So many occasions in life are inextricably linked to food. Watching a movie seems incomplete if you’re not munching on popcorn, while every birthday party demands a cake. Outings with friends, romantic dates, office functions, sports games – it’s practically expected in all of them that food will play a part.
While these events are good for your social life, they’re not so good for your diet. Knowing you’ll likely be around sprawling tables of hor d’oeuvres or colorful concession stands – and probably face some pressure to dig in – is a source of stress for many people. But it shouldn’t have to be. You can still enjoy these occasions without throwing your diet off course, it just necessitates a little strategizing and smart swapping.
Here are several scenarios you may face, and the smart food strategy for each:
Situation: Movie theater date
Getting buttered popcorn at the movie theater is a gamble. Sometimes, you’ll get a delicious bucket of perfectly popped and salted goodness – other times, you’ll get something that tastes like window cleaner got into the butter dispenser. What’s also unpleasant to think about is that one large buttered popcorn contains more than 1,200 calories, according to Serious Eats – more half of your total calorie allotment for the day. The site notes a quote from restaurant critic Michael Bauer, who said that:
“You would have to swim 162 minutes to burn off that popcorn—longer than your average motion picture.”
A smarter strategy is to choose the smallest size popcorn, or a kid size if available, ask for no toppings, and split it with your fellow moviegoer, suggests Health.com. AMC movie theaters serve a small size that has 370 calories, the site notes. Some theaters are going one step further to cook their popcorn in healthier ways, too. Cinemark Theaters cooks their popcorn in non-hydrogenated canola oil instead of coconut oil, which lowers the amount of saturated fat.
A large buttered popcorn can contain half a day’s calories.
Situation: Friend’s birthday dinner
Your dear friend is celebrating her birthday at a local Italian restaurant known for its big portions. You’re excited to celebrate her birthday with her, but you also may be a little be worried about navigating the menu and making a diet-friendly choice. In general, stick to dishes that are light, contain lots of vegetables and go easy on the sauces, breadings, creams and dressings. Fitness Magazine suggests choosing a meal with fish or chicken or opting for a minestrone soup or vegetable antipasto instead of that heavy eggplant parmesan or fettucine Alfredo. And if the birthday girl wants to finish off the meal with an indulgent dessert, don’t be afraid to have a small serving. As the magazine pointed out, abstaining from dessert while you painfully watch your friends dig in could just lead you to binge on sweets when you get home.
Believe it or not, a croissant can sometimes be your best option.
Situation: Networking breakfast
Networking breakfasts - they're the domain of icing-covered pastries, dense muffins and flaky croissants. What's a girl to do? The healthiest option is to grab a whole-wheat English muffin, according to Diet Detective, but if you're stuck facing an array of sticky pastries, you should choose the croissant, believe it or not. The site notes that a plain croissant has between 240 and 350 calories, less than a muffin or scone. Skip the butter, though, and dunk your croissant in your coffee or tea instead for some extra, sugar-free flavor.
Situation: Shopping spree
At some point, everyone has experienced the headache-inducing anxiety and irritation that occurs when you're hungry while out on a shopping spree. It's a nightmare scenario - you've been walking around the mall for five hours, your arms are aching from your shopping bags and the crowds are keeping you from the sale racks. When you're surrounded by the bright neon lights of the food court, it's easy to surrender to having an ice cream sundae for lunch. There are better food options out there, though, that will help you keep your sanity without racking up the calories. Mom365 recommends opting for a grilled chicken sandwich or teriyaki shrimp with brown rice. If you want to be truly strategic about it, though, the site recommends bringing a healthy lunch from home for when the hunger pangs start to strike.