Eating Out. Making Healthy Choices at Restaurants
By: Melissa Payne, MS, RDN, LD/N
Taking a night off from the kitchen doesn’t have to derail your healthy eating plan. With all the items on menus these days, having a plan going in is the key to success. In general, restaurants serve more food than recommended for a healthy diet and find lots of ways to sneak in hidden calories. Listen to your body for signs of fullness, pay attention to how the food is prepared, and you can have fun when you go out. Eating healthy food doesn’t have to be boring! Here are some tips to making healthy food choices when you gather around a table away from home:
The National Restaurant Association reports that Americans eat almost a quarter of their meals away from home and Consumer Reports states that Americans spent $720 billion at restaurants in 2016.
A Simple Strategy for Maintaining Your Eating Plan
- Make a Plan. Watch calories and snacking the day you plan to dine out, but do not arrive to the restaurant overly hungry. Instead of making an impulsive menu decision, research the menu online prior to the meal and consider all the options. Is this a restaurant that has a special dessert you love? If so, look at lower calorie meal options so all foods fit into your plan. These might include entrée salads with a lean protein or a sandwich with a plant based protein topped with fresh veggies as opposed to a fried version.
- Pay Attention to Key Menu Words. Look for protein items that are “broiled,” “baked,” or “grilled.” Pay attention to added sauces and ask questions regarding ingredients. For side items, choose fresh vegetables or leafy green salads as healthful alternatives to creamed or smothered versions. Be mindful of the loaded baked potato and ask for the butter and sour cream on the side. It is always better when you control the amount of sauce or dressing.
- Be Mindful of Portions. Restaurant portions can be double a normal portion in many cases. Eat slowly and enjoy the experience. Fast eaters tend to be over-eaters, so be mindful of the food experience and don’t feel pressured to join the clean plate club. Take home boxes are usually available.
- Good Decisions in the Fast Food Lane. Ordering the usual combo is sometimes easier, but next time take a moment to consider some other options. Many fast food outlets offer alternative side items to French fries such as fruit or side salad. Instead of the usual hamburger, look for a healthier alternative such as a grilled chicken sandwich or wrap. Be mindful of a super-sized sugary soda and opt for water.
Making Small Changes to Succeed at Restaurants
Although many of us view dining out as a reason to splurge or as a quick meal, it doesn’t always have to be that way. Make it an opportunity to try new foods that support your healthy eating plan and increase the variety. Have fun and remember to start with a plan!
About the Author
Melissa Payne, MS, RDN, LD/N – Corporate Director, Food & Nutrition Services at Orlando Health with over 15 years of experience in clinical nutrition. She has a passion for patient care and oversees inpatient and outpatient nutrition for three Orlando Health hospitals.