Even if you stick to a strict diet to stay healthy for your sport, sometimes you have to go “off the grid” and order off a restaurant menu. That’s where restaurant nutrition comes in—figuring out how you can eat healthy when you’ve got limited options in front of you.
Although restaurants serve up plenty of junk food, most places have some smart options. All you have to do is look a little closer at the menu and refrain from immediately ordering whatever sounds most appealing.
Here are some menu items you might find at your local diner, pub or sports bar. Let’s take a look at what to choose and what to pass on.
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This appetizer can either be junk food or relatively healthy. It all comes down to how potato skins are prepared. As long as they’re baked and not fried, potato skins are not a terrible choice. But a fried potato skin can have up to 420 calories and 40 grams of fat in a single skin. Always search the menu for the baked version, and go easy on the cheese and sour cream toppings.
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When it comes to burgers, you have to watch out for the condiments and additions. The difference between a plain hamburger with basic condiments and a cheeseburger topped with mayo is around 250 calories and roughly 20 grams of fat. If you’re ordering a burger, practice some restraint. Or, go an even healthier route with a turkey burger, which provides the same amount of protein with less fat.
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Chili is often a good choice because it’s one of the few sports tavern options that isn’t fried. Vegetarian chili is the low-fat choice, and beef chili is packed with protein, zinc, iron and even vitamin B12. Either is a good option.
Your gut reaction is that a BLT is an unhealthy option, right? Well think again, because if you pick off a slice or two of bacon and substitute mustard for mayonnaise, you can cut off roughly 200 calories and significantly reduce the amount of fat. The more lettuce and tomatoes, the better.
This could be the best or worst item on the menu. It all depends on how it’s prepared. If the chicken is fried and covered in ranch dressing or mayo, you have a ticking time bomb of unhealthiness. One way chicken salad becomes a viable option is if the chicken is grilled and accompanied with a light vinaigrette. Order the dressing on the side so you can use only what you need. Ask your server how they prepare their chicken salad to get a better idea of its nutrition.
This one can sneak up on you in the calorie department, as the word “crispy” often means “fried” in restaurant lingo. Like with burgers, you’ve also got to look out for the condiments: A chicken sandwich smothered in sauce and cheese won’t be very healthy. A grilled or roasted chicken sandwich that’s light on condiments is a smarter choice that’s high in protein.
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Although they’re tasty, French fries are not a healthy option for an athlete. Instead, why not order some fresh vegetables or a baked potato? They are higher in fiber, which will keep you fuller longer, and are better fuel for you body than French fries.