I’ve gotten some requests from you all for putting together a few tips for trying to eat balanced, nutrient-dense meals while eating out.
Whenever I sit down to a meal, whether it’s one I’m preparing or one at a restaurant, I look for the following: whole grains, lean protein (including dairy), fruits and/or vegetables and healthy fats (think olive oil, avocado, walnuts etc.). It doesn’t always happen, but that’s what I aim for which ultimately rounds out to a fairly nutrient-dense diet on the whole.
Whole grains: Options to look for: oatmeal, buckwheat pancakes, whole wheat toast, whole grain granola – all great choices!
Lean Protein (including dairy): Most restaurants offer yogurt, eggs and nut butters making it easy to hit this food group!
Fruit: Fruit options are usually pretty easy to find at breakfast time – berries, bananas, apples, dried fruit, 100% fruit juices, smoothies, the options are pretty much endless!
Vegetables: I find the easiest way to get vegetables in at breakfast is to look for omelets packed with veggies like mushrooms, spinach, onions, peppers, etc. I’ve also been to a few places that have offered side salads as well. Another way is to look for 100% vegetable juices or smoothies that contain veggies.
Healthy Fats: Ask your server for olive oil and opt for avocado if it’s offered! Other sources would include walnuts that can be thrown into oatmeal or natural nut butters to dollop into your yogurt!
Le Pain Quotidien: Organic steel-cut oatmeal with organic bananas, nuts and maple syrup and spring pea and cheddar frittata served with whole grain bread, side salad and berries
– Avocado toast: topped with citrus cumin salt, organic chia seeds and extra virgin olive oil served with berries and a latte
– Granola & yogurt parfait: organic low fat yogurt, granola, banana with fresh berries
– Organic banana crunola: raw granola with raspberries and coconut-cashew butter
Starbucks (or other coffeeshop): Classic oatmeal (topped with mixed nuts and dried fruit) and a latte
– Any of the Fruit & Yogurt options
– Protein Bistro Box
– Spinach & Feta breakfast wrap with a side of fruit
– Vegetable & Fontiago breakfast sandwich with a side of fruit
– Evolution Fresh smoothie with a multigrain bagel or an 8-grain roll
Amelie’s French Bakery: Fresh house granola over yogurt topped with mixed berries and a soy latte
Other picks: Most local bakeries and coffee shops offer egg sandwiches which you can get on whole grain bread and pair with fruit and many also serve oatmeal or museli both of which are great whole grain options and usually come with fresh fruit!
– Quiche of the day with a side of fruit
– Breakfast sandwich on whole grain bread with a side of fruit
Whole grains: Whole wheat breads for sandwiches, whole grain corn or wheat tortillas, quinoa, whole grain corn chips and whole grain pita breads are all great options!
Lean Protein (including dairy): Getting your hands on lean protein while out for lunch is fairly easy – opt for grilled chicken breast, salmon or other fish, turkey, beans, tofu, hummus, etc.
Fruit: Most places you go you should be able to ask for a side of fruit. When I can’t find fruit at lunch places however, I load up on veggies and plan for a fruit snack later in the day.
Vegetables: Vegetables are usually pretty easy at lunch time. You always have the choice to opt for entree or side salads, you can load your sandwiches up with lettuce, tomato, onions, grab a vegetable soup or get a side of steamed or raw vegetables if they’re offered.
Healthy Fats: The majority of breakfast options for healthy fats still apply for lunch – look for things like nuts, avocado or go for salmon which also contains some healthy fats.
Jason’s Deli – Chicken panini on whole wheat with a side of fruit
– Garden Fresh Salad bar – an easy way to fill up on veggies, fruit and whole grains (love their mini corn muffins!)
– Roast turkey breast sandwich on whole wheat with a side of fruit
– Quinoa, shrimp and mango salad
– Zucchini grillini sandwich with a side of fruit (one of my favorites!)
– Mediterranean wrap with a side of fruit
Mon Vert Cafe: Simple salad (Arugula & Romaine, Plum Tomato, Red Onion, Cucumber, & Shredded Carrots, Avocado with Maplebrook Feta & House Made Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette) with chicken and whole grain bread
Bagel shop: Hummus and vegetable sandwich on a whole wheat bagel with an apple
Other picks: It will depend on your local shop, but you can usually find a lean protein like turkey, chicken or hummus (some even offer tofu!) then all you need to do is load with up with other vegetables of your choosing, pick a whole grain bread or bagel and pair it with some fruit.
