The Gymnastics Kitchen with Betsy: Good Choices When Eating at Restaurants

Eating clean is simple if you prepare and understand the main concepts: eat fresh foods -- organic if possible -- and eliminate processed, pre-packaged, and boxed foods. 

In general, these concepts are easy to follow. But when faced with traveling or little preparation, it can be challenging to eat clean -- especially at a restaurant where you have no idea how your food is being prepared. Below, you'll find some rules for clean eating at restaurants.

Avoid the 'white stuff' and appetizers

Here comes the bread basket and the appetizers! They always look good, but beware. Most of the time, the pre-dinner bread is made from white flour. Most white foods, including white bread, are made with processed sugar. Just be safe and pass on the bread basket. And if you absolutely must have an appetizer, try a side salad or vegetable plate.

While planning your main meal, look for colors. Instead of white rice, choose brown, quinoa, or lentils. Instead of a white potato, choose a sweet potato. Instead of white bread, go for whole grain or oat breads. Load up on multicolored peppers and colorful veggies if offered. Stay away from croutons, pastries, muffins, and fried toppings, which lack fiber and contain large amounts of trans fat and sugar. 

Cook it clean

Always make sure your food is grilled, baked, broiled, or boiled. Fried food is a no-no! Stay away from the "fried" chicken, onions, and french fries.

Also watch out for words like "covered," "smothered," and "coated" -- they often describe fat-laden, high-calorie foods with no nutritional value. When choosing an appetizer, go for lean meats like ahi tuna, or spreads like guacamole or hummus (without the chips) and fresh shrimp salads or vegetable plates. 

When in doubt, always go green

You can never go wrong with a green food: spinach, kale, peppers, green beans, broccoli, and asparagus. If any of these are on the menu, double up on them in place of side items like mac and cheese or a loaded baked potato. Green foods are loaded with potassium, fiber, and folic acid, which are all great for competitive athletes.

Eat like a caveman

If it had a face, swam in the ocean, grew on a tree, or came from the earth, it is probably clean! Eat like a caveman. When dining out, choose foods as close to real, whole foods as possible in their most natural forms. Choose whole grains and salads with berries, fish, grilled chicken, leafy greens, and nuts. Cavemen didn't have the option to order deep-fried chicken or barbecue-basted pork loin.

Dressings and condiments on the side

Dressings and condiments add a ton of calories and sodium to otherwise clean meals. Always ask for dressings and sauce on the side and dip your fork in sparingly. Over time these calories can add up, and remember: too much sodium makes the body retain water weight. If you need some spice, go for foods with fresh garlic, lemon, and pepper. Also, olive oil is a great dipping sauce with vinegar.


If you absolutely must indulge in dessert, go for coffee with a bit of cream and cinnamon. Hot, mint, or green tea is not only a refreshing choice after a meal, but it also helps with digestion and is loaded with anti-oxidants.

A fresh fruit dessert is also great with a dollop of fresh cream, if possible. Many restaurants are flexible, and can create a fruit dessert if asked. When given the choice of processed sugar in a chocolate brownie, or the option of natural sugar, like berries or fruit, ALWAYS choose the natural option. After all, most cavemen didn't have the opportunity to bake brownies! 

Betsy McNally-Laouar is a sports nutritionist and personal trainer for gymnasts. She trains the elite and upper level athletes at Cincinnati Gymnastics. Betsy is an online trainer and nutrition planner. If you are interested in learning more about her nutritional plans or training plans check her out at or email her at

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