”The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” — Arnold J. Toynbee

In last week’s article, I described the joys and health benefits of cooking at home: control of portion size, ingredients, seasonings, freshness, mindful eating. Meal preparation can even be a form of meditation as you slice, dice, stir.

Cooking at home can thus be as Toynbee urged both work and play. The same day that piece was published though, a retired nurse in for her acupuncture visit reminded me that eating at home was fine but they loved dining out even more.
We recently attended a benefit for Galveston Community College Culinary Institute called Five Fabulous Chefs. It reminded us of the amazing array of superb cooking we can find right here in Galveston. They served up a variety of delectable appetizers and tasty, healthy foods that could please about any palate. The Five Fabulous Chefs made it look easy, artistic and fun.

However, eating out can be a challenge particularly if you struggle with weight, are a diabetic or on another type of special diet. Planning is the key element to successful dining out.

Here are a few mindful strategies:

• Plan ahead by reviewing the menu before time. Most restaurants post their menus online so you can view them even before you get there

• Watch for the 3 B’s: bread, butter, and beverage, which can easily add up to over 600 calories before you even begin to eat. Chips and salsa are another tasty extra calorie risk.

• Look for healthy cooking techniques such as plank roasted, grilled, seared, stir fried, nut crusted, poached with wine, herbs or broth.

• Build smarter salads with dark greens, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, small amounts of tasty cheese, dry fruits, olive oil and vinegar, particularly if there is a salad bar. You can also ask them to leave off the heavy dose of cheese and croutons, and to bring oil and vinegar or other dressing on the side.

• Eat the rainbow by feasting on vegetables and making sure your plate has lots of color.

• Go for whole grains such a quinoa, rice, farro, whole wheat, oats.

• Remember the Healthy Plate and visualize it with 75 percent plant based fruits, vegetables and grains and 25 percent lean protein.

• Plan to share an entree or dessert.

• Flip your dessert by making it primarily fruit with a small piece of pastry rather than a big piece of sweet pastry topped with a little fruit.

• Ask the waiter to split your food in the kitchen to share or to box up and take home. Restaurant portions are often huge and enough for another meal or even two.

• Eat on smaller plates.

We have some weeks when we must dine out multiple times for various required social and academic functions. All of these pose a challenge to eat mindfully so we get to practice making good choices like those listed above.

Eating out can be a healthy indulgence, so enjoy yourself. Learn about new recipes that you might even want to make at home next time you have a chance.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.