I’ve been eating out more frequently than I usually do this past week, and it had me thinking about why I like to cook my own food at home rather than eat at restaurants.
I’m first going to list some reasons that relate to why I prefer cooking from home over eating out.
First and foremost, it seems obvious but it is worth repeating that when you cook food from home, you are able to know EXACTLY what is in that meal, down to the oils, seasonings, and sauces you use. This means you are far more informed about the nutrition of what you are eating, vs. when you are eating out it can be very difficult to know exactly what is in the food. Second, eating out is expensive! Unless you’re taking advantage of a five dollar foot long deal or a 20 piece chicken nugget for 2 bucks(goes without saying that cheap, fast food is essentially poison) purchasing healthy food can really add up. I cringe thinking about all the money I’ve forked over at JuicePress or Jugos the past month, which happens when I come into work unprepared. Unless you’re really in a pinch, there’s no reason to purchase food out when you can easily prepare healthy meals at home beforehand. Be sure to check out my post on meal prep ideas if you need some inspiration. Third (this relates a lot to the first point), but I can noticeably see changes in my body and my health when I am eating out more frequently. I’m not talking about grabbing a green juice, but I mean when I’m going out to dinner more than three times in a week. I feel more bloated and puffy in my face. I don’t have as much energy for my workouts. I feel lethargic and slow, even if I’m sleeping the same amount. Why could this be? Well, it actually makes a lot of sense. Restaurant food simply is not as fresh, wholesome or healthy as food prepared at home with organic local ingredients. Restaurants also use a whole lot of salt in the food, which is why it tends to taste so good. Lots of salt leads to water retention, which is why you may feel bloated and look puffy. Let me re-emphasize this point. Even if you order the healthiest meal on the menu (salad with grilled chicken, something that seems super benign and safe), it is likely it will still contain added salt, sugar, flavorings, that just are not beneficial to the body.
Hopefully that spiel convinced you to make an effort to eat out less, and instead cook from home so you can save money and also, know exactly what it is you are consuming.
With that being said, there are obviously certain occasions where we can’t avoid eating out. For example, you want to catch up with a friend over dinner, your co-worker offered to buy you lunch, there is a birthday celebration you were invited to. I understand that eating out at restaurants is pretty much avoidable. And the last thing I want is for you to ostracize yourself from social occasions, just because you want to avoid eating an unhealthy meal, or you’re worried about calories you cannot control. Trust me, I’ve been there during my orthorexia period, and it is not fun to be so concerned about calories and food, that you can’t even enjoy a meal out with friends or family.
These are some tips to take into consideration when you are eating out, so that you can feel better after consuming the meal, but still enjoy the food and company.
- Water, water, water. Water with lemon is a great idea. As you are reading the menu, try to finish an entire glass of water before you even order. Sometimes when we feel starving, it is actually our dehydration speaking to us. Drinking adequate water before and during your meal, will enable you to better understand when you are actually satisfied.
- Vegetables are your friend. I almost always order a salad before my main dish. I usually go for a simple green salad without fattening toppings (bacon, cheese) and then a light dressing on the side, such as balsamic/olive oil. This is a smart idea especially if you feel very hungry going into the meal. A light salad will prevent you from being ravenous and ordering something unhealthy and heavy. Going for greens is always a smart choice.
- Consider preparation methods. Pan-frying, deep-frying, and charcoal barbecue are examples of cooking methods you should stray away from. These methods add a ton of saturated fat and calories to the food. Instead, choose dishes that are steamed, sauteed, boiled, poached or grilled. If the item does not say how it is prepared, you can always ask your server. You can even ask for the food to be prepared a certain way; most chefs are happy to accommodate your request.
- When in doubt, go for simple. A simple dish vs. an overly complicated sounding dish will almost always mean healthier. For example, if you see something on the menu that says “Simply prepared _____” that will be much better than something under the “Classics” or “Favorites” section of the menu, because it is likely to contain a lot of sauce, seasonings, and sides that will not make you feel good. You can also easily customize your dish by asking for it to be prepared with olive oil instead of butter, you can ask for the sauce to come on the side, and you can swap out certain sides for vegetables.
- Check in with your body; try not to scarf your food. This has happened to me, where I’m so excited to get my meal that I literally eat it within .2 seconds. Unfortunately, doing so is not great for your digestion, and likely to leave you not feeling great after. Instead, take time to mindfully consume all parts of your meal. Chew thoroughly, really taste the flavors of what you are eating, and take periodic sips of water as you are eating. Check in with your hunger and body as you eat to make sure that you don’t stuff yourself and feel sick.