Whether it’s a celebration meal, a working lunch or just drive-thru fast food on the way to the kids’ soccer game, most of us eat out a lot. How often do you eat out? Don’t forget to include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
The average person eats out approximately five times a week. While restaurant eating is often enjoyable and convenient, the downside is that you give up a certain amount of control over the food you eat (large portions, hidden fats, salt and calories).
Of course, one option is to simply eat out less often. For example, bringing a lunch or snacks to work lets you control what you eat at those times. Assuming that there are times when you want or need to eat out, you can do so healthfully by planning ahead, watching your food budget and making wise choices.
Three Ways to Stay in Charge of Eating Out
1. Plan Ahead
Taking charge of a situation usually means thinking and planning ahead.
Ask yourself the following questions before you walk into a restaurant:
- When will I be eating out?
- Where will I go?
- What healthy choices might be available?
- When I order, what simple requests can make my selection a healthier option?
Try these strategies:
- Plan to get more exercise on days you eat out.
- If possible, review a menu beforehand to see if there are any healthy selections.
- Visualize yourself ordering a healthy selection, sipping water, eating slowly, enjoying conversation and stopping when you are satisfied. This “mental rehearsal” can make it easier to resist impulsive decisions or succumbing to old habits.
2. Watch Your Food “Budget”
If you know you will be visiting a restaurant where it will be hard to stick with your healthy eating plan, make allowances either before or after the meal to help even the score. You can also do some “budgeting” at the restaurant.
- Split an entrée with a dining partner.
- Eat half of the food on your plate and take the rest home for another meal. Tip: Order once—enjoy twice! Request a to-go container as soon as your meal is served so you can divvy it up and set aside for another meal.
- Order à la carte (portions tend to be smaller and don’t provide as many “extras”) or order an appetizer and side salad for your meal.
- While you’re waiting for your meal to be served, avoid or go easy on complimentary foods such as bread, rolls and chips.
- Skip the appetizer and condiments.
- Share a dessert.
- If you drink alcohol, remember that it also contains calories. Ordering seltzer, club soda or diet soda instead of an alcoholic beverage will cut calories. If you choose to drink, try having one glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage.
3. Speak Up About Your Food Preferences
If you are unsure how a particular dish is prepared or are concerned it may contain hidden fat and sodium, simply ask. Many people are interested in eating healthier, so you won’t be the first to inquire about different menu options. Most restaurants will honor your requests.
Some questions to ask the server:
- Can the food be prepared differently? For example, if you see sautéed vegetables on the menu, ask if they can be steamed instead.
- May I have the salad dressing served on the side?
- May I substitute an item with a healthier option? For example, if ordering a Chef’s salad, ask to have turkey instead of ham (and without croutons or with croutons placed on the side). If an entrée is served with French fries and a vegetable, ask for a baked potato or two servings of vegetables in place of fries.
Helpful Tips While You’re Eating
- Eat slowly and savor every bite.
- Put your utensils down and take breaks to gauge how full you feel.
- Sip water in between bites.
- Take breaks from eating to enjoy the conversation with your dining companions.
- Ask the server to remove the bread, butter or other condiments.
- If you know you will keep eating something just because it is there, move your plate to the side to let your server know that you are ready to have it cleared.
Choose This, Avoid That
Use these general guidelines to help you make the best choices when eating out.
|For starters:||For starters:|
|For the main course:||For the main course:|
|On the side:||On the side:|
|The finale:||The finale:|
Cuisine Specific Guidelines
Whether it’s a romantic dinner with your spouse, your daughter’s birthday celebration, or dinner with coworkers, at some point you’ll find yourself with restaurant reservations.
The great part about eating at a restaurant is that they are usually willing to accommodate changes to your meal.
