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At your last physical, your doctor was just a little unhappy with your labs. It’s not the first time she’s tried to counsel you on eating healthier and moving a little bit more. But this time she laid down the law: get things under control or next time you’ll leave with prescriptions in hand.

Moving more has proved to be easier than you thought it would be but changing how you eat has been tougher. Eating out is proving to be a big challenge. You’ve bonded with a great group of ladies in a Sunday yoga class but they love to go out for brunch after class. Your sister is all in when mention meeting at the gym in the morning, as long as there is breakfast at her favorite café after. Your husband wants to walk with you at night but says there isn’t enough time if you have to cook dinner first. His answer to the problem is grabbing sushi on the way home.

Here’s a fit truth that needs to be said.

It is harder to eat healthy when you’re eating out.

Does that mean you have to become the woman who brings her meal in Tupperware to book club?

No, but you will need to be mindful. It will take effort. You will need to ask for what you need. You might even have to turn down an invitation or two. You’ll need to rethink some of your dining out habits.

Healthier eating out starts with the anchor habits of eating slow and finding your 80% full. These two habits are the secret to making any restaurant meal just a little bit better. Then follow these tips for healthier eating out and finding your Middle Ground.

How to Balance Your Plate Dining Out

Do your homework ahead of time. It’s hard to find a restaurant without a website these days. Most of them will post their menu on their site. Before you even agree to meet your sister for brunch, check the menu to make sure the restaurant has options that will meet your needs. You’ll want entrees with quality protein and plentiful veggies, such as salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts or an omelet loaded with spinach, tomatoes and peppers.

Order from the sides. The menu has changed and the black bean soup you were counting on is no longer on the menu. You can often default to plan B – a selection of sides. It’s easy to make a meal out of two or three sides. For example, at a casual dining restaurant you might order a small side salad, some grilled asparagus or steamed broccoli and a white bean salad instead of an entree.

Split your entrée. Even an appetizer can be a big enough for lunch for two at some restaurants. Save money and help yourself from stepping over the 80% full line by making the decision up front to share an entrée. It’s easy to do with a chicken salad sandwich, pasta primavera, a beef and broccoli stir-fry or a simple steak. You can order an extra side or salad if you need to get more veggies.

Don’t expect the salad to be your healthiest choice. Unfortunately, everyone’s healthy eating default can often be a fit life fail. While the main ingredients may seem like the best choices, it’s very hard to control portions. The chopped up chicken may be two or three times what you need. Fistfuls of nuts or dried fruit may appear like a couple of tablespoons atop a bed of greens. Then there is the dressing. Unless ordered on the side, dressing can easily get out of control. Try to order things that are easy to judge portion size, like a burger (yes I said a burger) with veggies instead of fries or a fajita plate.

Middle Ground Manifesto Dining Out Tips

You must also remember that there is a Middle Ground. Accept that eating out is a part of your life that isn’t going to go completely away. Eating out less is doable but never dining out is unreasonable for most of us. You’ll forget the lunch you packed. You will have date night. There will be days when the drive-up is the only option between work and PTA. Accept the situation, don’t beat yourself up and find your middle ground choice using the tips above.

There is enough to go around. Why order multiple courses knowing they will give you more than you need in just the appetizer? It’s a restaurant; they can make more if you are really hungry after you finish your quinoa salad. Give yourself permission to order one dish at a time. Order just an appetizer and see how you feel before you order an entrée. (You know you’ve filled up on just chips and salsa before.)

There is a time and a place for everything. You know why I don’t judge the person at the next table with the mound of chili cheese fries? Because it might be her birthday and it may have been at least 6 months since she treated herself to her favorite plate of fries. Treats are OKAY if done mindfully and with purpose. (And a plate of chili cheese fries is easy to share with the whole table.)

If eating out is your default mode perhaps you just need a little help getting a simple kitchen routine in order. Click here to sign up for my email list and get your FREE Kitchen Rescue Pak. The Kitchen Rescue Pak includes: How to Create the Perfect Meal, How to Master Meal Prep and The Super Shake Guide. Now you’ll have the tools to make healthy meals less stressful at home and on the go!

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