There is more than one person in my life that gets a kick out of the fact that there is always food stashed in my purse. It might just be a few dates or a banana, but I hardly ever leave the house without something to snack on. Being prepared with healthy snacks while out and about is definitely one of my cornerstones for staying healthy. When you’re in the middle of a marathon errand-running session and you suddenly find yourself starving, it’s a whole lot easier to shy away from all the not-so-healthy items on the block if you’re prepared with a little somethin’ somethin’. But even I, Miss-Always-Pack-a-Snack, am sometimes caught off guard. Maybe an appointment runs long. Or I get stuck in traffic. Or I get a flat tire. Something comes up and suddenly my packed fruit isn’t quite enough to tide me over. Then, it’s time to implement Operation Find Healthy Eats. If I’m being honest, it took me a lot of trial and error to figure out how to healthfully navigate menus out there. It might seem like the fast eats world is full of deep-fried potatoes and greasy burgers, but in reality, there are a lot of really healthy, fast options out there—just as long as you know how to find them and how to order them. I figured I’d share some of my favorite tips for eating on the go while still staying healthy. I’ve partnered up with my friends at Panera to show you a real-world example of how I get in, out, and satisfied, without wrecking all my healthy momentum (all while still eating yummy food).
1. Find your spot (or spots).
Knowledge is power. And knowing which restaurants in your area have healthy eating options available is absolutely vital to succeeding in finding a healthy meal. Chances are, you can find something healthy-ish at even the greasiest of spoons, but by landing in a restaurant that has a multitude of healthy options, you’re setting yourself up for success. I have a handful of go-to places in my area that I know I can always count on for healthy eats. Interestingly enough, back in college, when I wasn’t on the healthy-eating path, Panera was one of my go-to spots with my girlfriends. We’d down cup after cup of fancy dessert coffee drinks and enough pastries and sweets to power us through studying for finals. What I think is so cool about Panera is that now that I am big into eating healthy, I can still eat there! It’s one of the few restaurants that have made the transition seamlessly between my old diet and my new diet (and if I want to treat myself, I can still pick up an old favorite). And, because it’s nationwide, it’s one of my spots that happens to be available whether I’m out running errands at home or traveling to a new city.
2. Do some research to find favorites.
I know this is going to sound strange, but I get serious ordering anxiety. When it’s my time to step up and give my order to the server or the person at the counter, I have to really focus and concentrate on getting my order right—especially if I’m making special adjustments or ordering something that isn’t usual for me. I’ve learned that saying “can I have a moment, please?” or letting folks go in front of me buys me some time to really peruse the options, and that helps a lot, but the ultimate weapon to squash healthy ordering anxiety is in your pocket—your smartphone!
I’ve been known to pull into the parking lot of a restaurant, whip out my smartphone and check the menu before ever stepping foot into the restaurant. Most restaurants offer their menus online now, and many of them include ingredient lists and nutritional info. Ahhhh, lots of information with no pressure, no rush, and no anxiety! I can take my time, really weigh my options and walk into the restaurant with confidence knowing exactly what healthy option I want. Bonus: you don’t even have to glance at the not-so-healthy options on the menu or in the display case. You know exactly what you want! You’re on a mission!
And once you’ve nailed down your favorite healthy options—you always have that in your back pocket. For example, since Panera is one of my favorite healthy stops, I have a whole list of tried-and-true noshing options at my disposal. I know I can walk in to any Panera and order a bowl of Vegetarian Black Bean Soup or a Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich and stay on track.
3. Look for smaller portions.
It’s no secret that the portion-sizes at many restaurants are absolutely huge—many are actually enough calories and food to serve three or more people! That’s why I always look for the smaller portion options when eating out. Look for lunch-sized or child portions (which are actually much more reasonably-sized for an adult in most restaurants). Or, think about splitting an entree with a friend. Or, if you have a good dose of will-power, plan to save half of your meal for another time. Another option is to look for combo deals. I’m not talking about the supersized #4. A lot of places offer deals (especially around lunch time) where you can build your own meal by pairing small portions of multiple menu items. Panera is one of my go-tos because I absolutely adore their You Pick Two deal. You create your own, reasonably-sized meal by picking two items from the following: half a sandwich, a cup of soup or half of one of their salads. I love this deal because not only are the portions right and the price right, but the smaller portions let you maybe splurge on something a little more decadent. You can get that cup of Broccoli Cheddar soup that sounds amazing, because the small portion size makes it a more reasonable choice than if you were to make your entire meal out of it.
4. Splurge, but in a smart way.
You guys know that I’m a big fan of healthy eating not being limiting. I think that life is too short to not indulge in a cookie if you’re really wanting a cookie. But I think the key to splurging in a healthy way is to do it with a plan. I rarely get the chance to go out to eat, so I almost always figure out a way to treat myself during the meal. A cookie for dessert OR a fancy coffee drink for the road OR a big glass of lemonade. Notice the or. When you don’t hit up restaurants often it can be so tempting to get all the options available, but you can still treat yourself without downing 1000 extra calories of sugar. Figure out what you really want, and stick to that and only that. If it’s a cookie, get a cookie. But then get water to go with your meal and skip the post-meal coffee drink. If you really love the lemonade at Panera (I do!), then get that, but skip dessert. If you are in desperate need of a caffeine jolt, get yourself a mocha, and make that your dessert instead of a cookie or cupcake.
So how’d I do?
Well, I was in desperate need of a not-work-from-home-day (sometimes, as nice as it is to work from home, you gotta get out of the house!), so I hit up Panera to grab some lunch and set up shop for the afternoon, and I think I managed to do pretty well! Interestingly enough, I decided that it was time to expand past my healthy favorites, and try something new, so after doing some research in the car, I ended up getting the You Pick Two combination with two items I’ve never had before—a cup of their Turkey Chili and a half Smoked Turkey Breast on Country Bread sandwich. Both options were delicious, and the combo managed to keep the nutrition stats of my meal still reasonable. I think I have some new favorites to add to my list! And, because I can’t go to Panera without getting some of my favorite lemonade, I grabbed myself a regular-sized cup.
All together, I got a very satisfying lunch and I think the nutrition stats are very reasonable:
What are your favorites?