It’s that time of year again. Delicious temptations of holidays feasts and treats are being thrown at us from every angle: family, friends, work parties, holiday parties, Halloween, Thanksgiving… The holidays! If it’s not a feast at home or work to celebrate all the great things that go on this time of year, then it’s a feast out. So instead of setting our sights three months from now on a New Year’s resolution to start a new diet or exercise regime that we all know we’ll fail, why not start today?

Since we can control what we eat at home (for the most part), let’s focus on the things we can do when eating out this season to stay healthy. Nutritionist Angela Gallagher says that the first thing to focus on is fresh ingredients and portions, “Inherently healthy cuisines have a foundation of primarily fresh and local ingredients, seasoned with herbs, naturally occurring fats, and are consumed with a mindset of savoring the flavor and meal. Also, think ‘Dim Sum’; small bite-sized samplings of delicious ingredients, mindful eating and learning to enjoy each bite in a slower dining environment can lead to a lasting, healthy eating lifestyle for anyone looking to make
health changes.”

To help take on the ‘Healthy Eating Out Challenge,’ Gallagher has compiled five simple steps to follow when friends and family say, ‘Let’s go out to celebrate!’

A well-balanced and satisfying meal includes some source of protein (animal or plant based), fiber (think plants) and healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados or other higher fat fruits/veggies (yes, even coconut). An example of this is a spinach salad with chicken, feta cheese, sunflower seeds and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil. You can substitute any dried bean or pea of choice if cutting out the animal protein from cheese.

Avoid calorie dense, vitamin deficient additions like tortilla chips, crackers, croutons or even bread and rolls. If opting for a carbohydrate controlled meal, avoid filling up on simple carbohydrates. Consider choosing a second serving of veggies or add an ounce of nuts or seeds as a substitute for the crunch that would have been in the chip. A perfect example: order a burrito bowl with pinto beans and any vegetable of choice, diced cucumber, fresh cilantro, salsa and guacamole. Go light on the rice (or leave out) and skip the chip to save yourself hundreds of calories.

Look for menu items with fresh ingredients and a rainbow of colors. Mixed greens, fresh vegetables and fruits, locally caught fish, in-season and locally grown produce are all excellent choices to satisfy hunger and fuel your body with solid nutrition. Pre-made food items at restaurants can be full of salt and swimming in extra calories and may leave you feeling too full.

This heart-healthy eating style is inherently nutrient balanced and satisfying. Mediterranean cuisine focuses on plenty of fish, plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthy fats (like olive oil instead of butter or higher fat red meats).

Other inherently healthier cuisines include well-chosen and authentic: Spanish, Indian, Mexican, Japanese and Vietnamese meals. Avoid the ‘Americanized’ versions which are heavy in refined ingredients, salt, and larger portions covered with cheese or sauce (unless you’ve been advised to increase intake of fat with specific eating patterns).

Many restaurants now offer free apps that include nutritional breakdowns of food items at your fingertips. Check out the calories, protein, carbohydrates and fiber in the item you’re selecting and ask yourself if the food you’re considering will give your body what it needs (nutrition) and satisfy
your hunger. Once your meal arrives use the 80% rule, eat and take
20% home

There is no one rule of thumb when it comes to eating healthy when eating out. The keys are to know your own nutritional needs, follow a few simple guidelines, have self-control, and have fun with your family and friends
this season.