If you love to eat out, you are not alone. Americans love restaurants of all types – cafes, cafeterias, family diners, coffee houses and five star restaurants. Eating out can be as healthy as eating at home when you know what to select.
- First, go out with a plan. Know what fits into your plan before you arrive. Whenever possible, review nutrition information for your favorite meals ahead of time. Websites, such as www.dietfacts.com, post free information about meals at the grocery store and in chain restaurants. For example, I enjoy the chicken Florentine salad served at Macaroni Grill. The full meal is over 1,000 calories primarily due to the enormous portion size, the parmesan cheese, and the dressing. It is also high in sodium probably due to the dressing. There is a simple solution to this potential disaster. Order the dressing on the side and control the dressing portion. Even better, ask for vinegar and olive oil to cut out the sodium. Ask for a small amount of parmesan cheese or no cheese. Eat half the salad and save the other half for another meal. Most restaurant portions are so large that half the meal easily will satisfy you.
- Look for low fat cooking methods: baked, braised, boiled, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted, and steamed. Select your sauce carefully. Many are loaded with sugar and salt such as barbeque, teriyaki, and honey mustard. Oil and vinegar is a great substitute for high sugar and high sodium sauces. Ask for sauces on the side to control the amount you use.
- Avoid high fat cooking methods: batter-fried, pan-fried, buttered, creamed, crispy, and breaded. Choose a low-fat option or eat a small portion (about four bites). Fish entrees can be deceptive because many flakey, white fish entrees are breaded and/or loaded with butter. Ask the cook to prepare white fish with a small amount of oil. Use lemon and pepper to season. Salmon does not need any added oil. Salmon is naturally packed with plenty of healthy essential oils.
- Order an appetizer instead of a full meal, but make sure the appetizer is not loaded with fat and cheese. Share entrees with a friend. Eat a light meal at home and go out for a light dessert. Split the dessert among friends. Rotate what you eat at restaurants among appetizers, entrees, drinks and desserts to avoid eating too much at once. Save money, too, by ordering less and eating less.
- If you want to enjoy more of your entrée, skip the chips or bread served before the meal, or skip the entrée and eat the chips and bread with a salad.
- Plan your food choices for the entire day. Load up on fruits and veggies in the afternoon before going out to dinner. Conversely, if you eat a large pancake and eggs breakfast, eat soup and salad for dinner.
- Stock up on portable food containers and tote pasta, salads, fruits and veggies to work. You will avoid the time and expense of fast food.
- Bagels and muffins are breakfast favorites, but many are simply too big. The giant bagels at most bagel shops are about 4 standard servings of starchy carbohydrates. Eat half. Order whole grain breads to increase fiber intake. Top with all-fruit spreads. Some muffins have more sugar and calories than donuts. Get the nutrition facts before ordering or make whole-grain muffins at home and carry them to school or work.
- About breads, only “100% whole grain” means the food contains all whole grain ingredients. “Made with whole grain” probably means the food contains a small portion of whole grain ingredients and the remainder contains white flour. Order 100% whole grain whenever possible to increase your intake of fiber and make you feel full longer.
- Eat lower calorie foods first such as clear soups and salads. Eat rich meats and desserts when you only want a bite or two.
- Top pizzas with vegetables instead of high fat sausage and pepperoni. Lightly sprinkle cheese on top just for the flavor. A brick of cheese on the pizza will feel like a brick in your stomach.
- When eating Chinese food, order steamed or lightly stir-fried vegetables, rice, tofu and meats. Ask for brown rice instead of white when available. Order sauces on the side unless you want to consume about 3 days worth of sodium. Opt for non-fried spring rolls over deep fat fried egg rolls, or buy the egg rolls fresh and bake them at home or cook them in a pan with a small amount of oil.
- When eating Mexican food, choose soft tortillas over fried, limit cheese and cheese sauces, and skip the sour cream. Enjoy the fresh salsa and indulge in some fresh guacamole. Avacados have plenty of vitamins, minerals, and healthy oils. Whenever possible, avoid lard in tortillas and refried beans. Choose brands and restaurants that use oil over lard.
- Buffets are tough. If you tend to overeat at a buffet, start with soup and vegetables and eat only a few bites of the richer foods. Order a single serving meal if possible.
Most importantly, learn to recognize when you are truly hungry and when you are full. Plan ahead, consciously choose whether your want to eat something, and learn your particular limits. Eating out should be fun with no regrets.
Source: “Eat Right. Food, Nutrition, and Health Tips From the American Dietetic Associations.” American Dietetic Association staff registered dieticians. Published at http://eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=206
as of December 10, 2009.