Dining out used to be an infrequent event to celebrate a special occasion. As a result, we often allowed ourselves to splurge on foods we wouldn’t otherwise enjoy – bread, chips, an appetizer, an over-sized entrée, a drink or two and even dessert. Today, Americans eat out on average 5 times a week and spend 49 cents of every food dollar in restaurants and cafes. Meals outside the home are no longer an exception. Unfortunately for most of us, we’ve never changed our mindset and continue to think of these everyday occurrences as special occasions, indulging in more than we would typically eat if we were making our own breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Consequently, we’re eating significantly more calories than we need and over consuming foods that are often high in fat, calories, sugar, and sodium – a disaster for women in their prime whose metabolism is slowing and risk of chronic disease and need for nutrients are increasing.
I understand that life is busy and dining out is convenient, fun, and often necessary. But to lose weight, maintain your weight, or simply eat more healthfully, you need to order with care when you step inside a restaurant. Here are my 10 tips to enjoy frequent meals out while being mindful of your health and waistline.
1. Order as if you were making your own meal and remember that going out is not a special occasion. Would you eat bread, an appetizer and a caloric dessert at home? Put a heap of cheese, full-fat dressing, and croutons on your salad? Have an alcoholic drink or two? Fill your plate full of pasta and cream sauce or an over-sized steak and potato? Remember, a dinner reservation is not a license to overindulge.
2. Plan ahead. Many restaurants have nutritional information online. Use their websites to make better choices. Doing so will save hundreds of calories and avoid excessive amounts of salt, unhealthy fats and carbohydrates. For example, most deli/cafe sandwiches and wraps contain 600-800 calories. A chicken Caesar salad often contains 800 calories. Vegetarian dishes at Asian restaurants can be the most caloric on the menu and soups often contain an entire day’s worth of sodium.
3. Choose salad as your appetizer and forgo bread and dessert. Bread and dessert are empty calories made from refined carbs that will negatively impact your health and weight. Instead opt for a salad full of nutrient-dense and fiber-rich vegetables. Avoid the cheese, croutons, sugared nuts and dried fruit, and pile on the veggies.
4. Keep protein simple and lean. Fish, chicken, or turkey that is broiled, grilled, poached, or baked is far healthier and contains fewer calories and unhealthy fat than ones that have been fried or are served with creamy, buttery, or heavy sauces.
5. If you order red meat, choose a leaner cut. Sirloin and flank steaks have less fat then porterhouse and prime rib cuts. Pork tenderloin is better than pork chops and lamb loin chops are healthier than a roast. Limit servings to 4-6 ounces once a week.
6. Practice portion control. Restaurant meals and deli sandwiches/baked goods are notoriously over-sized. A typical pasta dish contains 6 servings of grains – a whopping 1200 calories before the sauce. Meat portions are often more than 8 ounces. Large bagels are equivalent to 4 pieces of bread and desserts often contain as many calories as your entrée. What can you do? Share a meal with someone or eat only half and take the remainder home for the next day. Order a salad and a healthy appetizer (shrimp cocktail is a great choice) instead of an entrée and, if you order a dessert, share it with the table.
7. Request dressings, sauces, condiments, and gravies on the side and use them sparingly. These are often calorie-dense and loaded with sugar, fat and sodium. If you control how much you consume, you’ll be satisfied with far smaller amounts than what the restaurant will serve you.
8. Order double veggies. Forgo the starch (rice, potato, polenta, chips, fries, or pasta) and double up on the veggies or a salad instead.
9. Beware of beverages. Alcoholic and sugary drinks, including soda and sweetened coffee and tea, are just add-on calories. Avoid these liquid calories and quench your thirst with a refreshing glass of water. If you do have a cocktail limit it to one 5oz glass of wine or a 1.5oz shot of liquor. Avoid specialty drinks and fruity cocktails, which can contain a meal’s worth of calories and loads of sugar.
10. Eat slowly and stop eating when you’re no longer hungry, not when you’re full. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you’re full. If you eat too quickly, you’ll consume more calories than you need to be satisfied.
This article is for informational purposes only, is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is not a substitute for medical advice.