Estimating and Tracking Meals Out

Tracking your calories and consumption is an eye-opening experience. While I track the MAJORITY of the meals I make or pre-packaged meals I purchase with nutrition labels, I’m not a proponent of estimating or guessing a meal out for tracking purposes. There are WAY too many uncontrolled variables that go into restaurant prep from condiments, sauces, oils, butter, and dressings that even the best intentions can be inaccurate and because of that, I’d instead enjoy my food wholeheartedly, without expelling energy on tracking and pick up where I left off. That’s just me.

BUT…If you’re hell-bent on trying your hand at tracking a meal out (and it sounds like a lot of you do, judging by my DM’s!) keep reading.

Placing Your Order

The other day I sat down for a solo lunch at Beatrix, one of my fav casual restaurants in Chicago, and ordered the CRISPY QUINOA & AVOCADO TACOS.

When the dish arrived, it looked amazing and tasted even better.

BTW, that’s a RED FLAG!! Being DELICIOUS is the first signifier that there is a lot more than meets the eye. If it tastes good, there’s usually a reason WHY it tastes so good. LOLZ!!!

Here’s how I broke this meal down into my tracker.

Ingredient Evaluation

Take each component of the dish individually and take stock of what went into the prep – not just the item itself. Accuracy requires the inclusion of dressings, oils, sauces, etc. I would RARELY assume there to be no additional ingredients, so get ready for some deductive reasoning.

  • Tortillas – Flour, and six total, although I only ate five.
  • Crispy Quinoa – usually made on a skillet, so I’m assuming there’s about 1TBS of oil.
  • Avocado – served warm, coated in the quinoa, so I’m assuming another 1/2TBS of oil was used to cover the meat of the avo before rolling.
  • Pico – fresh with no visible dressing or oil.
  • Black Beans – fresh and drained with no visible dressing or oil.
  • Jicama – fresh with no visible dressing or oil.
  • Cabbage Slaw – tasted citrusy and salty, but no visible dressing or oil.

Most people will UNDER report, so I am always erring on the side of caution and round UP if something is on edge. If you’re trying to maintain a balance, track ANYTHING that goes into your mouth if you’re really going for it, so don’t forget the bread, the booze, and each bite of whatever you take off your SO’s plate.

Portion Evaluation + Tracking

Each item goes into my tracker based on my BEST GUESS on portion size, which I feel are probably 85% accurate. Part of the beauty of tracking calories and EDUCATING yourself on the caloric makeup or density of foods is the ability to eyeball food and guess it’s weight or volume with accuracy or near accuracy.

  • 2/3 of an avocado the size of my fist
  • 1/3 cup quinoa
  • 1/3 cup black beans
  • 3 Tbs pico
  • 1/4 cup corn
  • Five small tortillas
  • 1 cup jicama
  • 3 cups chopped cabbage
  • 1 1/2 Tbs EVOO total across all elements of the dish

Satiety or Qualitative Evaluation

So there you go. The above is a prime example of how a “healthy meal” can kind of sneak up on you. That’s not to say it’s good or bad, but it’s a visual breakdown of how even meals made of fresh, whole ingredients can blow a balance and if consistently consumed can be a barrier to progress.

A LOT of the meals you eat out at restaurants are more (calorically) dense than you may think. But all hope is not lost! Remember your weight loss goals are LONG TERM, and ONE MEAL will not derail all your progress (just like one workout won’t get results overnight).

I ate this meal at 11:45 AM and registered hunger at 3:30 PM, so I would say it was calories well spent. Any meal that satisfies cravings and food thoughts is a win in my book.

In Conclusion

Should you track your meals out? That’s a personal preference. I only like to track meals I can fully control (or am confident in my estimate), IMO, there’s no point in data if it’s a shot in the dark, you know? Furthermore, I don’t track if I’m consuming 3+ cocktails, because, again, no point.

Again, as I’ve mentioned many times on this platform and my Instagram, I totally understand that counting calories can lead to obsessive behavior, or can be triggering. Without emotional attachment, caloric tracking is a VERY useful, and educational tool, and can be really empowering and informative. 

A final word, NEVER FORGET life is for living whether you’re tracking or not so keep your head down when it’s time to focus, and let your hair down when it’s time to party. You know what they say, it’s all about balance.

Tracking App

Hai guys! The tracking app I use and pictured above is called Lose It! I love it, and yes, use it over My Fitness Pal. It’s true, I pay for premium, and because of that I think it goes without saying that I think it’s “worth it.” I don’t know the difference between the basic platform and premium because it’s been years since I’ve used the baseline app. There are also a lot of features within the app! If you have questions on how to use it, you can email, call, or DM their support team. WINK!


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