It’s been a long day. And an even longer week. When Friday rolls around, it’s natural to want to go out to eat. But should you now that you’re on The South Beach Diet? Without a doubt: Yes.
Why? It’s great practice for the real world. Going out to eat is a natural part of learning how to live a high-quality, heart-healthy lifestyle without hunger or deprivation. Plus, every restaurant menu—no matter how deep fried and cheesy it may seem—has something you can eat. So what are those “approved” foods? What kinds of things should you absolutely avoid?
Read on for some tips and tricks when heading out to eat:
When out to eat at a Mexican restaurant, start with salsa (two tablespoons of salsa is one Extra on South Beach Diet) and/or guacamole (just keep the serving size to ¼ cup). Ask the server to hold the chips. Request cucumber slices, jicama, raw bell peppers or even celery sticks for dipping. Gazpacho (a cold tomato-based vegetable soup) is another great starter. Other appetizer ideas include ceviche or chicken tortilla soup (minus the tortillas)!
For your entrée, order something like a grilled chicken or steak taco with lettuce, tomato and grilled onions and peppers. Top your taco with salsa and request lettuce wraps instead of tortillas. Lettuce wrap chicken fajitas are also a great option! If you’d like sour cream, go for it—just watch your serving size. Depending on how much you use, sour cream can be considered either an Extra (one tablespoon) or a Healthy Fat (¼ cup). For your side dish, opt for a salad topped with Healthy Fats, such as cheese (¼ cup) or avocado. Feel free to ask for more non-starchy veggies!
Not sure of the Spanish lingo? “Asada” and “a la parrilla” are your clues to grilled meats and poultry. “Con queso” means “with cheese” which can turn an otherwise healthy entrée into a calorie bomb. Always ask your server questions so you’re not inadvertently ordering something fried or stuffed with cheese.
While sodium on a low-carb diet may be beneficial, you can still get plenty of sodium from less sodium versions of soy sauce. Watch the sugar content in other popular condiments like sweet and sour or duck sauce.
When it comes to the menu, your safest bets are sashimi and rolls without rice. You can also order stir-fried dishes with vegetables and lean meats like shrimp, chicken or tofu. Just be sure to ask for no rice or noodles! Trade fried egg rolls for a cup of egg drop soup, which can run as few as 40 calories, but could help you save far more calories when your entrée arrives. In a 2007 study, scientists found that having a low-calorie soup as a first course reduced the amount of calories participants ate at entrée time by 20 percent.
If possible, ask the chef to use less oil during preparation and to even box up part of your portion before you ever see it. Chinese food portions are among the largest in the restaurant world. If you remove the temptation to eat more beforehand, you’ll be more likely to stay on track.
When it comes to Italian food, definitely steer clear of traditional pizza and pasta—you’ve worked too hard to rid your body of its dependence on refined carbs. Ask to swap out any pasta with a side of steamed veggies (like broccoli or asparagus) or salad.
The beauty of Italian food is that you’ll find tomato sauce or pesto and a lean protein on virtually every menu. Instead of fried chicken parm, request grilled chicken parm topped with the house tomato sauce. Instead of pan-seared branzino in a brown butter sauce, ask for the fish to be cooked in olive oil and lemon and served over a bed of greens. For a starter, avoid the garlic bread or fried calamari. A caprese salad, stuffed mushrooms or a fresh vegetable soup are good alternatives.
When out to eat, ask the server to skip the bread for the table and to not offer a second glass of wine (remember, one glass is just fine). You could also ask your server to not bring the dessert tray around so eye hunger won’t win. “The eye can convince the mind to override signals from the stomach and body, even when they are not at all hungry,” says Jan Chozen Bays M.D. in Mindful Eating.
You’ve got lots of flavorful, healthful options here. Virtually every Indian dish is flavored with plenty of spices. However, try to avoid deep-fried, higher carb options like samosas. We love a spicy Chicken Tika Masala (just make sure it’s not breaded)! Another great option, Tandoori Chicken, is cooked in a tandoor, a bell-shaped clay pot that can reach temperatures as high as 900 degrees. No oil, no frying. You could also try lamb kabobs with onions, peppers and tomatoes. Delicious!
Don’t eat the Naan or Roti. Instead try Kachumber Salad, a delicious medley of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and olives.
As for the Basmati rice, dig in! It’s South-Beach-Diet-approved. Just stick to ½ cup. Raita, the yogurt-based cream sauce with cucumbers and dill, is also South-Beach-approved. Just be careful about how much of it you’re drizzling onto your food and order a side of veggies to dip!
At the Steakhouse:
The classic wedge salad is an acceptable option, featuring blue cheese crumbles, bacon and dressing. You can also choose an appetizer like a seafood stack, shrimp cocktail, Ahi tuna or French onion soup without the cheese and bread.
A sirloin steak is a fabulous example of a lean protein, but beware of the 24-ounce porterhouse. That’s EIGHT times the recommended serving size for sirloin steak when you’re following the South Beach Diet. Filet mignon is often a smaller cut of meat and among the most tender. Look for a filet, order the six-ounce, and then cut your steak in half when it arrives. Enjoy some now; take the rest to go.
Steak and potatoes do belong together. However, the South Beach Diet recommends avoiding all potatoes (yes, even sweet potatoes) until you enter your maintenance phase. Instead, pair your steak with steamed non-starchy veggies or a side salad.
At the Diner:
We’ve all seen those diner menus that are more like books than menus. From breakfast to dessert, diners specialize in variety and you can use that to your advantage to find something South Beach Diet-approved. At breakfast, order a veggie omelet. Want a side of Canadian bacon or turkey sausage? You’re cleared for three ounces of bacon or two ounces of sausage.
For lunch or dinner at the diner, have a burger or chicken salad (if the mayo is olive-oil based). Just make sure to ask for your burger on a bed of lettuce or with a salad. Grilled chicken or a pan-seared crab cake are also flavorful, healthful choices. Skip the French fries or chips; ask for a fresh veggie side instead. Do your very best not to let those heavy diner comfort foods lure you in.
At the Coffee Shop:
An Iced Chocolate Frappuccino at a popular coffee joint contains around 600 calories and 88 grams of sugar. What’s a coffee-drinker to do? Get plain old coffee or tea—zero calories. Or at least stay away from blended drinks, which are usually packed with sugar.
Remember the “extra” (sour cream) we talked about on Mexican night? Half-and-half is another “extra” and you can flavor your coffee with one Tablespoon. If you want a snack at the coffee shop, grab a pack of almonds. Walk right on past the pastry case.