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  • Sauteed mushrooms, scallops and greens from The Benjamin Hotel in NYC

Make a Fabulous Restaurant Meal a Healthy Pleasure

Eating a creative and fabulous restaurant meal doesn’t have to derail your diet or your healthy lifestyle. Not only can you dine out without any morning-after guilt; you can dine out and actually feel like you’ve enhanced your wellbeing.

Be A Mindful Diner
Not everyone’s goals are the same, and they don’t have to be the same for every meal. Know what you want out of your dining experience before you make a reservation. If you decide that this is a time for a no holds barred indulgence (an anniversary, a post-marathon celebration or just a random important Tuesday), then go YOLO and have what you crave without a second thought. If your goal is to really enjoy your meal without overindulging, read on.

Indulge Responsibly
That somewhat cringe-worthy last line from the modern liquor commercial can actually be good advice for your dinner out. One strategy for guilt-free dining is to pick one indulgence and then behave in other areas. If dessert is your passion, take a pass on the appetizers and stick to just one cocktail, but have that brulee of your dreams. Another strategy is to make sure that your meal fits in to your eating goals for the entire week, not just a single day. If your goals is 90% healthy calories, have an appetizer splurge on your night out, but balance it with healthy eating for the rest of the week. Then be sure to enjoy your planned indulgence with abandon. You are ALLOWED.

Spontaneity Has Its Time and Its Place
That’s an old line from a John Cusack movie, but it’s also good advice for having a guilt-free restaurant meal. Split second a la mode and hollandaise decisions can result in an evening of sad, belt-loosening regret. It’s a rare restaurant that doesn’t publish its menu online these days. Take advantage and pick what you are going to have ahead of time, with a cool head. Reading a great menu and thinking about that evening’s meal can be an indulgence in itself.

Keep Temptation Off the Table
It’s easy to impulsively forget your good intentions when temptation is staring you in the face. Ask the waiter or waitress to take away the bread – or not bring it out in the first place – if that is your weakness. Portion control can also be a strategy for indulging within limits. Ask your server if they can pack half your entrée to go before bringing your meal to the table.

Be Sure You Speak Menu Fluently
If your goal is eating light, your friends are poached, steamed, broiled, roasted and vinaigrette. Your enemies are fried, smothered, battered, breaded, crispy or crusted (en croûte), béarnaise/béchamel/mornay, au gratin and creamed. If you have any doubts about how your dish will be prepared, ask your server.

Be Fresh
There are lots of things that make a meal divine that have nothing to do with calories. Locally sourced, fresh and seasonal foods, and superfoods are a way of pumping up both the taste and the health value of your meal. If something is fresh, local and in season, it typically doesn’t require a heavy sauce. Likewise, creative pairings of foods can stimulate your senses and satisfy your cravings in a meal that can still be light.

Variety is Healthy
Use your dining experience to try something new. A new food is probably never going to taste better than when it is prepared by a talented chef and staff. If you find you actually like beets or salmon, your restaurant experience will have opened the door to new pleasures – and nutritious ones, at that.