6 tips for eating healthier when you dine out

Even if you successfully make diet changes at home, it’s easy to falter when you go out to eat. The reality is nowadays, Americans are spending approximately 43 percent of our food dollars on food outside the home, compared to 26 percent in 1970.

If we are going to drive our health in the right direction, we must be conscious of the choices we make while eating out. Before your next meal out take these tips to heart, and you’ll go a long way toward eating healthier.

1.     Understand Your Power

When you go out you’re footing the bill, so understand the power you have over the choices you make. It starts at the beginning, with the choice of restaurant. Most of the time, you do have a choice for where to go, so research your options online. Once you’re there, feel free to make special requests to get the meal prepared in a healthier way—you are paying the bill.

2.     Know Before You Go

A lot of restaurants offer their menus online, so look up your options. Often we eat with our eyes first, so rather than be tempted by something you see walking in, select a healthy option before you go. You’ll likely make the best meal choices by choosing in advance rather than potentially being rushed or tempted at the restaurant. Plus, you may be able to do more research, like finding out calorie counts or ingredients online.

3.     Avoid the All-You-Can-Eat Specials and Buffets

They may seem like a bargain, but you may pay the price with your health since you’re encouraged to overeat. Buffets are often filled with the cheaper fried or overly processed foods.

4.     Choose Wisely

Choose seafood, chicken or another lean meat for your entree. Or, try a vegetarian option. Make smart choices for how your entrée is prepared. Steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached or roasted are generally the best options. Remember fifty percent of your plate should be a vegetable.

5.     Put the Fixings on the Side

If you’re not prepared to give up the fixings—butter, sour cream, dressings, gravies, etc.—order them on the side. You’ll be able to control how much is used versus allowing the restaurant to drench your food.

6.     Watch Your Portion Size

Just because the restaurant serves you a super-sized portion doesn’t mean you have to eat it all. Often meals are two times the size you really need, so decide in advance to eat half your meal and box up the rest for another time. If you worry about self-control, order smaller portions or order an appetizer with a side salad.

And if you follow this advice don’t feel you have to deny yourself dessert. Choose a lighter option, like fresh fruit or sorbet. Or, order a dessert your whole table can share so that you’re only indulging in a few bites.

AAMC’s comprehensive nutrition services provide nutrition coaching to individuals of all ages. We can help you optimize your nutritional health and get results. Also, AAMC offers a full-range of Healthier U events and workshops.
Ann Caldwell, nutritionist and registered dietitian at Anne Arundel Medical Center
By Ann Caldwell, nutritionist and registered dietitian at Anne Arundel Medical Center. To reach her call 443-481-5555.
Originally published March 29, 2015. Last updated July 5, 2019.

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