Whether we go out to eat for convenience on busy weeknights or to celebrate with friends on special occasions, dining at restaurants is a favorite pastime. Unfortunately, it's not always the healthiest practice. With the demand to satisfy overindulgent appetites and expectations, many restaurants tempt us with bigger portions and richer, fattier fare. We have some suggestions to help you make better choices on your next outing.
What's on Your Plate?
Believe it or not, the number of calories in just one restaurant meal, including appetizers and sides, can add up to as much as 2,500 calories (above the average daily calorie recommendation for most people), says Dr. Connie Guttersen, registered dietitian and nutrition instructor at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley, California. "Although finer eateries typically offer smaller portions and fresh ingredients," she explains, "less expensive restaurants tend to be just the opposite with larger serving sizes and less nutrient-dense foods." The good news is that many chefs and restaurants are offering healthier choices and more reasonable size portions. Still, temptation often gets the best of us when we order from a menu. Adopt these simple strategies to make your dining experience a more healthful one.
- Share a meal. Chances are, the meal you order is large enough to serve at least two people, and sharing can prevent the tendency to finish the entire serving.
- Order half to go. There might be some truth to the adage, "Out of sight, out of mind." You're less likely to overeat if only half of the meal is visible on the plate. Have your server box up the other half before your entrée ever arrives at the table.
- Avoid fillers. Bread and appetizers can leave you almost full by the time they serve your entrée. Skip the extra starters, and save your calories for the main course.
- Request sauces, dressings, toppings, and condiments on the side. A lot of calories come from what you use to dress your salad or top your baked potato, so it's best when you control the amount. Start with about 1 tablespoon of dressing, mayonnaise, or sauce and about 1 teaspoon of butter or other spreads.
- Don't drink your calories. Avoid sugary beverages such as regular sodas and even sweetened cocktails. Instead, opt for water, diet soft drinks, and other low-calorie beverages.
- Stay away from promotional offers, such as "All You Can Eat." Nothing good can come from eating all you can. Make sensible food selections that don't offer unlimited trips to the buffet.
- Fast food can actually be healthful as some chains are offering better choices, such as grilled sandwiches instead of fried meals. McDonald's even offers juice or low-fat milk and apple slices with low-fat caramel dip in their Happy Meals, so opt for the more nutritious items.
- Eating slowly allows the message of satiety to get to the brain before you fill up too much and become uncomfortably stuffed.
"Dining Out" is from the January 2005 issue of Southern Living.