There is almost nothing I love more than being in a bustling-but-intimate, loud-with-good-acoustics, well-lit restaurant with great food, good wine and close friends. I LOVE dining out but, as we all know, when we have body composition goals like losing weight and leaning out, going out to eat can cause anxiety/anger/sadness/all of the above. But I am on a mission to prove it does NOT have to be that way! I know there is still a way to go out to dinner once in a while without setting you back with your goals. How? you ask.
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:
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!