August 5, 2013

Travel Tip: Create Your Own Healthy Menu for Dining Out

This week, I heard about a pretty neat new startup through one of my favorite NYC health and fitness news sites, Well + Good. As someone who travels a ton for business (I’m on a plane right now as I write this!), I normally don’t have the luxury of bringing a packed lunch or cooking my own dinner. Unfortunately, when I’m faced with a big menu of choices, it can be difficult to steer myself away from the unhealthy options and stick to only what’s good for me. Healthy Hand was created to help reduce those choices and make sure you’re eating healthy food whenever you get stuck ordering take out.

Basically, you fill out a profile of your dietary preferences, and it culls a shortlist of options from local restaurants that deliver. Each morning, Healthy Hand sends you an email with just two choices. (After all, science has shown that we have an easier time making a decision when we have fewer choices.) You click the one you want, and it shows up at your office at the time you specified. Pretty convenient! But at $28/month (not including the actual price of your meals), it’s kind of an expensive option. Plus, Healthy Hand is only available in New York! Since I spend most of my workdays in Dallas, that’s not going to work for me.

However, when I was working in DC a few years ago, I actually created a free way to do the same thing for myself – and it only took a few minutes of planning. My problem with healthy eating while traveling isn’t that I don’t know what’s healthy and what’s not (although many restaurants do sneak in a lot more butter/oil than I probably think). My difficulty is in sticking to those healthy options when there are so many other tempting things on the menu. Taking a cue from the dieting movement that tells people to “send the bread basket back before you can reach for it,” I decided to put together my own menu – featuring all healthy choices. Why limit myself to a few items on a regular menu (and risk the temptation of the rest) when I could create my own menu that has everything I like and that’s good for me?

Not quite the type of healthy menu that I meant, but… YUM.
Photo credit: Andrew Huff

Although I see the logic behind Tim Ferriss’ rule that the most successful dieters eat the same meals over and over, I like variety – so creating my own custom menu helps keep me from making bad choices while still giving me plenty of options that I won’t get sick of eating. If you want to go the bare minimum, it only takes about five minutes to list healthy meals from restaurants close to your office and/or that deliver. If you want to go fancy, you can include photos of the items (snap a pic each time you order one), or add notes around nutrition stats or how light/filling a meal it is. You can organize it by type of cuisine, by the amount of time you have (e.g., sitdown vs fast casual), or however else makes the most sense for you and your schedule. It sounds like a really silly and basic exercise, but I’ve found that limiting my selection to only healthy choices makes me more excited about the meal I’m going to eat (since my grilled chicken salad doesn’t seem like such a letdown compared to the grilled chicken quesadilla), and helps me to make a decision faster (since I’m not combing multiple menus to figure out my healthy options).

Obviously this trick won’t work for business dinners or times when you don’t have a choice of where to eat, nor will it work if you frequently travel to different locations. But if you’re constantly in the same area and needing to eat restaurant food instead of preparing your own, it provides an easy way to preserve choice while limiting temptation.

Would you ever use a service like Healthy Hand? Have you ever made your own menu of healthy options?


4 thoughts on “Travel Tip: Create Your Own Healthy Menu for Dining Out”

  1. I’ve never formally done that, but I basically do that for types of cuisines: i.e. Mexican, I will only do tacos or fajitas instead of cheesier stuff, brunches, I try to stick to eggs with some sort of veggies. I do this unless there’s something I REALLY want to try at a restaurant.

    1. It definitely doesn’t have to be as formal as I made it sound, but I really do like how it works when I’m trying to order lunch/dinner at work. So many choices = so much temptation to “REALLY want to try” everything 🙂

  2. This is SUCH a great idea! While there’s an amazing cafeteria so people don’t really order in for lunch at my firm, dinner is definitely an order-in thing unless you want to hit up the cafeteria again. The few times I ordered in, it was SO hard to resist the temptation of going crazy. Love this idea!

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