If you’re not sure what changes to make, check out the “Choose This, Avoid That” below.
|Wonton Soup or Egg Drop Soup||Velvet Corn Chowder|
|Steamed Dumplings||Egg Rolls|
|Steamed Chicken and Veggies||Orange Chicken|
|Black Bean Sauce||Sweet and Sour Sauce|
|Hot Mustard, Low-Sodium Soy Sauce||Duck Sauce, Oyster Sauce|
|6″ Sub||12″ Sub|
|Roast Beef, Chicken Breast, Turkey||Salami, Pepperoni|
|Swiss Cheese or Mozzarella Cheese||American Cheese|
|Whole Wheat, 7-Grain, or Rye Bread||White Bread|
|Mustard, Vinegar, Low-Fat Dressing||Mayo, Russian Dressing|
|Tortilla Soup||Menudo, Pozole|
|Grilled Fish Tacos with Corn Tortillas|
(no Sour Cream), Grilled “Fresco”-Style
Steak Burrito with Whole Wheat Tortillas
|Battered Fish Taco with Flour Tortillas|
|Pinto or Black Beans||Refried Beans|
|Chicken Fajita||Chicken Quesadilla|
|Salsa, Picante Sauce||Cheese, Sour Cream|
|Manhattan Clam Chowder||New England Clam Chowder|
|Filet Mignon with Horseradish||Ribeye Steak with Bearnaise Sauce|
|Garden Salad (Dressing on the Side)||Caesar Salad|
|Oysters on the Half Shell||Crab Cakes|
|Baked Potato||Mashed Potato|
|Minestrone Soup||Italian Sausage Soup|
|Steamed Mussels||Fried Calamari|
|Penne Marinara, Pomodoro Sauce||Penne Alfredo|
|Chicken Marsala||Chicken Parmigiana|
|Pasta Primavera (Spring-Style, Fresh|
Veggies and Herbs)
|Chicken Yakitori (Broiled Chicken)||Tonkatsu (Breaded Pork)|
|California Roll||Rainbow Roll|
|Tuna Sushi, Sashimi||Spicy Tuna Roll|
|Ponzu, Wasabi, Ginger, Low-Sodium|
|Teriyaki Sauce, Soy Sauce|
|Modak (Steamed Dumpling)||Puri (Fried Bread)|
|Mulligatawny Soup||Samosas (Fried Veggie Turnover)|
|Tandoori Chicken||Lamb Pilaf|
|Jheenga Curry||Pork Vindaloo Curry|
|Ghobi Matar Tamatar (Cauliflower|
and Green Peas in Tomato Base)
|Pakora (Fried Snack Fritter)|
|Egg White Omelet with Turkey Bacon||Eggs Benedict|
|Salad with Grilled Chicken||Chicken Caesar Salad, Cobb Salad|
|Grilled Chicken Breast with Steamed Veggies||Chicken Parmigiana|
|Turkey Burger with Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Mustard||Cheeseburger|
|Baked Potato||French Fries|
|Tom Yum (Spicy Lemongrass Soup)||Tom Ka (Spicy Coconut Soup)|
|Shu Mai||Fried Wontons|
|Mee Siam (Rice Noodles in Spicy Broth)||Pad Thai|
|Neua Pad Prik (Pepper Steak)||Kanon Jeen Sao Nam|
|Brown Rice||House Fried Rice|
Fast Food – Best Options
Fast food is the nutritional “Last Resort.” It shouldn’t be the norm. However, I also understand that every once in a while, time and budget constraints make it unavoidable.
These days, since fast food chains have started offering healthy-ish options, you just have to know what to order. And luckily, fast food chains are required by law to provide nutritional information for all items on their menus.
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So, when you’re short on time and need a quick fix, it’s OK to head to the drive-through. Just be sure you carefully and thoroughly read the nutritional facts. Otherwise you might chow down 1,000 calories without even realizing it!
When if doubt, refer to the fast food picks below.
