calories and likely 2 days worth of sodium in one meal.
1) When possible, choose restaurants where you know you can order something somewhat healthy, preferably a restaurant that orders produce from local farms (this is a hot trend now, so it's not hard to find in most cities. Just call ahead and ask if they buy locally.).
2) Ask your waiter how the dish is prepared. Cream? Butter? Grilled? Fried? What kind of oil? Organic? (If the dish has corn, or soy products like tofu or edamame, they are nearly guaranteed to be genetically modified unless it is organic - may be better to avoid these products at restaurants when possible.) The menu doesn't always specify, so ASK. If you are shy about this, you can always pull up the menu online and call ahead anonymously and ask.
3) Request that your dish be cooked without butter or oil, or at least, very minimal amounts and light on the seasoning.
4) Go easy on the drinks. Tea with sugar (or God forbid, fake sweetener), sodas (again, sugar or fake sweetener) wine, juice cocktails and ritas all have tons of sugar and are highly acidic. Water with lemon or lime, or a cocktail like vodka with club soda and lime are better options.
5) Don't worry if the waiter thinks your a pain in the ass. You're paying him/her and the restaurant to give you what you want. Plus, you're the one eating it and you have a right to know what kind of ingredients they use and how they prepare what's going into your body.
6) Once you find a restaurant that offers local, organic ingredients and is gracious enough to give you exactly what you want, SUPPORT THEM as often as possible!
You should enjoy yourself when you eat out, but it makes cooking healthy at home that much more critical. I don't feel stressed when my kids order chicken tenders and fries one day if I know that for dinner they're eating one of the recipes from my Recipes page. If I go have drinks and dinner with girlfriends one night, I order whatever sounds good and am grateful for it, knowing I'll eat healthy again the next day.
Food is a blessing. It isn't a burden. Do the best you can as often as you can and then let the rest go.