Shopping Smart

7 Simple Ways To Eat Out While Keeping Your Diet & Budget In Check

By and Monday, August 10, 2015

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Anyone who’s dieting or trying to eat better knows that eating out can be a total nightmare when trying to stick to rules of any kind. You walk in to the restaurant with a budget in mind, or a plan to eat gluten-free, and then the seafood pasta sails by your table, and you’re incapable of saying no. (Or at least, I am.) There are several problems, because most restaurants don’t have a huge variety of gluten-, wheat-, dairy- or sugar-free options. And when everything looks so good on the menu, your willpower instantly breaks down. What’s more, if you’re trying to stick to a budget, typically the healthier foods are always twice the price of french fries.

It’s important not to let eating out sway you from your healthy food plans or your budget. Finding a way to go out, instead of depriving yourself and missing out on the experience, is important. One of life’s greatest joys is getting together with friends for good food, and you can’t cut that out of your life. So, instead, learn to eat out, and eat well, all while not breaking the bank, with these simple guidelines:

1. Research your restaurants.

Before heading out for a meal, it’s always a good idea to look up some possible places to go and scope out what they’ve got on their menu. That way, you have a decent idea about what you can order and most websites will also tell you if the restaurant offers any gluten-free or other free-from options. Worst case scenario, if your friends have suggested a place that is too expensive, you can politely suggest an alternative restaurant.

2. Pick out what you’re going to order before you arrive.

That way you won’t be tempted when the more expensive, far less healthy options come within your sightline. You will have already seen the offerings and will have selected something you know you can afford. If you go in with a plan, you’re much less apt to deviate from it.

3. Don’t say “no,” compromise instead.

Eating out is a special occasion and a time to have fun and relax. Enjoying your food and company is the primary goal. Decide what you’re willing to give up, and what you’re less willing to go without. Which matters more to you, food or price? If you have a gluten intolerance, but feel okay about deviating every so often, join in when everyone wants to share some bread to start. And then make up for it by choosing a gluten free main course. Or opt for a delicious and healthy choice for your entree – you can get a good piece of meat and  salad in most places – and then compromise by not having dessert, to lower your overall price.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

The majority of restaurants these days do offer lots of free-from options or can help tailor your meal to your eating habits. But they often don’t display those options on the menu, which means you never know how much they’re going to charge you. Don’t feel awkward about asking. Most places don’t advertise their gluten-free menu, but there’s always a little note on the website that says ‘Just Ask.’ So, ask! You’ll be surprised what places have to offer and it could make the difference between a pancake-less brunch and a delicious, gluten-free option. Even if it’s as simple as asking for your burger without the bun, make sure to check. Tweaking the menu slightly will open up a whole world of eating out options for you, and diligently asking about pricing will allow you to sculpt your meal to your budget. For example, some add ons or sub ins come with no up charge (like vegetables instead of a carb as a side dish).

5. Don’t be bitter or draw attention to your budget/dietary restrictions.

You don’t need to groan at the dinner table about how you can’t afford the steak, or gripe about how you wish you were eating sweets. Your friends will respect you more if they see you following a budget and meal plan, but don’t bring it up constantly, other than to ask the necessary questions. Don’t get bitter, upset or cranky if you feel like you’re stuck with a salad while everyone else has pasta or hold it against someone if they always spring for the pricier dish, while you’re always trying to find a way to cut corners. After all, being a healthy eater is your life choice. If it makes you feel that terrible, then you’re not in the right place to be clean eating anyway. Instead, be the bright, cheerful person you are and enjoy every mouthful of your food. You’ll be making your friends wish they were clean eating too.

6. Remember how good it feels to not over-indulge or see money drain from your bank account.

The single most important thing to remember when eating out is that you genuinely feel better without all that processed stuff in your life. A cheesy pizza or slice of cake might look tempting as it passes you by in a restaurant, but how many times have you eaten stuff like that and wound up feeling bloated, sick or nauseous? If you’ve started eating healthy, it’s probably because your regular diet was leaving you feeling pretty gross. As good as food looks during a meal out, it’s still not worth the way you’ll feel when you get home. Same with splurging on a last-minute temptation. As much as you want to spring for dessert, or a glass of wine, it’s going to add $10 to your meal, and additional tax and tip. 

7. Be the person who offers to split the check.

When the check comes, say that you’ll happily divvy it up and give everyone their totals. This is a simple way to ensure that you don’t end up picking up half of someone else’s bill. Obviously, the risk that comes with eating out is that at the end of the meal, you could all split the check evenly and your effort to spend less goes to waste. But if you went out of your way to not order wine, or to pick a cheaper entrée, then a subtle way to make sure that benefits you is to be proactive about splitting the check.

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