Well, first, let's talk about what a plate should look like.
It's going to vary slightly for everyone but ideally, a dinner plate should have protein, veggies, a good fat and perhaps a starchy carb in the following portions (using our hands as measuring devices as seen here because, seriously, you're not going to bring a food scale to the restaurant with you, right?):
Protein: The size and thickness of 1 or 2 of your palms for women (about 3-6oz), 2 or 3 for men (if you're not training hard, maybe stick to the lower end and if you are training hard, go for the higher end)
Veggies: If the veggies are raw then go nuts! If the veggies have been cooked (likely in oil or butter), women could have 1 fist-sized serving (about 1 cup) and 2 for men.
Starchy carbs (like potatoes, pasta and rice, sweet potatoes, fruit): For women it's 1 cupped handful (about 1/2 cup) and for men it's 2. Again, if you've trained hard that day, women might go to 2 and men might go to 3. You might also decide to skip, especially if the meal is super rich.
Healthy fats: Honestly, if you're dining out you're probably getting over (or well over) the "recommended" amount. But if you're curious the serving for women is about 1 thumb or 2 (1 thumb is about 1 tbsp) and for men it's 2 or 3.
Your restaurant plate isn't going to necessarily come out looking like this since portion sizes are usually huge but now you know the pieces of the puzzle that should come together to form a well-balanced meal that can keep you on track! You just need to stick to the serving sizes above!
Here are some examples of great menu items that could fit your needs (all of these are from local Evanston restaurants, by the way; keep in mind their menus do change but the point is awesome dishes exist!):
Pork tenderloin (protein!) served with cracked wheat green herb salad (starchy carb!), grilled asparagus (veggies!), black garlic and thyme vinaigrette (fat!). It's all there!
Whole pickled Indiana shrimp (protein!) & mushroom (veggie!) larb, spinach (veggie!), toasted rice (starchy carb!), baby garlic, gray shallot (and assume there's fat in the cooking of the food).
Dover sole filet (protein!) stir fried (fat!) with baby bok choy, pea pods, carrots, ginger, and green onion (veggies!)
From La Macchina:
Free range chicken (protein!) with lemon, grilled asparagus (veggie!) and rosemary potatoes (starchy carb!)
You now know how to build your plate so let's talk planning because you know if you fail to plan you plan to fail and that can lead to anxiety. Instead of dreading dinner with the aforementioned melange of anger and sadness, be proactively goal-oriented:
- Eat as well as possible during the day. That does not mean skip meals! Eat your breakfast and lunch and a snack if you're hungry but keep the foods whole and unprocessed and try to lay off the starchy carbs. Consume fresh veggies and lean proteins. (If you're going out for lunch, just keep the same guidelines for breakfast and dinner.)
- Get some training in! Sweating off the stress will help you get to dinner feeling positive and in charge of your goals.
- DO NOT show up to the restaurant mega hungry! Your guard will be down and you won't be thinking about your goals and you'll order the brioche grilled cheese with bacon and tater tots.
- If you're doing a family-style meal, see what other people are ordering first and then fill in the blanks with what's missing. For example, you're at La Macchina and your friends have put in orders for the mixed cheese and meat plate, gnocchi with tomato basil sauce and mozzarella, and grilled octopus. You can then add something like the grilled seasonal vegetable plate to the mix and create a plate with veggies, protein, some fat and a little starchy carb.
- Try a little bit of everything but make sure you can still see blank space on your plate.
- Eat until you feel 80% full. Not sure what that feels like? Think about the times you've felt stuffed and thought "I should have stopped a while ago". You want to stop while you're ahead, when you feel content. You should be able to think to yourself, "I could probably eat a little bit more".
- Eat slooowwwwwllllyyyy. It should take you at least 15 minutes to finish your plate. Any faster than that and you won't allow yourself to figure out if you're 80% full.
- Once you are 80% full, have your server take your plate away and wrap up anything that needs to be wrapped up. It's too easy to mindlessly continue to pick at your plate.
- When it comes to dessert and alcohol, here's my philosophy: You KNOW alcohol and sugar are two of the biggest fat-loss-prevention culprits. Consume mindfully. Decide ahead of time how many glasses of wine/cocktails you'd like to have, if any. Take much smaller sips than you normally do. If you're looking at the dessert menu, decide if anything actually sounds good or if you're just craving sugar. Don't settle for something "meh"; if you're going to treat yourself, do it with something really yummy that you can have a few bites of and share it with the whole table. Enjoy and savor it. Sometimes when I'm debating having another glass and/or dessert and the dessert options sounds blah, I make the second glass my dessert.
- For those of you who dine out many times per week, keep in mind that consuming alcohol and sugar every time will likely not help you lose a whole lot of weight so do practice a little more restraint in this department.
Dining out and sharing meals with friends is one of life's absolute treasures and pleasures in my opinion. It should be enjoyed to the fullest. While you're on the road to reaching your goals, the dining experience will look different than it did before but it does not have to look like the picture of deprivation. Focus on what you can have, not what you can't.
Finally, let the dining experience be about connecting with the people you're with. We are ultra connected these days that we take human connection for granted. Be present and soak it all in. And let me know how dinner was!