Fast Food Picks
|Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad|
|Light Italian Dressing (1/2 container)|
|Thin-Crust Vegi Feast Medium Pizza slice with green pepper, onion, mushroom, black olive, extra cheese (1 slice)|
|Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken|
|Egg White Delight McMuffin|
|Southwest Chicken Salad with Grilled Chicken|
|Chicken Fajita Pita (hold the salsa)|
|6″ Subway Club on 9-Grain Wheat Bread with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, cucumbers, and sweet onion sauce Plus Apple Slices|
|6″ Subway Veggie Delite on Italian Bread|
|Oven Roasted Chicken Salad with tomatoes, green peppers, onions, olives, and cucumbers with honey-mustard dressing Plus Chicken Tortilla Soup|
|Fresco Steak Burrito Supreme plus black beans|
|Fresco Chicken Soft Taco Plus pintos ’n’ cheese|
|Tall Nonfat Cappuccino|
|Tall Shaken Tazo Iced Black Tea Lemonade (unsweetened) 35 calories, 0 g fat, 0 mg sodium|
|Tall Nonfat Light Blend Coffee Caramel Frappuccino|
|Smoked Turkey and Swiss Sandwich Bistro Box|
|Hearty Veggie & Brown Rice Salad Bowl|
|Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Summer Blueberries & Granola|
|Egg White, Avocado, Spinach Breakfast Power Sandwich|
|Low-Fat Garden Vegetable with Pesto Soup (bowl)|
|Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken (half)|
|String Bean Chicken Breast|
|Grilled Teriyaki Chicken|
|Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast plus mashed potatoes (without gravy)|
|Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast with sides of green beans and three bean salad|
|Honey BBQ Sandwich|
|DDSMART® Egg White Veggie Flatbread Sandwich|
|DDSMART Egg White Turkey Sausage Flatbread Sandwich|
|Small Coffee 5 calories, 0 g fat, 5 mg sodium|
|Small Caramel, Hazelnut, French Vanilla, or Toasted Almond flavored coffee|
|DDSMART Latte Lite (skim milk)|
|Three Hard Tacos with chicken, vegetarian black beans, sautéed peppers and onions|
|Carnitas Burrito Bowl with sautéed onions and peppers, cilantro-lime rice, romaine lettuce, and tomato salsa|
|3 Barbacoa Tacos on soft corn tortillas with lettuce and tomato salsa|
|Vegetarian Burrito Bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, lettuce, and roasted chili-corn salsa|
|Whopper® Jr. (no mayo)|
|BK Veggie® Burger (no mayo)|
|Tendergrill® Chicken Garden Salad no dressing|
|Garden Side Salad – w/o dressing|
|Jr. Hamburger (or a Kids’ Hamburger) without cheese|
|Large Chili plus Garden Side Salad (no croutons) with fat-free Light Honey French dressing|
|Grilled Chicken Sandwich Plus apple slices|
Fast Food Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t Supersize It!
Everyone likes a bargain, but you don’t have to order the value meal with the big burger, bigger fries, and biggest drink. An average fast food meal can run to 1,000 calories or more, so choose a smaller portion size, order a side salad instead of fries, and don’t supersize anything.
Do Eat At Least One Serving of Fruits or Vegetables with Your Order.
Even though you’re eating fast food, it should still be a well-balanced meal. Load your burger with extra lettuce and tomatoes, have an entrée salad, or ask what healthy sides they have available.
Do Skip The Mayo!
Ask for the sauce, condiments, and/or dressing on the side! (Try mustard and save a ton of calories!)
The Next Step
You’ve taken the first step toward being in charge when you eat out. To be successful, you must recognize that you are in charge. It is always your right to eat as well and as wisely as you choose.
The next time you visit a restaurant, practice putting one of your take-charge techniques into action. Once you’re comfortable with that technique, try adding another. As time goes on, choosing heart-healthy foods in restaurants will be second nature. You’ll feel good about yourself. You might even enjoy your food more!
Finally, sometimes it may be best to simply order what you really want, especially if you don’t eat out frequently. If you don’t satisfy your taste now, you may overeat later. Just eat smaller portions and bring some home so you can enjoy it twice.