I hate cooking almost as much as I hate doing laundry.
And that’s why the two things I miss about my days in New York City are:
- Being able to drop off my clothes at a local laundromat before work and pick up clean clothes afterward.
- An abundance of restaurants with healthy food options.
Back in those days, I knew a bunch of other people who, like me, threw their underwear with their piles of clothes and dropped them off at local laundromats and, like me, ate out all the freakin’ time.
But I’m not in NYC anymore and the city I live in, while considered a metropolis by some, feels like a small town to me compared to NYC. And over here, people don’t take their clothes to laundromats. Nor do they eat out three times a day.
Alas, the sacrifices we make for the jobs of our dreams or the name of a semi-prestigious school in our resumes…
Laundry, I must do at home. But my meals, I’m happy to say, I can still take outside. It wasn’t easy, but I have now figured out a way to eat out AND eat healthy at the same time, even when I have to eat at chain restaurants.
[Disclaimer: I’m not advocating eating out. When possible, do cook and eat at home. This article is my attempt at trying to help those of us who HATE the very idea of stepping in front of a stove.]
Chipotle is Your Best Friend
Chipotle can be very unhealthy if you’re not watching yourself. All those tortillas, the cheese, the sour creme…
But I needed something staple like rice and beans in my diet. And in a city where eating out means either going to Wendy’s or a Chinese or Thai restaurant where the food is insanely expensive (even per NYC standards), I had to make friends with places like Chipotle and Qdoba.
But the catch is the act of resistance and denial. Don’t allow yourself to pile up your food with all kinds of unhealthy dressings. Half portion brown rice, black beans, mild tomato salsa, and lettuce bowl. That’s it. That’s all I need.
You may feel tempted to pile up meat and cheese, but save that for, I don’t know, maybe once a week or something. But for the rest of the days, plain Jane it is.
Don’t Be Embarrassed to Order Appetizers Only
There’s a Japanese sushi place a couple of blocks from where I live. I got lucky because this place is actually pretty good!
The problem, however, is how expensive this place is.
And also, you probably don’t want to eat entrees all the time anyway.
So, appetizers it is.
Now, the trick is to order online. I fully take advantage of GrubHub and order pick-ups all the time. I don’t feel like I’m being judged when I order a 3-dollar appetizer online for a pickup. I’m not inconveniencing anyone!
Usually, I stick with a combination of some kind of soup and a salad. Salads aren’t always healthy, but this place has some really good ones with very light dressing (most likely vinegar and some spices… no ranch, or blue cheese or the likes).
If I’m hungry, I order a more fulfilling appetizer, along with a salad. Like, shumai or California sushi. If I’m famished, I’ll add a soup too. All of that cost pretty much the same or even a little less (depending on what you’re ordering) than a full-fledged entree.
Dressing to Your Salad is Like Salsa to Your Chips
Here’s how to skirt unhealthy dressings and still make your salad taste good.
For example, I often order this green salad, which is really just a bunch of lettuce and absolutely nothing else.
It comes with a questionable ginger dressing.
Now, I don’t fancy munching on lettuce on its own, but I also don’t want to add too much dressing. So, what to do?
Instead of pouring dressing all over your lettuce, pick one lettuce piece at a time (or two or three, depending on the size of the pieces), and dip it in the dressing. Dip a little. A little is really all you need to not feel like you’ve turned into a bunny overnight.
You see, sometimes we trick ourselves into thinking we’re eating healthy when we order salads. But we all know by now that’s not the case.
Be careful with your dressing (see above), and do not eat cheese with your salad. Make sure you know exactly what goes into your salad. Don’t be afraid to ask about the ingredients before ordering. If you’re gonna eat out all the time, you cannot afford not to be overly inquisitive.
Be careful Not to Overdose on Sugar and Wheat
Not all of us are gluten intolerant, but that doesn’t mean too much of it is good.
Avoid the tortilla as much as possible, and avoid bakery items during breakfasts.
Boy o boy.
That’s like, in everything!
So, one of my problem meals is breakfast. Thankfully, I have found a cute little diner/breakfast place, and they have a couple of healthier options on their menu.
The problem is, most breakfast menu items come with some kind of bread or biscuit, and I can not afford to eat that every single day. So I ask them to keep the bread out. (Also, no sour creme on my rustic potatoes!)
They may look at you funny at first, but once you turn into a regular (you kind of do by default when you eat out all the time!), they really don’t give a crap. They’re happy to have you there, and if you tip generously, they may even throw a free coffee with your order now and then!
Also, do not order juice for breakfast. Juice is BAD. It’s full of sugar! Order a fruit bowl instead. And try to avoid eating your breakfast at coffee shops. Typically their breakfast items are all sugary (muffins, cheese danish, scones…) NO! Just NO!
Maintain a Balanced Diet
This is hard to do when you’re eating out all the time. Supplements help. But at the end of the day, you have to be extra cautious and pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. If you’re not careful, eating out all the time can become super unhealthy with the possibility of future complications.
Buy plenty of fruits and nuts (preferably unsalted) and baby carrots to snack on. These are full of fibers, and they don’t have to be cooked!
Go easy on store-bought protein shakes and protein bars. They tend to be full of sugar. Don’t buy protein shakes that have any more than 20g of sugar. Eat healthy protein.
Avoid frozen meals.
I know you hate cooking, but here are a couple of things you can do at home. Boil eggs (they’re full of healthy protein and fat). You can also slice up some avocados, sprinkle salt and pepper on them and eat with whole-wheat bread or some chips.
Don’t Be Afraid to Splurge Once a Week
I get it. It’s hard to stay away from the good stuff (really, they’re the bad stuff) when you’re eating out. You want to douse your salad in the dressing, you want to add cheese on everything, you’re tempted to order fried food, and you want to eat those 30-dollar entrees.
So, don’t deprive yourself completely. Instead, allow yourself a day in the week to pamper yourself… on one condition that you spend the rest of the week eating healthy. Order the regular burrito with piled-up sides once a week. Eat dessert once (or twice) a week. Order a cookie or a muffin once a week.
But the rest of the days? Stick with salads (no cheese and only dip your greens lightly in the dressing) and appetizers (try and stay away from fried food) only.
Life ain’t easy for those of us not too savvy in the kitchen, but with some caution and careful planning, we CAN survive AND maintain a healthy lifestyle while eating out.