Written By:–Gabriele Amersbach*
Many of us lose our healthful eating habits the moment the bread basket arrives when we eat out. Celebrating March as National Nutrition Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages everyone to learn how to “put your best fork forward” when dining out.
The best strategy is to consider how to approach a restaurant meal before you ever take your seat.”Use a smart eating strategy to plan ahead, consider the menu, and choose foods carefully,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy spokesperson Robin Foroutan.
A healthy range of options
If you have a say about the restaurant, check the restaurant’s menu on-line so you know what to expect and can make decisions accordingly. Choose a place that offers a range of healthy food options, from fresh vegetables to lean meats, minus heavy sauces or butter-drenched cooking styles. Many restaurants are now also offering vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
Prepare for your lunch or dinner out by eating a lighter than normal breakfast, lunch, or dinner—but don’t arrive at the restaurant starving! A small healthy snack before the meal, like an apple or carrots, can curb your appetite without ruining it before you arrive at the restaurant. If you can’t resist the fresh rolls that arrive at the table, skip the loaded sandwich at lunch and choose a salad instead, so you can indulge in a roll with dinner. Rather than slathering on the butter, choose to dip your roll or bread in flavored olive oil. If there is no olive oil at the table, most restaurants will comply with your appeal.
Make special requests
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how the food is prepared or ask for a substitute,” says Foroutan. “Make special requests to meet your nutritional needs, like asking for a side salad instead of mashed potatoes or fries.”
So you can control the fat in your meal, ask for butter, gravy, sauces, and salad dressings to be served on the side. And where possible, ask for your food to be poached, grilled, baked, or steamed rather than fried, which adds fat calories to the meal. Most restaurants want to keep customers happy—and coming back—as long as your requests aren’t too demanding.
Sharing the entrée
Another favorite restaurant tip is to ask to share the entrée. Some restaurants may include a “sharing” charge, but ultimately your wallet and your waistline will benefit. Equally helpful is to ask for the “to go” box immediately when the meal is served, placing half of your meal into the box, so you aren’t tempted to eat more than a healthy portion. Servings in this country are often enough for two or three meals. It’s just too easy to keep nibbling until the plate is empty when the food is rich and delicious!
Watch the drinks!
When eating out, it’s also important to remember that sugary beverages and alcohol also add calories. For example, a light 12-oz beer can be 100 to 140 calories, while an IPA can be 260 to 360 calories! They don’t call beer liquid bread for anything. A 6-oz glass of a dry red or white wine can range from 175-187, while a 3-oz glass of sweet sherry, port, or Madeira wine can range from 220—260 calories. And just one margarita is often over 300 calories.
For nonalcoholic beverages, a 12-oz glass of sweetened ice tea is close to 140 calories, while unsweetened tea is only 4. A regular 12-oz soda is from 124—189 calories, while a diet soda can be 0-7—but then you face the negative consequences of chemical sweeteners. Healthier options also carry calories—whole milk is 220 calories per 12-oz glass, orange and apple juice are both close to 175 calories, cranberry juice cocktail is 205 calories, while tomato juice is a leaner 89 calories. Perhaps the best choice is to stick with a glass of water flavored with lemon in which to pour your Prebiotin Prebiotic™ fiber stick.
How often do you eat out?
Another consideration in making your food selections is how often you eat out. If eating a cheese-filled pasta rich with cream sauce and bacon or a creamy chocolate mousse is a special treat you only order every two or three months, enjoy it! If you are one of the nearly 60% of Americans who eat out at least once a week, regularly selecting the rich pasta, heavy desert, or even eating rolls or an appetizer before the meal, may all contribute to the extra pounds you find hard to keep off or lose.
In addition, since many people eat out as a family, parents and other adults who model healthy eating choices at the restaurant (and at home) help reinforce healthy eating in children as they grow up, making healthy meal choices the family “norm.” Our kids take their cues from what we do, not necessarily what we tell them to do.
For most of us, eating out is no longer a luxury but a necessity, in a busy lifestyle that may not include enough time to prepare nutritious, homemade meals. By making conscious, healthy selections, we can enjoy the social elements and time savings of eating in a restaurant, and then carry home extra calories in a “to go” box, not around our waists.
*Gabriele Amersbach is a freelance writer and writes extensively on health, nutrition, and medical topics.