When it comes to choosing how to spend your SmartPoints budget, celebrating a birthday, anniversary or promotion is one thing. A hurried weeknight meal out is another. So, before you choose your order, ask yourself: How special is this meal out to you?
Your Action Plan
Tips if you're saving up for a special treat
- Use your calendar to plan low-SmartPoints® value meals and schedule more activity in the days leading up to the night out. This way, you can save up some (or all) of your weekly SmartPoints, and even bolster your budget with some FitPoints.
Plan your meals for one or two days after your special meal out. It’s easier to get back on track if you know you have some low SmartPoints value meals planned.
Tips before deciding to go out
- Plan ahead accordingly. If it’s simply a “there’s nothing in the fridge” dinner, don’t let it escalate into an over-the-top feast. Because eating out is so often associated with celebrations, it’s all too easy to turn a simple meal out into a “special” (meaning SmartPoints-busting) night out.
- Remember: Even if you slip up and end up using more SmartPoints than you’d planned, it’s just one night. Just keep tracking and move on.
- Do your research on local restaurants. If someone suggests the wing joint and you don’t have a great alternative up your sleeve, you might lose the battle. Know enough about the local establishments to know that the wing joint also have amazing salads and grilled seafood. Not familiar with a restaurant? Google it and pre-track what you want to get.
- Know your indulgences. Sometimes you’ve got enough SmartPoints in the bank that you can spend lots of them on a great night out. If that’s the case, make sure the splurge is worth it. Think about what your real “treat” restaurants are, and go for those whenever the time is right.
- Check out the menu beforehand. When it’s available, look up the nutrition info on dishes. Get a handle on the best offerings without the pressure of a cashier or server waiting for your order.
- Read customer reviews. Scan review sites for been-there, eaten-that info on portion sizes, best dishes and other helpful tips. Better yet, go on Connect and see if any other members have eaten there.
- Narrow down your choices. Make a shortlist of two or three dishes to order, and practice ordering it (out loud) so when you get to the restaurant you don’t even need to open the menu. Remember, in the face of temptation, our brains can only make so many “good” decisions every day, so if you can crowd out the “bad” ones whenever possible, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy.
- Plan for small temptations. Even if you’re intending to have an on-plan night, you can still head into risky territory if you feel deprived. Plan a few “controlled” temptations on these lower-key occasions: A little sauce for your grilled chicken, avocado in your salad or a glass of wine.
Tips when at the restaurant
- For every food you eat, think, “Is this worth it?” Ask yourself: Is this bread really the most amazing bread ever? It’s easy to let the setting seduce you into splurging on stuff you can get anywhere, anytime. Save yourself for the really exceptional food in the restaurant.
- Plan a post-meal activity. If you know you have a date for bowling, mini golf or laser tag after your meal, you’ll be less inclined to overeat.
- Choose your splurge. Eager for an appetizer? Leave the dessert menu closed. Craving a creamy, sweet dessert? Order a smaller entrée.
- Tell your waiter what you're looking for up front. Your waiter can make healthy suggestions, let you know whether the kitchen brushes all steaks with butter, and make certain that your special requests are completed properly.
- Memorize these buzzwords — they almost always lead to high SmartPoints: crispy, pan-fried, sautéed, batter, breaded, au gratin, baked (Italian), curried (especially with coconut). Look instead for grilled, broiled, steamed, poached and au jus (cooked in its own juices).
- Don’t be afraid to send it back. If your “grilled tilapia” looks oily or your “steamed spinach” is slathered in butter, don’t be afraid to talk to your waiter. Your priority should be to your own healthy intentions, not trying to keep the wait staff happy. Politely request a swap.
- Customize your order. You can have it your way — all you have to do is ask. Think about what you make for yourself at home and the rules you adhere to, like bulking up your plate with fruits and/or veggies. If menu items don’t seem to satisfy your rules, then it’s time to customize.
- Make substitutions. Request a side salad with the “meal deal” instead of fries. Ask for another scrambled egg instead of potatoes. Get a double order of steamed vegetables as your two sides. You don't need to make your meal smaller to make it more nutritious.
- Nix the prix fixe. It’s just a fancy way of super-sizing your meal. The automatic addition of an appetizer and dessert adds SmartPoints and is harder to resist once you’ve paid for them.
- Be creative with the menu. Just because it’s divided into appetizers, entrées, and sides, doesn’t mean you have to order that way. Order an appetizer for your main, or a veggie side for your appetizer.
- Don’t abandon tracking, even if you have to guess. Research shows that the action of tracking regularly is more important for your weight loss than how accurate it is, so a guesstimate is better than an empty space in your Tracker.
- Get a doggie bag up front. Ask the waiter to pack up half of your meal before it even leaves the kitchen. You won't be tempted by the extra food on your plate, and you'll have a meal for later.
- Ask for a smaller plate. Eating off smaller dishes helps you eat less while still feeling satisfied. The plate will appear full with less food, and this kind of visual cue can greatly influence your level of satiety.
- Split a meal. Most restaurant portions can serve two people, so ask dining companions if they'd like to share a meal.
- Have the waiter remove the bread basket. If you do want bread, take one piece to enjoy. Then ask your server to remove the basket from the table.
- Practice at home. Look at the items you always carry around with you — phone, wallet, credit card — and compare them in size to your portioned-out food at home. Your 3oz portion of chicken breast is pretty close to your phone, right? Get used to these comparisons and use them when you’re out.
RELATED: Restaurant Survival Guide