How To Eat Healthy In Restaurants: Healthy Tips For Real Life (series)

by | Jul 8, 2009
Quarter Pounder

Quarter Pounder

In my vow to stay home and eat healthy for the rest of the week, I’ve had a lot of time to think about all the places I’m not eating.

I’m not going out to meet a friend for one of San Francisco’s best burgers, for example. Nor am I going to another friend’s place to drink beer and play Rock Band.

Not today anyway.

I have many guiding principles for health here at Summer Tomato, but for me personally (and based on the emails I get, for many of you as well) the hardest part about upgrading your healthstyle is integrating it with your social life.

How many times have your best intentions to go home and cook a healthy dinner been derailed by an invitation to go out with work buddies or go to the movies? How often are your weekend’s best intentions ruined by birthday dinners and bar hopping?

That’s life. And it can make being healthy really difficult.

I always stress that the best way to combat these special occasions is to automate your health whenever possible. From my perspective, setting up your life so that healthy choices are your default–the path of least resistance–is your only chance at weathering the birthday cakes and holiday BBQs.

But it seems that for many of us these “special” occasions occur a little too frequently. A week rarely goes by that doesn’t offer an excuse to break our routine and indulge in something a little extra. And though this behavior is psychologically healthy and generally a good idea, too many exceptions can start to become the rule.

Not only do we sacrifice our health in these moments of celebration, we also begin chipping away at our good habits and before we know it they are gone.

Too many fun weekends and we give up on buying groceries and going to farmers markets for two, three or four weekends in a row. Then we go out more because we have no food at home (“Gotta eat somethin’!”), skip more workouts and the pounds start climbing back on.

Pretty soon your life is consumed with bad habits again, your jeans stop fitting right and you don’t even know what hit you.

So how do we deal with these events?

For me one important step in breaking this cycle has been to develop a clear understanding of how to navigate restaurants. Not all restaurants serve the same function. Some are simply cheap and convenient, while others are divine dining experiences to be remembered for a lifetime. And there are dozens of choices in between.

Over the next few weeks I will be describing each of the major restaurant categories and how to approach them to balance health and enjoyment. If you have any specific topic or issue you would like me to address in this series please send me an email and let me know.

(To continue following the How To Eat In Restaurants series, be sure to subscribe to Summer Tomato through email or your favorite news reader (RSS)–subscribing is always free of cost and spam.)

Today I will begin by describing the kind of restaurant you should never eat in: fast food chains.

Fast food restaurants are so unhealthy, evil and downright nasty tasting that there is really no good reason to eat in one for the rest of your life.

“Convenience!” They will shout.

But I don’t buy that argument. Wanna know what is inconvenient? Diabetes.

There is always a better option than fast food. If I find myself starving, behind schedule and in an unfamiliar neighborhood I do not consider pulling into a Wendy’s drive-thru and ordering a value meal. Instead I find a grocery store or local café. These places are just as ubiquitous, but instead of poison burgers I can get fresh food at reasonable prices. You’ve already given up on taste for this meal, there is no reason to give up on health too.

If you find yourself regularly eating in restaurants for “convenience” you still have some work to do toward upgrading your healthstyle. I am not in these situations very often because I plan ahead and make sure I always have something to eat.

The Summer Tomato guide can help you get started eating healthy.

The most important thing to remember about eating in restaurants is that you should save your indulgences for moments that are truly special. If you are desperate and just need some calories, eat the healthiest thing you can find. A bag of nuts, a piece of fruit, jerky or even a protein bar is a better option than a Quarter Pounder.

That burger in the photo looked exactly the same after sitting on my counter overnight as it did when I first bought it. Ick.

How often do you use “convenience” as an excuse to eat unhealthy?

Read more How To Eat In Restaurants:

  1. Healthy Tips for Real Life
  2. Neighborhood Convenience
  3. Sit-Down Chains
  4. Healthy Advice From SF Food Critic Michael Bauer
  5. The Truly Special Occasions

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4 Responses to “How To Eat Healthy In Restaurants: Healthy Tips For Real Life (series)”

  1. Hanlie says:

    I love this post! You are so right. There are always healthier choices and planning is everything!

  2. Miz says:

    have you ever read the book eat cake? (fiction) I go by that and it is as you say: INDULGENCES WHICH ARE SPECIAL AND ENJOYED.

    I end up out at fast food a lot (planned. working to teach my daughter all the good choices we can make there so at least she’s armed with that when she starts hanging out there with friends in her teens :)) and rarely indulge there as, well, it’s rarely special and mainly icky.

    love the post.

  3. Dee says:

    I remember convenience- buying subway sandwich every single afternoon on the way home for dinner…

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