Let’s be honest: When it comes to dating, first impressions count. Every move you (and your date) make is scrutinized to the nth degree. And if you’re dating on a diet, what you order can be just as important as chewing it with your mouth closed.
You don’t want to get a house salad and water as an entrée and come off looking like a weight-obsessed wet blanket. But you also don’t want to get a beer-battered pork hoof that’ll taste great but destroy your diet and make you look like a slob.
That said, don’t feel like you have to eat (or not eat) a certain way just to impress someone else. Having a healthy relationship with food is more important than any Tinder date.
To stay on point while dining on a date, try these simple tips…
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to food — nothing kills a date vibe faster than unexplained food behavior: “Why is he picking all the mushrooms out? Why is she weighing her food? He just ordered the chicken. At a sushi restaurant.”
Nine times out of 10, if you just explain your situation (“I’m on Day 2 of this insane workout program so I need to watch my macros“), your date will understand — and you’ll have a built-in conversation starter.
Scope Out Menus Ahead of Time
Most restaurants post their menus online, so if you know where you’re going, take a look ahead of time to get the lay of the land. Chain restaurants are required to list calorie counts on their menus and some may offer smaller versions of dishes at certain times of the day.
If you and your honey prefer off-the-beaten-path eateries, check out farm-to-table restaurants in your area; it might be more pricey, but you’ll have more options with fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, sustainably raised meats, and generally less processed foods.
Got a Type A personality? Do some research and create a list of “go-to” restaurants that fit your dietary needs. Then impress your date by rattling off a list of options instead of having the dreaded “I don’t know; where do you feel like eating?” conversation.
Have a Snack Beforehand
Nibbling on a high-protein snack an hour or two before you meet up can take the edge off your appetite and your nerves. It’s hard to show off your rapier-sharp wit over the sounds of a growling stomach. And you’ll probably also make better menu decisions if you’re not light-headed with hunger.
Know Your Preparations
Bone up on past episodes of Top Chef or Chopped to beef up your culinary vocabulary. If your meal is buttered, braised, creamed, or pan-fried, it’s most likely packed with too much sodium, saturated fat, and more fat. You’re better off with menu items that are baked, broiled, grilled, stir-fried, roasted, steamed, or poached.
If your meal comes with a side (or two), ask if you can swap the fried onion rings for steamed veggies instead. At a place that doesn’t allow substitutions? Ask for your meal without the side and order a healthier side separately.
Order Small Plates — or Share
It’s no secret that restaurant portions these days are off the hook — a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 92 percent of restaurant meals exceeded the calorie recommendations for a single meal, and in some cases, the requirements for an entire day.
If your parents never taught you to share, then ordering small plates or apps as your meal is a
great way to avoid the calorie-bomb main dishes. Or split a main course with your date and have your very own Lady and the Tramp moment.
Just make sure you skip the deep-fried loaded potato skins and order apps that have fiber and protein, like hummus and raw veggies, or lean meats or seafood that are grilled or roasted.
Can the Condiments
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average sodium intake for Americans over the age of two is more than 3,400 milligrams. The amount recommended? Less than 2,300 milligrams.
Check your salt (and sugar, for that matter) at the door by avoiding condiments like ketchup, soy sauce, and honey mustard sauce. Look for dishes that use herbs, spices, or lemon juice for flavor rather than heavy sauces.
Go Easy on the Alcohol
If you’re drinking, moderation is key: The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend one drink for women and two for men (sorry, ladies!). Women’s bodies absorb more alcohol and take longer to break it down. Skip the sweet, creamy cocktails that usually have a ton of sugar and or fatty ingredients, like coconut cream (later, piña colada).
Cook at Home
Offering to cook at home not only puts you in control of what goes on the plate and how it’s prepared, but it tells your date that you’re willing to put forth an effort for them. Plus, this is a perfect time to wow them with all the mad skillz you learned watching Top Chef. Need some healthy (and romantic!) recipe ideas for two? Try your hand at Ginger Soy Flank Steak or Pesto Zoodles With Chicken, then end on a high note with these Flourless Brownie Muffins. Boom.
Bottom line: You don’t have to turn into a date-less hermit when you’re following a healthy eating plan. All it takes is a little creativity and common sense. And you never know — you may end up with a partner in crime who will join you on your journey!