October 15, 2014

On the Road Again: Restaurant Meals…How to Deal?

I’ve just returned from a relaxing vacation…ahhh!

We traveled the highways and byways of upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Boston, Western Mass, and Pennsylvania Dutch country. We ate B&B breakfasts, standard fare breakfasts at anywhere America hotels; lunches and dinners at cutsy bistros, American style restaurants and as much ethnic fare as we could find…with an ice cream cone and a few yummy desserts indulged in.  

All those meals enjoyed at friends and family members homes or with friends and/or family at restaurants, however, took a toll on my health goals (for myself and my family), sharpened my negotiating skills with my immediate family members (you’ve got to understand I’m known as the food police or the kinder name for me is the Portion Control Queen).

While I enjoyed not having to plan, shop, cook, and serve meals for a couple of weeks, all these restaurant meals had an impact on my wits, but didn’t take a toll on our collective waistlines!

Here’s how we do it:

  • Split and share: This is where the negotiating comes in. Because restaurant portions are SO LARGE and we're adverse to food waste from an environmental perspective, we generally choose restaurants which making splitting and sharing easy. Or we order knowing that we'll split and share. Each family member gets input. So our family modus operandi in a restaurants is not each man for himself, but what will we, as a family, eat. That’s where the negotiating comes in. (Remember, as parents we’re always teaching life skills and strategies...and healthy restaurant eating is a skill our kids MUST master!)

  • Choose restaurants which make splitting and sharing easy: Ethnic fare, particularly Asian fare, from sushi to Thai and Chinese are great choices. Pizza and salad is another easy meal to share and not overeat (as long as you keep the size of the pizza small). But no type of restaurant stops my family from sharing. (Actually breakfasts at the B&Bs were most challenging because they generally serve a plate of food without asking questions. But I got wise after a few mornings and assertively asked the server upfront to limit the number of pancakes and slices of bacon on my plate. Small victories!

  • Extra plates, please: We kindly ask for extra plates and they’re usually willingly provided. (Oh, yes often I need to say an extra dinner plate when greeted with a small bread plate.) We nearly never hear there’s a splitting fee. One American style restaurant did want to up sell us more sides when we split an already too large for two (16 oz raw) rib eye. No thanks was our answer. (Keep in mind your wallet will be fuller than your stomach when you depart the restaurants!)

  • Order with leftovers in mind: Even when we put splitting and sharing strategies into action we were left with leftovers. A few times we managed to take those along on a hike or boat paddle. One day on a kayak paddle we enjoyed a delicious rerun of flatbread pizza with gorgonzola cheese and figs with roasted cloves of garlic!  

  • Take advantage of small serving sizes: When there’s a small or kiddie serving available and it looks sufficient, take advantage. One afternoon we all enjoyed “kiddie” size servings of homemade ice cream. Hardly “kiddie” at about three-quarters of a cup of ice cream. The kiddie size was plenty!

  • Seek Out, Secure Fruits and Vegetables: No doubt the biggest challenge to road travel and restaurant eating are finding and eating enough fruits and vegetables…both for their nutrition as well as fiber (need I say more!). We began our journey with a cooler filled with fruit that would last a few days, baby carrots, and cherry tomatoes. Along the way we replenished the ice and when needed our supply of fruits and vegetables in local supermarkets or farm stands. Plus I always travel with dried fruit. At hotels and B&Bs, as well as friend’s homes, it was easiest to tank up on fruit at breakfast. Otherwise we were pretty much on our own to grab a piece of fruit for a snack and as many vegetables as we could find at lunch and dinner.

  • Ramp up exercise: To combat those extra calories from more fat in restaurant foods and surrenders to sweets, we upped the calories we burned. We included anywhere from an hour or two to hours of physical activity nearly every day from site-seeing from Burlington Vermont to Lititz Pennsylvania or kayaking in Vermont, New Hampshire and Western Mass or pursuing works of art from Shelburne Vermont to Chadds Ford Pennsylvania.

And now it's back to my regularly scheduled planning, shopping and preparing healthy meals….which means back to chopping plenty of fruits and vegetables!