Tracking macronutrients takes time and intention. One of the most difficult components of tracking is tracking meals "out" whether it be restaurant meals or meals that are prepared for you at social events with friends or parties.
While it is becoming more and more common (and in some places required) for restaurants to list the nutritional values and macronutrient breakdowns of their foods, this is still not true everywhere. Below are my top tips for how to track macronutrients when eating out.
(If you are new to macro tracking then you can check out my post all about tracking macros for beginners for more information on the basics of tracking macros.)
In this article we are going to discuss:
How to track macronutrients using the palm method when eating out.
If you are just learning how to track macronutrients then you have probably already read about all the different tracking apps you can use to track your food, but one method of tracking your food that becomes especially useful in restaurants or when eating out is rarely discussed.
This is the Palm Method. I have a whole blog on the Palm Method and how to use it, but the idea is that you use your own hand as a way of estimating the measurements of your food. In circumstances where you are not preparing your own food, the ability to estimate accurately the portions of your food becomes very useful.
For example: using the palm method you can estimate the size of a serving of chicken at a restaurant by comparing the portion you are serves with the palm of your hand. The palm of your hand is roughly one serving of protein whether it be chicken, tofu, beef, or other sources. If the portion you are served is significantly bigger or smaller than your palm then you can make an informed decision on how much you eat or how to track the amount that you do eat.
Other estimated measurements using the palm method include using your thumb as a portion measurement for fat sources, a closed fist as a portion measurement for carb sources such as pasta or rice, or a cupped fist as a portion measurement for vegetables. You can learn specifically how to track macronutrients using the palm method and see visuals in this blog post.
Tracking apps and how to track macronutrients at restaurants
The most popular method of tracking your macronutrients is using a mobile app. Using a mobile app has some great benefits especially as many restaurants now provide nutrition facts for their food items either on the menu itself or on their website.
Many food tracking apps contain extensive databases of food items which now include many of these popular restaurant items. This can be a great asset when it comes to tracking macronutrients because it is much easier to find food items and track them with one click.
The main thing to keep in mind when tracking food with a food tracking app is to know how your food tracking app sources and verifies its data. Some tracking apps have an "open source" database. This means that it builds its database from the input of its users. While this is great for building out a large database, it can also lead to that database having a lot of misinformation. If someone inputs a food item incorrectly, that food item then becomes an option for you to choose from when you go to track that food item and you are then tracking incorrectly. Look for food tracking apps that have a secondary verification process so that you can be sure of the accuracy of the data you are using in their app.
My top strategies for eating out at restaurants
If you are know what restaurant you will be going to then look up the menu beforehand so you can assess what menu option will best align with your goals.
Keep it simple. Choosing menu options that have simple preparations will help you be able to track the food more easily. Look for terms such as "grilled," "baked," "steamed," and "boiled," and avoid preparations such as "fried," "breaded," "sauteed," or "confit."
Ask for the salad dressing on the side. Salad dressing makes up the majority of calories in restaurant salads and are primarily made up of fats. Asking for the dressing on the side allows you to control the portion of fats you want to consume.
Don't drink your calories. Smoothies, shakes, iced coffees, teas, and sodas often contain a high amount of sugar which leads them to include as many calories as some whole meals. When possible, avoid high caloric drinks with you meal.
Build restaurant meals into your macro plan. If you know that a party, social event, or restaurant meal is coming up then you can plan your macro split around that even to ensure that your average macro intake is aligned with your goals.
Track before you arrive. If the restaurant you are visiting does have their nutritional information posted to their website or on their menus then you can choose your meal and track it before the event. Not only does this increase the enjoyment of the event itself as you can avoid the anxiety of tracking as you eat, but it also increases accuracy as you do not have to rely on your memory to track your meal.
Opt for low fat sauces. Choosing red sauces over creme-based sauces, vinegar based sauces over oil based sauces, and swapping mayonnaise and ketchup for sauces like mustard and hot sauce can help drastically reduce the caloric load of your meal as well as make it easier to track.
Restaurant portions can often be far larger than what a "true" portion actually is. Ask for a takeaway container at the beginning of your meal so you can pack and store portions of meals that are served too large. Then you are not tempted to overeat and already have your next meal.
We have bad memories. If you are in a situation where tracking your food is not socially reasonable to do, then try taking a photo of the food you eat so you can reference that photo later and know exactly what you eat for easier tracking after the meal.
Remember that it is one meal. Forgetting or tracking one meal inaccurately during the week will not ruin your progress nor will it have a great impact on your overall progress as long as you are able to be consistent in other areas of your intake and tracking during the rest of the week.
Learning how to track macronutrients takes time and practice. The most important thing is remembering you will never be able to track perfectly. The goal is to be consistent in whatever method you choose to use. Consistency does not equal perfection. You will forget to track or track inaccurately, but the more consistently you practice the more accurate data you will be able to get and use to make informed decisions about your health and fitness.