Sweetgreen: Kale chicken caesar salad with a slice of whole grain bread
Other picks: It’s hard to go wrong with Sweetgreen – pretty much most of what you choose is going to offer you some form of whole grain, lean protein, fruit and/or vegetable and healthy fat. A few of my favorites are:
– Create your own – load up on veggies, add a protein, a healthy fat and you’re on your way!
– Guacamole Greens salad
– Rad Thai salad
– Earth Bowl
– Harvest Bowl
– Strawberries + Local Feta salad
Chipotle: Burrito bowl made with brown rice, black beans, corn and mild salsa, guacamole, lettuce and hot sauce
– Soft corn tacos with protein of choice, mild salsa, guacamole, lettuce
– Salad topped with protein of choice, black beans, mild salsa, guacamole
– Kids quesadilla made with corn tortilla, protein of choice, brown rice, black beans and fruit
Whole grains: Most of what you’re looking for with lunch is also what you’ll look for at dinner. For whole grains you can choose brown rice, whole wheat buns for burgers, whole wheat pizza dough and whole wheat pasta if it’s available. Other grains like quinoa, bulgur and farro are also options!
Lean Protein (including dairy): Again, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding lean protein options for dinner – fish, poultry like turkey or chicken, beans/bean burgers, lentils and tofu are great picks.
Fruit: You most likely won’t be eating much fruit for dinner – but there are several restaurants that will throw some fresh fruit into their salads!
Vegetables: Finding vegetables for dinner shouldn’t be hard. Like with lunch, you can always opt for a side salad and most entree dishes come with at least a side of steamed vegetables. You can also choose vegetable sushi and top your pizza or fill your calzone with them as well!
Healthy Fats: No surprise here – look for olive oil, nuts, olives, fatty fish like salmon and avocados.
Pizza place – whole wheat pizza paired with a side salad
Other picks: Not all pizza places offer whole wheat pizza dough, but that’s okay! You can either opt for a slice with regular crust or most offer entree salads making it really easy to eat well.
– Roasted vegetable pizza and a side salad
– Roasted vegetable calzone (you can also add grilled chicken!)
– Entree salad of choice (I love Mellow Mushroom’s Enlightened Spinach)
Sushi place: Brown rice california roll plus edamame
– Brown rice vegetable roll with edamame and a side salad or miso soup
– Sashimi with edamame and a side salad or miso soup
– Brown rice salmon and avocado roll with edamame and a side salad or miso soup
– Brown rice tuna roll with edamame and a side salad or miso soup
Burger place: Grilled black bean burger on a whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and avocado, sweet potato fries (ok – maybe leave those out if you’re trying to eat on the lighter side 😉 ) and a side salad
Other picks: Burgers can be perfectly healthy so long as you choose a lean grilled (not fried!) protein like a bean burger, buffalo burger or turkey burger and load it up with veggies. Pair it with a salad and choose a whole grain bun and you’ve got yourself a pretty balanced meal!
Mexican place: grilled chicken on soft corn tacos with a side of black beans, salsa and rice
Other picks: If you, unlike me, can enter a Mexican place and not eat all the chips and guacamole before your meal, you can absolutely make it a pretty healthy choice! Again, always ask for corn tortillas over flour if you’re getting tacos or fajitas (which are my two go-to options!), try to avoid using the sour cream which can be really heavy and instead opt for a pico de gallo or a little guacamole for your dish instead. Go for black beans as a side and ask for brown rice!
– Shrimp or grilled chicken fajitas with a side of black beans, guacamole and pico de gallo
– Vegetable tacos on soft corn tortillas with pico de gallo and guacamole and a side of black beans
Noodle place: Whole wheat noodles with grilled chicken, tomatoes, spinach and feta with a mixed greens side salad
Other picks: My favorite thing to do with noodle places is to replace whatever base pasta is offered with a whole grain version if it’s available. From there I just add veggies, a non-cream based sauce, a lean protein and a sprinkling of cheese! My only other advice is to watch the amount of pasta they give you, it can be a lot and if so, just pay careful attention to your hunger cues to make sure you’re not eating past full!
Keep in mind, this is what works for me but it may not be what’s best for you. I think the most important thing when you’re trying to eat well while eating out is to have a plan in mind. Think about what works best for you, do a little research online to see what’s offered and stick with whatever you decide!5