Americans are busy and many don’t have the time or energy to cook meals at home anymore. Nearly half of Americans eat at a restaurant on a given day, and over 40% of our daily intake of calories, fat and sodium are from foods consumed while eating out. Just because you eat out doesn’t mean your waist line has to suffer too. Here are some tips to make healthier choices and still enjoy your meal.
1. Be sure to ask questions about preparation and don't be afraid to ask for substitutions.
Remember, restaurants are providing YOU a service for which YOU are paying. Most restaurants are more than willing to satisfy your requests. For those foods you absolutely can’t resist, suggest the whole table share one order. Sometimes you just need a bite to be satisfied.
2. Be creative!
Sometimes you can get by with a simple swap. Choosing a grilled chicken sandwich vs. a crispy chicken sandwich can save you almost half the calories! Save another 100 calories by asking them to hold the mayo! For salads, look for low-fat or fat-free dressing and limit the cheese and/or croutons.
Considering takeout? Steer clear of the deep fried items (see next point) and opt for steamed chicken or shrimp with vegetables with brown rice. You can also order the sauces on the side so you can be in charge of how much you add.
Check out the calorie differences between these common breakfast items:
3. Search the menu for key words.
Restaurant meals are often higher in fat because fat is a cheap and easy way to make foods taste better. Look for some of these words throughout the menu to gauge the calorie contents of the items.
4. Monitor your portion sizes.
Portion sizes are typically much larger at restaurants. Try ordering an appetizer as an entrée, or request a To-Go Box immediately once your meal is served and divide the entree into two servings. Enjoy one at the restaurant and the second as the following day’s lunch. You could also try sharing an entrée with a friend.
5. Avoid drinking your calories!
With unlimited refills, you could end up drinking as many if not more calories than you eat from your meal without even noticing. Choose water, diet soda, unsweetened tea/coffee with sugar substitute, or low fat milk instead of a sugary soft drink or juice.
6. Some parting advice...
Research has shown that where you sit in the restaurant or even what your waiter looks like can influence what you order. Check out the nutritional info for your favorite restaurant before you get there so you have a plan in place to help you stick to your goal! Nutrition information is available online for many restaurants. Looking for a new restaurant option? The healthy dining finder website can help you find restaurants in your area that offer healthy choices, http://www.healthydiningfinder.com/.
About the Expert: Elizabeth Parker, PhD, RD
Liz Parker, Assistant Professor of Family & Community Medicine in the Center for Integrative Medicine, part of University of Maryland School of Medicine, completed her PhD in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise (HNFE) and Bachelors of Science in HNFE with a double option in Dietetics and Exercise Health Promotion from Virginia Tech. She is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer. Her research interests include obesity, energy balance and lifestyle interventions to improve health and chronic disease related outcomes.
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