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How to Avoid Healthy Eating Pitfalls When Dining Out

By: Hayfa Aboukier

If you are anything like me, lost in the world of dietary restrictions or motivated by quality nutrition, you may find it nightmarish to even think about going out to a restaurant and what you can eat. Up until this past year, the old me would have been jumping for joy when it came to trying a new restaurant, but with more awareness and a determination to eat healthy this has all changed. Although I still absolutely love trying new foods and new place, my approach to dining out is not quite the same.

My love of food and nutrition necessitates my desire to still get out and explore despite some of my dietary restrictions due to health issues. Nothing will get between this woman and her food! I have now made it my mission to tackle the fear and anxiety associated with food while dining out and despite its challenges, I have learned that there a few key guidelines that can make dining out a quality healthy experience no matter where you go.

The following is a list of guidelines that will help make your culinary experiences while dining out a little less stressful and hopefully more deliciously vibrant.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

This is my absolute number 1 rule. If you take away anything from this article, please remember this to always ask questions. It is becoming more and more common that people have dietary needs and restaurants are becoming more and more capable of accommodating and modifying so you can enjoy your meal.  Sometimes I am afraid to ask or even embarrassed, but the best advice I can offer is to inform your server of your restrictions from the beginning and ask them for a recommendation that fits your needs. Keep in mind, you are a paying customer and a restaurant is there to serve its clients. If they are a good restaurant they will help without a qualm and you will happily return!

Read menus thoroughly.

Sometimes a restaurant has a menu that feels like a novel, seriously. If you sit down to a menu that feels like an encyclopedia, ask the server for a recommendation for where to start. Familiarize yourself with the food available and what you can request, even though it takes time, read it thoroughly. The more you know about what food they have in the kitchen, the easier it will be if/when you need to sub something. Some menus even advise you on informing them of dietary restrictions so they can accommodate (bonus points!).

Request an allergen list.

Unfortunately, I am not alone in this insane world of allergens. Blame it on whatever, but more and more people are learning about their own sensitivities. I personally hate belly aches and realized that by learning about my allergies I got my health back! If you know you have some allergies or sensitivities to certain foods, request an allergen list. This list is an excel sheet charted out with the most common allergens for each meal on the menu. When I discover a restaurant already has this list AND their staff actually understands it, they are forever golden in my book.

Be forgiving, but assertive.

Sometimes, even if you did all the right things, they screw up. Be forgiving, but assertive. You don’t want to pay for a meal you have already made clear you can’t eat. I have been fortunate and have always been super accommodated when the process goes awry, which it has MANY times. If you express your gratitude for the accommodations and state your concern if something goes wrong, I truly believe the server will do what they can to ensure you have a meal you can eat alongside a quality experience.

Generally, eating healthy is difficult when you control 100% of what you prepare. Once you relinquish that control, it makes it that much more difficult to succeed. If you follow the outlined guidelines above, you will most certainly feel better about dining out and stay on track to a happy healthy you!

Photo Credit: Photo by Florian Plag (Flickr: Serve chilled.) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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