If you’re like most of us, you enjoy eating out. Whether it is catching up with old friends or celebrating a birthday, eating out has become an important part of our culture. Earlier this year, researchers found the average dinner at a non-chain restaurant had about 1,200 calories.
However, just because you are eating out doesn’t mean that you cannot eat healthy. Here are several tips to keep in mind when eating at a restaurant:
- Read the menu before you go out: Not only will this save you time on ordering, you can decide what to eat without feeling rushed or that you have to conform to what everyone else at the table is eating. You can make your healthy decision without any extraneous pressures.
- Order a side salad or steamed vegetables: Instead of getting fries as a side, ask to substitute a side salad or steamed vegetables, such as broccoli or asparagus. It’s a common request and your server will likely make this substitution. This will increase the fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in your meal. However, creamy vegetables like creamed spinach or coleslaw have just as much, if not more, fat as fries.
- Switch out white pasta for whole wheat: If ordering a pasta dish, ask for whole wheat noodles instead of the regular white pasta. This will increase your fiber intake and not spike your blood glycemic levels, which means you will feel fuller for longer.
- Ask for sauce/dressing on the side: Most restaurants drench their food in sauce, so this will allow you to control how much you put in. By having it on the side, you can control the sodium, fat, and sugar content of your dish.
- Order an appetizer (or two) instead of a meal: Or order an appetizer plus a salad or vegetable. If you aren’t starving or eating just for social reasons, these small bites usually are around the right portion size, and they fill you up. Sometimes, I like the appetizer options better than the main courses, so it’s a win-win.
- Before you start eating, pack half of your meal to-go in a take home container: It is likely that your dish will be 2-3 times the portion size that it should be, so if you pack half of it in a take home bag, you should be consuming closer to the correct portion sizing. Also, that means you just got two meals out of one!
- Drink water throughout your meal: Not only will this keep you hydrated, but will make sure that you are pacing yourself rather than scarfing down your meal.
- Avoid terms like “fried”, “creamy” and “crispy”: These mean that the dish is high in fat. Try for words like “steamed,” “baked” or “grilled.” If you REALLY want to limit added fats and sodium, order your food “dry.” In restaurants this is code for no fats added.
I would love to know:
- What is your go-to dish at a restaurant?
- What is your favorite vegetable or type of salad?
- What are your favorite healthy hacks for eating out?
With contributions from Christina Chu, Boston University, Dietetics & Communication student