8 Tips for Healthy Dining Out
When I was growing up, our family dined out at most once every two months and that included grabbing a burger at Foster’s Freeze for we three kids when our parents were going out on a Saturday night. These days, the average adult American eats out 4.8 times a week and that includes fast food restaurants. Studies show that those who eat at restaurants are proportionally larger than those who prepare and eat meals at home.
For those seeking permanent weight loss and/or who are wanting to lower their cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes symptoms, etc., and who also dine out often, here are some tips for healthier choices while eating out.
1. Determine why you are eating out: Convenience, celebration or necessity? Not only are you paying for the food, you are paying for the experience of having someone prepare what you want, serve it to you and clean up the dishes! It isn’t just about the food.
2. Understand that the wait staff is there to answer your menu preparation questions and to serve you what you want. If you have diabetes, high cholesterol or other health issues, you will hopefully be very motivated to order the healthiest options.
3. Practice eating smaller portions. Train yourself to eat half the order and then ask yourself if you are still hungry. Take half home or put it away for later. Or only order half. Order an appetizer as a main course instead of a main course.
4. Skip parts of the meal you like less. Have an attitude that you can have that food anytime and use your calories for food that you don’t normally cook or have elsewhere.
5. Go to restaurants where you can order healthy meals. Call ahead or look at the menu online to see if they offer healthy choices. Check out www.healthydiningfinder.com. You can also check DWLZ for chain restaurant nutrition information.
6. Ask to substitute high-fat items with lower-fat foods. Request items be cooked with no or little oil or butter. Remember, you are paying for this experience and meal. Make choices that benefits you and your health. Good wait staff want to give you what you want.
7. Avoid going out to eat when you are “starving”. Eat something 30 minutes before you go to be in better control of your choices. If you are out and about and potentially will be eating lunch or dinner a little later than normal, keep a snack with you to eat before you get too hungry. Ideas? Beef or turkey jerky, a bit of trail mix, a small package of Trader Joe’s almonds, a banana, low fat string cheese, half of a protein bar, a small yogurt, etc.
8. Avoid buffets and all-you-can-eat specials. Especially if you feel that you must get your money’s worth and therefore can’t help but stuff yourself.
- Breaded, batter-dipped and tempura all mean fried food, which equals HIGH-FAT and HIGH-CALORIE. Look for grilled, broiled and flame-cooked, steamed, poached, roasted or baked for lower-fat choices. Also, ask that foods be cooked in as little oil or butter as possible; order vegetables steamed with no or little butter added.
- Skip the mayonnaise and “special” sauces and ask for extra mustard, onions, relish, tomatoes and lettuce on sandwiches.
- Instead of French fries, order a baked potato or extra steamed vegetables or a cup of broth-based soup (unless you are cutting back on sodium) or a small salad.
What to Order at Specific Types of Restaurants
• Order a small steak; watch portion size.Limit the amount of butter if it comes with a baked potato. Ask for a salad with dressing on the side or steamed vegetables in place of fries.
• A filet, flank or London broil steak is the leanest cut.
• Select dark leafy greens, raw vegetables, and lower-fat protein choices.
• Ladle only small portions of potato and pasta salads, bacon bits, marinated vegetables, fruits in heavy syrup and seeds or nuts.
• Use fat-free or low-fat dressing in small amounts or a little oil and balsamic vinegar; one large ladle of salad dressing can be as many as 300 calories!
• Many menu items can be made to order. Request that you item be cooked in broth or stock instead of oil, or ask that only a little oil be used.
• Choose items with larger portions of vegetables.
• Ask that tofu be steamed and not fried.
• Avoid wontons, egg rolls, sweet and sour choices, fried rice, fried dumplings, sesame noodles, egg foo young and tempura. (Or only have a small bite or taste.)
• Limit the amount of soy sauce you use if you are sodium-sensitive.
• Small portions of pasta with red sauce (marinara, red clam, or marsala) is a great choice unless the sauce has high-fat meat such as sausage.
• Avoid cream sauces such as Alfredo or butter sauce as well as parmigiana, beef lasagna, cheese sauce or filling, pesto, carbonara, sausage dishes and garlic bread. Most Italian restaurants offer green salads. Order with dressing on the side.
• Chicken fajitas, whole beans, soft chicken tacos, tostadas made with whole beans, taco salads (without the shell), small burritos with lower-fat filling without sour cream and guacamole are usually OK.
• Go easy on chips and high-fat or fried items such as chili rellanos, nachos, chorizo, chimichangas flautas and refried beans. In fact, ask that the chips come with the meal, not before (if at all) and measure out a certain amount (10) and eat only those to avoid eating half your caloric intake (or more) for the day munching on them.
There are some great tips in this article on dining out vegetarian.
© Jamie Davidson, M.S., 2015
Want to eat out less but don’t have the time to cook when you get home? Check out my healthy Trader Joe’s cookbooks that use shortcut products that cut preparation time to 15 minutes per meal and also my healthy Crock pot cookbook to help you save time and money.
All of the recipes from my cookbooks have Weight Watcher Points available on my Web site. Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan recipes are included in each of the cookbooks.
Want some help with losing weight and becoming fitter? Check out my What Works Weight Loss program. Contact me for your complimentary session to see if weight management coaching is for you.